Could snacking actually be harmful? Well, it depends on the person. First let’s start on a positive note by exploring some of the reasons why snacking might be beneficial for you. First, it’s a great way to minimize hunger, and let’s face it, no one likes to fell hungry. It’s uncomfortable and it often makes us cranky. Second, it helps balance blood sugar levels, which can be great if you tend to feel dizzy or faint or if you have existing blood sugar issues.
Third, if you make the right snack choices, it’s a great way to help meet your daily vitamin and mineral requirements. Fourth, it’s a great way to provide you with stable energy throughout the day. Fifth, if used strategically, it can help your muscles recover faster, which can help you gain much-coveted lean muscle mass. Sixth, it can help you kick cravings for unhealthy foods, and finally, for some individuals with higher activity levels, snacking can help provide the fuel needed for optimal performance.
On the flip side, snacking can also be detrimental to your health. As recently as thirty years ago, most adults didn’t snack at all, and based on the growing obesity problem in North America, many are asking whether consuming snacks is even necessary at all. In fact, statistics show that 27% of our calories now come from our snacks, which are generally high in sugar and carbohydrates, but low in vitamins and minerals, and for many people, snacking can be a major cause of weight gain.
Plus, there are a lot of experts who believe that our bodies are pretty smart, and will tell us when we need to eat by activating our hunger signals. For most healthy individuals with balanced blood sugar levels, these signals go off about every five hours, which means that eating three squares meals a day is plenty. Of course, these signals get skewed if you eat too many high-sugar foods, so you need to get your diet down pat before you can determine how long you can actually go without eating.
Then there’s the fact that when our body is constantly expending its energy digesting food, it is not able to focus as much effort on healing the body. Furthermore, snacking is also bad for our teeth because our mouth become acidic when we eat (to help start the breakdown of food) which can cause tooth erosion and decay. Finally, there’s the fact that a lot of us snack of out mere habit, due to distraction, or because of emotional stress even when we’re not hungry.
So where does that leave you? Well, it depends on your current health status, your current energy requirements, and most of all, on what types of choices you are making when you do snack – are they healthy and nutrient-dense or are they processed and nutrient-void? At the end of the day only you can determine what works best for you, but if you do choose to snack, here are some tips that can help ensure that those snacks are health-promoting and not health-defeating:
- Start by eating healthy, whole-food based meals that include all macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbs) and that are high in fibre. This will help minimize snack cravings.
- If you do choose to snack, at least try to minimize evening snacking, when we are most likely to make poor quality, nutrient-void snack choices.
- Don’t snack in front of the TV, the computer, or any other time you are distracted.
- Make sure your snacks are balanced and that they contain a combination of at least two, or better yet, three macronutrients (macronutrients are proteins, carbs, fats).
- Make sure all your snacks contain either a fruit or a vegetable, or better yet, both!