Is Snacking Good for You?
Snacking is increasingly popular, but is it actually healthy for you? Learn how snacking affects weight loss and whether it can be part of a healthy diet.
Intermittent fasting, intense workout regimens, and busy schedules have made eating three times a day a thing of the past. Now, snacking is more popular than ever, with an estimated 94 percent of Americans reaching for at least one snack per day. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as some people find success eating only two—or up to six—times per day, but snacking can lead to weight gain if it’s not executed smartly.
Health Benefits of Snacking
Some suggest that eating small, frequent meals can boost your metabolism. However, there is not enough concrete evidence to prove that spreading out your calories will actually help with weight loss. In fact, studies suggest that you burn the same amount of calories regardless of how you distribute them.
Here’s what we know is true: choosing the right snacks and practicing portion control can have their fair share of benefits. One study from the National Cancer Institute showed those who prioritized fruits and vegetables at snack time not only increased their fiber intake, but also lost more weight than those who didn’t opt for a fresh snack. Participants also benefited more from snacking in the afternoon rather than mid-morning. Prioritizing fresh produce when snacking can not only boost your daily fruit and vegetable intake, but it can even lead to a little weight loss along the way.
Snacking can also help prevent binge eating, as long days in the office or an early morning workout can leave you ravenous between meals. Opting for a healthy snack with fiber and protein will help power you through to the next meal and keep you from overeating later.
Is Snacking Bad for Weight Loss?
The short answer is yes—snacking can lead to a higher daily caloric intake if you’re not careful. One study, published in Cambridge University’s British Journal of Nutrition, showed men who ate a 200-calorie mid-morning snack only consumed 100 fewer calories at lunch. Another showed that while snacks can bring feelings of fullness and satiety, they are often fleeting, and just lead to a higher overall calorie consumption. The researchers said this was especially true when the snack was low in protein.
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Choosing the wrong kinds of snacks—full of refined sugars, grains, and unhealthy fats—have also shown to spike blood sugar and then cause tiredness a few hours later. Even some seemingly healthy snacks can be full of unhealthy ingredients, and nutritionists advise thoroughly checking nutrition labels when choosing a packaged snack to ensure it is a healthful option.
Is Snacking Before Bed Healthy?
Research shows a healthy bedtime snack can have a positive impact on your health. Several studies suggest that eating a high-protein nighttime snack—specifically 30 grams a half-hour before bed—can help build lean muscle and boost overall health. Going to bed starving can also make it more difficult to fall asleep, and too little sleep has also been linked to weight gain.
Who Can Benefit from Snacking?
Those who unintentionally go more than four or five hours between meals could benefit from a healthy snack between meals. A long day at the office can lead to a hunger-fueled dash to the nearest fast food drive-thru, and frequently opting for processed, fried foods can have long-term health consequences.
Athletes or those who exercise vigorously at least a few times a week could benefit from snacking. Snacking on healthful carb sources before a workout can help performance and endurance, while a combination of protein and carbs will help repair muscles and keep your energy up. However, staying hydrated and restoring water lost in your workout is an important component, as it can prevent false hunger pangs.
Those who are watching their weight can truly benefit from snacking to prevent binges and to stay energized for physical activity. Emphasizing healthy proteins, whole grains, and fresh fruits and veggies will keep you full and give you the well-rounded nutrition your body needs. Just make sure you’re aware of how many calories you consume while snacking, and be realistic with how many calories you burn while exercising.
Healthy Snacking Tips
A snack is a vague definition for eating between meals, so it’s important to set some parameters. Depending on your caloric needs, a snack should vary between 100-250 calories to make sure you’re not going overboard, but also aren’t eating so little you’ll snack again in an hour.
Opting for a snack with 10-30 grams of protein and at least a few grams of fiber will ensure you will actually stay full for the next few hours. Here are a few examples:
- Apple slices and a tablespoon of nut butter
- Sliced veggies and two tablespoons of hummus
- Two hard-boiled eggs
- Plain greek yogurt with honey and fresh fruit
- Homemade Snack Bars
- A small handful of almonds and dried fruit
- Dry-roasted edamame