Should I Snack? Here's What I Think.
If you’re like most people, you’ve struggled with snacking at some point in your life. And you’re probably confused by the conflicting advice you’ve received about “healthy eating.”
As with all things in the nutrition world, there are some polarizing perspectives about whether or not you should snack. One day you will be told that it’s most important to have three square meals a day, while the next day you’ll be told that you’re better off snacking throughout the day.
I’m here to tell you that it’s not all black and white.
Why Do People Snack?
According to a recent consumer research study, about 45% of people chose hunger as the main motivator that drives snacking. Not surprising! If you’re not eating well-rounded meals throughout the day - you’re not really nourishing your body, so it makes sense that you might feel hungry later in the day. This is because your body ends up craving the nutrients you’re leaving off of your plate.
In that same study, close to 50% of people chose a craving for sweet or salty foods as the reason they snack! Believe it or not, there are other reasons that people snack like boredom, habit, social cues, availability of food, and time-of-day. Some people even snack because they think that they have to eat every 2-3 hours. But there’s a plot twist: there are no rules as to how many snacks you need in a day. In fact, I think it’s even better to skip the snack and focus on building a well-rounded meal that will leave you feeling fully satisfied and satiated. (More on that later!)
How Does Your Body Respond To Snacks?
It’s often believed that your metabolism slows down between meals and snacking regularly will “boost” your metabolism. There’s actually not a whole lot of science to back this up! Research shows that the number of calories you eat each day has more of an impact on your metabolism than how frequently you eat. This is because the thermic effect of food, or the energy required for digesting, absorbing, and disposing of nutrients. It is determined by the quantity of food you ate, not when you ate it. At the end of the day if you’re eating the same amount of food, your metabolism is going to stay the same whether you ate 3x/day or 7x/day.
It’s also believed that snacking is essential to managing your blood sugar levels, but that’s not necessarily the case. By incorporating protein, healthy fats, and/or fiber into your meals, most people shouldn’t have any problems maintaining healthy blood sugar levels throughout the day.
How to Construct a Balanced Meal
If you’re taking the time to truly nourish your body appropriately at meal time and honoring your hunger-fullness cues - having a rule of eating every 2-3 hours isn’t honoring that.
When it comes to constructing a nourishing meal that won’t leave you reaching for a snack later in the day, you want to focus on one thing: balance. But what exactly does it mean to have a “balanced” meal? Essentially, you want your plate to include a mix of the different macronutrients because they each play a unique role in the body.
Carbohydrates are broken down and turned into glucose - the body’s preferred source of energy.
Proteins are often considered the “building blocks” of the body and are involved in nearly every bodily function. Protein also helps keep you feeling satiated!
Fats, especially polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, offer health benefits like decreased you feeling fuller longer.
Some people find it helpful to actually imagine a plate. When you’re constructing a balanced meal try to fill 50% of your plate with fiber such as non-starchy vegetables (i.e. leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli, etc.) and complex carbohydrates (i.e. grains, beans, starchy vegetables, fruit, etc.), and the remaining 50% of your plate should be evenly split with lean proteins and healthy fats (i.e. fish, meat, eggs, cheese, etc.). This is part of my K.I.S.S (Keep It Super Simple) method to nourishing your body. To learn more, you can take the 5 Day KISS One Meal Challenge. Sign up here.
By taking the time to really think about what you’re eating at breakfast, lunch, and dinner - you may find yourself not needing a snack later in the middle of the afternoon.
Snack Smart: What Makes A Quality Snack?
Sometimes life gets hectic and it’s hard to squeeze in that well-rounded, well-thought out meal. That’s where snacks come in!
When most people think of “snack foods” they often think of highly processed foods that you can find in almost any vending machine or convenience store - cookies, chips, candy, soda, etc.
Believe it or not, a snack can be so much more than that! If you find yourself hungry in between meals, you’re better off having a well-rounded snack. This means making sure that there’s a source of complex carbohydrates (fiber) and a source of protein and/or fat. The fiber will help keep your blood sugar from taking a dive and the protein and/or fat will help keep you feeling full.
Here are a few of my favorite go-to snacks:
A piece of fruit + a handful of nuts
A piece of whole grain toast + ½ an avocado
A container of low sugar or plain Greek yogurt + a piece of fruit
A handful of whole grain crackers + a few slices of cheese
A sliced apple + peanut butter
For 31 of my favorite snack ideas, check out the K.I.S.S. One Meal Challenge. Each day we turn our focus on level up one eating occasion. You can find out more and join here.
The Bottom Line
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to snacking. Ultimately, you should always try to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. I get it though, sometimes you are exploring a new town and there happens to be a bakery who is known for their top notch chocolate chip cookies. You may not be physically hungry, but you really want to experience that delicious cookie. By all means, you get the cookie and savor every bite. But on a daily basis, your best bet is to tune into your hunger-fullness cues and focus on nourishing your body.