You just finished a kale salad for lunch and you’re feeling virtuous. But then the 3 pm slump hits. Your energy crashes and your stomach rumbles. The vending machine seems to call your name, tempting you with promises of a sugar rush. We’ve all been there – it’s hard to resist those convenient snacks in the afternoon!
But before you press that vending machine button, let’s think about the impact of our snacking habits. That bag of chips or candy bar may provide a quick fix, but all that processed food undoes the benefits of your healthy lunch. Those empty calories and sugars lead to energy crashes later, disrupting your sleep and focus. Not to mention they contribute to weight gain and other health issues over time.
Now, a new study points to data showing that one out of four people is undoing the health benefits of healthy meals with the snacks they choose.
Are Your Snacking Habits Sabotaging Your Health? Discover the Impact of Your Choices?
Researchers from the School of Life Course & Population Sciences and ZOE studied the snacking habits of 854 people. What they discovered was alarming: most of us are mindlessly reaching for convenient, processed snacks loaded with sugar, fat, and calories.
According to the study, nearly half of the study participants had a misalignment between the healthiness of their meals versus snacks. For example, they might eat a nutritious dinner but then binge on chips and cookies afterward. This inconsistency wreaks havoc on our bodies over time.
Some of the most popular snacks people chose were cheese, cakes, pies, granola bars, breakfast cereals, ice cream, donuts, and pastries. Candies, cookies, and brownies were also high on the list. As you might have noticed, these foods are notoriously high in calories and/or sugar. Fortunately, some snackers also opted for healthier choices like nuts and seeds.
Misalignment of Meals and Snacks
Why is this problematic? The study points out that the meal-snack mismatch leads to spikes and crashes in blood sugar, higher fat intake, and poorer nutrition overall. This pattern wreaks havoc on our bodies in subtle ways. All those empty calories and blood sugar spikes lead to energy swings that disrupt our sleep, focus and weight management. It’s no wonder the unhealthy snackers reported feeling more tired and gaining more weight compared to those who make nutritious snacking choices.
Snack Quality Matters
Is snacking all bad? Snacking can be a way to boost your energy level and satisfy hunger during the day, but snack quality counts. The researchers found that people who snacked on high-quality options like nuts, fresh fruits, and yogurt tended to have an easier time staying trim and reducing cravings. Whereas those who snacked or binged on chips and candy struggled more with their weight and energy levels.
The key seems to be choosing snacks with fiber, protein, and healthy fats to stabilize blood sugar and keep you satiated. Meanwhile, processed snacks lead to energy crashes that stoke more hunger later. So snacking smart could improve your metabolic health overall.
Next time your afternoon munchies hit, be prepared with some apple slices and peanut butter or a handful of unsalted nuts. You’ll get the energy boost and satisfaction you crave without the negative health impacts. And you’ll make it to dinner without succumbing to vending machine temptations!
The Importance of Snacking Timing
What about the timing of snacks? In the study, people who snacked after 9 pm tended to reach for high-fat, high-sugar treats like chips, cookies, and ice cream. And they experienced more negative health markers like higher cholesterol and blood sugar compared to those who snacked earlier in the day.
The problem is that late-night munching fuels your body right before bed when your metabolism slows down. Those excess calories are more likely to get stored as fat. Not to mention, sugary, fatty foods at night can interfere with sleep quality.
The good news is a little planning goes a long way. Eating a balanced dinner and snack a few hours before bed can help curb those late-night cravings. Keeping healthier nighttime options like herbal tea, hummus, and veggies can satisfy your tastebuds while nourishing your body. With some mindfulness, you can make sure your evening snacking habits work for you, not against you.
And don’t get into the habit of mindless snacking. Ask yourself if you’re hungry before you reach for something to munch on. It could be that you’re mistaking stress or boredom for hunger. Think before you snack and ensure need the extra energy that a snack provides.
Next time your afternoon munchies hit, make sure your snacks are in nutritional harmony with your earlier meals. Pair that salad lunch with some carrots and hummus or yogurt with berries. And complement a wholesome dinner with a square or two of dark chocolate instead of half a pint of ice cream.
Most importantly, keep your whole diet balanced and ensure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs to thrive. Make sure to include lean protein for sustained energy, fiber-rich complex carbs, heart-healthy fats, and a rainbow of vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables. Also:
- Stay hydrated with plenty of water.
- Avoid filling up on empty calories and added sugars which can throw off your blood sugar and satiety cues.
- Watch your portion sizes. No snacking out of the box or bag. Set aside a discrete portion.
By being mindful of aligning your snacks with balanced meals, you can maintain steady energy, curb cravings, and support overall wellness. Your body will run smoother, and you’ll feel healthier day by day.
So be prepared with healthy snacks and make them work for you, not against you. Your body will reap the benefits in the long run.
Kate M. Bermingham, Anna May, Francesco Asnicar, Joan Capdevila, Emily R. Leeming, Paul W. Franks, Ana M. Valdes, Jonathan Wolf, George Hadjigeorgiou, Linda M. Delahanty, Nicola Segata, Tim D. Spector, Sarah E. Berry. Snack quality and snack timing are associated with cardiometabolic blood markers: the ZOE PREDICT study. European Journal of Nutrition, 2023; DOI: 10.1007/s00394-023-03241-6.
“Mayo Clinic Q and A: Snacking for meals.” 27 Jun. 2023, https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-q-and-a-snacking-for-meals/.
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“The Science of Snacking | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan ….” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/snacking/.