By Debra Soufleris, B.S., DTR
We have become a nation of 24/7 snackers with ever-expanding waistlines. Our snacking habits are big business for food manufacturers; according to a recent poll, an estimated 94% of Americans are reaching for a snack at least once per day. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as some people can snack throughout the day while maintaining good health. However, for others, too much snacking can be the cause of excess weight, which could eventually lead to serious health issues. The good news is that there are healthy snack ideas to give you the best of both worlds.
Due to our busy lifestyles, lack of preparation, and propensity to make decisions out of sheer convenience, most people find themselves reaching for a snack several times throughout the day. In some cases, people are not even eating meals, but rather grazing all day long, eating 5-6 mini-meals a day. There has also been a shift in the way we eat; sitting at a table and enjoying a home-cooked meal with friends and families is a rare activity, replaced by the act of eating from a package while looking at our computers and phones.
For some, eating mini-meals throughout the day keeps their metabolism running efficiently and helps keep them energized. In fact, for people with certain health conditions, like type 2 diabetes, this could be a good way to keep blood sugar levels steady. However, since we are all individuals with unique metabolisms, that strategy may not work for everyone.
If you have tried eating smaller meals throughout the day and are not seeing the results you want, perhaps switching to three well-balanced meals per day would help you get the results you’re after. It’s all about trial and error to find out what works best for you and makes you feel good. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to an eating plan.
Each food strategy has its pros and cons. However, what works best for your waistline depends on what food choices you are making. If you do choose the traditional route of consuming three square meals a day, then you need to be sure they are balanced and provide all three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fats). They should also offer plenty of variety to ensure you are getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals at each meal. So, if you’re not a big snacker, have no fear; some studies suggest that you burn the same amount of calories regardless of how or when you eat them.
When done smartly, snacking can be very helpful for those seeking to lose weight or manage their blood sugar. It can be helpful in staving off hunger to help tame your appetite before it gets out of control and causes you to devour the first thing you see. Unfortunately, when we let ourselves get this hungry, we typically don’t aim for healthy snacks. Instead, we reach for something quick from a box that is high in calories and ultra-processed. Therefore, you want to set yourself up for success by following these three simple snacking rules.
Fiber helps slow down digestion, making you feel fuller for longer, which may help curb food cravings. It is also non-digestible, so it passes through your system while helping move things along the digestive tract. Fiber also helps your body breakdown carbs and absorb sugar, which can help keep blood sugar levels steady. It is also great for your gut bacteria to flourish and grow. As we continue to discover how closely linked the brain and the gut are, this can help on so many levels.
Since fats and proteins take much longer to breakdown and digest, they will help keep you satisfied for longer and help curb your appetite. Protein is especially important for those who are lifting weights or healing from an injury, as it is the basis for almost every cell function in our body. It’s also required for building and repairing muscle. Fats are helpful for satisfying our cravings and regulating our hormones. They help turn off the hormones that make you hungry, and turn on the ones that make feel full. Increasing your protein and fat intake (yes, even fat intake!) in many instances will assist with your weight loss efforts.
There are many different types of carbs, and not all are created equal. Limit the amount of processed sugars you consume, especially those found in desserts or packaged foods. Simple sugars found in fruits are a better choice to satisfy a sweet craving due to the fiber, vitamins, and minerals they contain. Complex carbs like sweet potatoes, brown rice, and oatmeal are great sources for longer-lasting energy and won’t cause a spike or crash in blood sugar levels.
All-day grazing is replacing the traditional 3 square meals a day. But snacking can be a great tool to help support weight-loss goals, as long as it is done in a smart way.