America is becoming a nation of snackers. According to a recent report called “Snacking in American 2012,” convenience and time constraints are the motivation people have for snacking instead of sitting down to a meal when they need nourishment. Americans are eating less at scheduled meals, especially breakfast and lunch, but making up for it by eating two or three snacks a day. In fact, snacks account for 20% of the “meals” people eat these days. It seems that snacking is an increasingly popular way to get nourishment, especially among younger people, but is it a health liability or not?
Is Snacking Causing Calorie Consumption to Increase?
According to a study published in PLOS Medicine, the number of calories Americans consume daily has risen from around 1,800 calories a day in the late 1970s to 2,374 by the mid-2000s. What accounts for this rise in calorie consumption? Increases in portion size account for some of it. The other culprit is more frequent snacking. Fast food restaurants are taking advantage of this increased desire to snack by offering snack-size burritos, wraps, chicken nuggets, and other offerings. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to pull in and order one of these
There are some potential advantages to “controlled” snacking. Some research suggests that eating multiple smaller meals spaced over the day primes the metabolism satiates appetite better, and reduces the risk of weight gain, although recent research calls this into question. On the other hand, even snacking can be overdone. If you snack too often, snack mindlessly, munch when you’re bored, or don’t portion-control your snacks, the calories add up quickly. Plus, the average snack you buy at the supermarket or at a fast-food restaurant is high in calories and lacks nutritional value.
Nutritional Habits: Tips for Healthy Snacking
If you choose to make snacks a part of your day, it’s important to do it in a “controlled” manner. Never snack on impulse. Plan your snacks and include snack calories in your total calorie intake for the day.
Create your own snacks and carry them with you so you won’t be tempted to get them out of a vending machine or from a fast-food restaurant.
Choose healthier foods like nuts, seeds, fresh fruit or low-sugar, high fiber cereal or low-sugar minimally processed protein bars.
When you go on trips, bring along a cooler filled with low-carb yogurt, cottage cheese, bags of sliced vegetables, string cheese, edamame or hummus.
Portion control your snacks. Put nuts into 100 or 200 calorie packs you create at home. Don’t snack out of the bag.
Pick snacks that are high in protein and fiber to make them more filling and satisfying. Avoid processed carbs and sugary foods at snack time. These cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin level and can make you feel tired and hungry quickly.
When it’s not snack time, keep snacks out of reach and out of view. If you leave snacks in view, it’s too easy to mindlessly reach for them.
The Bottom Line?
If you’re a snacker out of necessity, be smart about it. Choose your snacks carefully, control portion sizes and plan when you snack. Don’t let bad snacking habits add inches to your waistline.
FoodNavigator-USA.com. “Snacks Account for 20% of all US Eating Occasions, Market Researcher Claims”
PLoS Med 8(6): e1001050.