Thursday Thoughts: Snacking

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...
Thursday Thoughts

If you are new to my blog, or haven't been reading on Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic. Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses. Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting. In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something.

Recently I have come across some misconceptions about snacking and it got me thinking about how there is a split among the general population about snacking.

Here are my thoughts:

1) There is a right way and a wrong way to go about snacking.  In general, snacking is a good thing.  Not the mindless hand to mouth action that some of us fall prey to between meals but rather the planned out snack between meals that lends to the nutritional intake we have each day.  Snacks should not be an indulgence of empty calories.  This should be a time for a good kind of indulgence, the kind that fills the nutrient void that one of our meals may have during the day.  There is no reason to cram all nutrients in to one meal or snack and then forget about it for the day because we already feel as though we got everything we need for the day.  It doesn't quite work that way.  The body can only absorb and use what it needs so if those nutrients (vitamins and minerals more specificially) are in excess there is a good chance they will get excreted.  It happens with supplements and it can happen with food too.  In reality, I doubt any of us are trying to cram it all in at one time, but it is still a reminder that we do need to spread food out throughout the day so we get a healthy mix of everything we need more than just once daily.

2) Calories from snacks are not extra.  Do not think of snacking as an excess of what you need for the day.  They should always be accounted for and count towards your total energy needs for the day.  So if you know you need around (I am picking an arbitrary number) 1600 calories for the day, this does not mean your meals add up to 1600 and you can have some extra by way of snacks.  It is more like 1000 calories for meals and then 600 for snacks.  If we forget to add those snacks in or treat them as part of our needs, the chance is good for overeating.  Snacks should really help prevent overeating because they should prevent you from feeling starved by the time you get to a meal.

3) The body is a wonderful thing.  The metabolism is a complex aspect of the body.  How we burn energy plays a role in our body weight.  There are some things we can do to improve our resting energy expenditure, and one of them is eating smaller more frequent meals.  It may not make a huge difference (as in will not change your metabolism to burn 1000 calories more a day) but it can make a difference if you are trying to manage your weight or lose weight.  If you go too long between meals the metabolism will slow down.  I call snacks little reminders to your metabolism that you are up and doing things, out and about in the world, and you would prefer your metabolism to be working most efficiently.  Snacks give a little boost to your metabolism.  This is not to make it so you can eat more food in a day, but it is to help you from hindering weight loss by going too long between meals.  I also like to refer to this as hibernation or fasting mode.  Too bad we don't experience famine anymore because the body was designed to adapt to those conditions.  Now if only someone could tell the human body when we go so long without it is was not due to famine but rather a personal choice, boy would we be set!

4) Since I am telling you that you should snack, I think I should also tell you how to snack.  If meals are 4-5 hours apart, aim for a small snack somewhere in the middle.  I recommend some carbs, but not those heavy in added sugars, which often times are packed with fats.  Think high fiber options with some protein to sustain you until the next meal.  Meals and snacks as terminology really apply to the size or quanity of the food consumption, and I am assuming everyone has the same perceptions as me, but I do know some people may consider what some of us think of as a meal as more of a snack.  Think of a snack as less than what you would eat for a meal, and enough to make you feel as though you have eaten something but without making you feel like you need more, if that makes any sense.  I have a feeling a snack of 3 mini-pretzels may make someone feel cheated for the snack and I would say I might too.  But it would be too much to eat the whole bag.  A better suggestion might be some unsalted pretzels (1 oz) with some PB (sans trans fat).  It is really easy to plan snacks in advance and make sure you add to your diet intake for the day in a positive way.

5) Since it is National Nutrition Month, let's also mention you should snack right with color.  This is the perfect time of the day to add in colorful fruits and vegetables to boost your intake.  You will cover fiber and vitamins and minerals with a colorful snack choice.  Plus, I know it may seem like too much when trying to fit all your fruits and vegetables in to meals, as I often get so full I hardly have room to eat anything else.  So this way you can spread those servings out and get a balanced snack too.  The fiber from these help you to keep that full feeling between meals.  It is also really easy to add protein in to snacks with these foods too.  I often do a small piece of fruit with a small cheese stick (I get the ones with 50 calories, it is 3/4 oz piece).  I also love to do fruit with a little PB or some dried fruit with nuts.  Veggies are great too.  I love raw veggies for a quick and easy snack.  You can even mix them up for a colorful treat.  As for protein, why not add some chick peas to some raw veggies.  I love to make it into a small chilled salad that I can easily eat for a small snack (1/2 cup portion).  Like I said, it does not have to be a huge amount of food.  Oh, and how could I forget yogurt, if you can tolerate milk and if not (or you chose not to consume it) a soy version (with calcium).  Greek yogurt with some cut up fruit makes a great snack too.  There are so many options out there, you just have to get creative.

I think overall snacking is a wise choice and can prevent overeating later, as well as ensure a wide variety of nutrients consumed over the course of the day.  Snacks should be small and contain "wise" choices, not those packed with added sugars and saturated fats.  While those can still fit in a healthy diet it is best to aim for the others more often.  It can set a great example for your family, especially for children who often immitate their parents and caregivers.  I think the misconception that snacks are bad is out there because people may "abuse" snacking by taking in an excess of calories and loading up on what Americans consider "snack" foods.  Learning to do it right really makes a difference.

If you are not already a snacker, give it a try, you may be surprised at the results, just remember to cut back on your meals if you do decide to add in snacks.

QUESTIONS: Do you like to snack?  What is your favorite snack?  Any other tips you have about snacking?  


Biz said...

I actually don't snack that much at all because my meals tend to be bigger so I am not full in between meals.

If I do get hungry though, I will eat fruit usually :D

Hope you are having a great week Melinda!

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

Yes, I snack. Great points about planning snacks and fitting them into your calories and nutrient requirements for the day.

One of my favorite snack is a piece of low-fact string cheese and about 10 almonds.

chow and chatter said...

great tips as ever pleased the soup worked out

Emily said...

I'm not a huge snacker, but I do like eating small random meals sometimes! I like kale smoothies, tortillas or vegetables with hummus, or a banana with pb.

Sonia said...

Great post, loved ur space !

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