To snack or not to snack? That is the question.
A survey conducted by the market research group Mintel on snacking motivations and attitudes shows that 94% of Americans snack throughout the day. Should you really be one of them? The answer might surprise you.
Most of us snack for reasons besides hunger. Mintel’s report shows that over half of us snack two or three times a day, and most of these mini-meals are eaten to satisfy a craving (62%) or out of boredom (25%).
To put it bluntly, hunger is rarely the reason that you’re turning to that midday pick-me-up, and those extra calories probably aren’t doing your body any favors.
Qualified Snackers vs. Unqualified Snackers
We don’t all have the same dietary needs. In my nutrition practice, I like to split my clients into two categories: qualified snackers and unqualified snackers.
Qualified snackers have bodies that work best when they are fed every two to three hours, meaning that regular snacking helps them function better. In contrast, unqualified snackers are perfectly fine eating just three times a day, and any snacking that they do between meals is more out of habit than necessity. In most cases, unqualified snackers can cut out their snacking entirely and improve their health.
How can you tell which kind of snacker you are? My favorite strategy is to determine whether you typically lose weight on vacation. Because a break in routine (and more restaurant meals) can disrupt your regular snacking patterns, unqualified snackers often lose weight while on a trip, even if they aren’t making an intentional effort to do so.
How to Eat if You’re a Qualified Snacker
Ask yourself this; does a regular snack help you eat less at your next meal? If yes, you are a qualified snacker. For those who do better with little bits of food throughout the day, these tips will help you snack smarter:
1. Don’t snack before you need to.
Try to wait at least an hour and a half after breakfast before eating a snack and wait two hours after lunch.
2. Minimize the sugar in your snacks.
Select options that maximize protein, fiber, and healthy fat. For instance, when choosing a nutrition bar, you should make sure it has 3 grams or less of sugar, more than 5 grams of fiber, and more than 8 grams of protein.
3. Practice proper portion control.
I recommend staying away from 10-serving bags of trail mix or big tubs of peanut butter and choosing pre-measured 100-calorie snack packs or bars instead.
4. Snacking isn’t an excuse to overindulge!
Keep your mid-morning snack under 100 calories (a single-serving pack of almonds or almond butter is ideal), and your afternoon snack under 200 calories, like a nutrition bar with little sugar but more than 5 grams each of fiber and protein.
5. Raw vegetables are great — if you don’t dip.
Snackers sometimes need something extra in the afternoon — you’ll have a bar or apple and almond butter at 3pm, but feel hungry again by 5pm. That’s when you can use veggies as a “booster snack.” But don’t accessorize them with dressing, hummus, or guacamole. It’s far too easy to consume more calories than you mean to when you dip them.
How Unqualified Snackers Can Quit Snacking
If you’re an unqualified snacker, nibbling throughout the day isn’t doing your body much good. Your primary goal should be to quit the habit. Sound daunting? Here are some tips to get the process started:
1. Have breakfast later in the day.
If you close the gap between breakfast and lunch, it limits the time you have to get hungry again and keeps your body in a healthy fasted state longer throughout the day.
2. Start your day with protein and healthy fats.
Skip the carb-filled pancake breakfast and go for foods like eggs and avocado instead.
3. Drink at least 8 cups of water each day.
That’s about two liters total. If you try to get your first liter in by lunchtime, the amount won’t seem as daunting.
4. Reduce your intake of refined sugars and carbs.
These sneaky ingredients will ramp up your appetite and make it harder to go meal to meal without giving into cravings. Added sugars are found in some surprising places like instant oatmeal, pasta sauce, and even salad dressing, so read food labels carefully.
5. Curb your sweet tooth with a sugar suppressor.
Since most of your snacking habit is caused by cravings, you can cut sugar addiction out of the equation with Sweet Defeat. These natural lozenges dissolve on your tongue and temporarily prevent you from tasting sweetness, which helps you turn down sweet treats more easily.
Better Snacking for Overall Health
No matter which type of snacker you are, there are many ways that you can begin to modify your habits for better health. By following the tips in this article that apply to you, you can help your body thrive by giving it exactly the nutrition it needs, and not a snack more.