Snacking has got a bit of a bad rap. With the rise in popularity of intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding, it doesn’t leave much room to snack between meals. And even if you could, should you? The answer is…it depends. There are a lot of factors, so let’s dive in and take a closer look.
What Counts as a Snack?
We can’t classify ‘snacking’ as bad or good until we first get clear on what it actually is. A snack refers to any calorie-containing food or drink that is consumed between larger meals. Therefore a snack can be anything from a latte and biscotti to hummus and carrots.
Why Snacking isn’t Always a Good Thing
When we eat a snack our bodies release a hormone called insulin to signal the calories we consume to leave the bloodstream and enter the cell to give us energy (FYI:protein and carbs signal our bodies to release insulin, but fat does not). While it’s not a bad thing that insulin goes up during each meal of the day, when we start to add in a mid- morning yogurt, afternoon granola bar and post-dinner bowl of popcorn our bodies start to overproduce insulin. This can create insulin resistance over a long period of time, which can lead to weight gain, blood sugar dysregulation, and a whole host of other issues within the body.
Another reason why snacking may not be the best is what you’re choosing to snack on. Most snack foods are notorious for being low in nutrients and higher in carbohydrates. Higher carb foods are not a bad thing if you’re outdoors on a hike and need energy, but not ideal if you’re bored at your desk and craving something to munch on.
Who Should be Snacking
There are a few individuals that may benefit from snacking. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that athletes with high activity levels may need to refuel after a workout before their next meal.
Children may need small nutrient dense snacks like nuts and fresh fruit to keep their energy up during periods of activity or long stretches (more than 4 hours) between meals.
Another thing to consider is if you’ve been diagnosed with low blood sugar or poor blood sugar regulation (lots of highs or lows). Its best to work with your naturopath, nutritionist or other qualified practitioner in this case to make sure you are eating the right amount and type of snack for your unique needs.
How to Snack Smart
Ok, so whether snacking is part of your regular routine or not, there is a way to make it work for you.
First, the quantity of a snack matters. Ideally you want a snack to be no more than fifty percent of what you would typically eat in a meal (for example, a 200-300 calorie snack is perfect for most adults).
Second, we want to look at number of snacks in a given day. I often suggest one snack during the longest stretch between meals, this can fall between breakfast and lunch, or lunch and dinner. The goal here is to keep your energy high and balanced when you may not be able to eat a complete meal.
Lastly, the quality of snack is vital. As I mentioned, most snack foods are too carb-heavy. They contain mostly sugar or starch, and not much of anything else.
Aim for a balance between carbs, protein and fat at each snack. Here are a few of my favourites:
- ¼ cup coconut yogurt + handful of berries + 2 tbsp hemp seeds
- Handful of raw nuts/seeds + small piece of dark chocolate
- 2-3 tbsp of hummus + a few olives + veggie sticks
- ½ avocado + handful of gluten free crackers
And don’t forget to hydrate! It’s not uncommon for our bodies to send us hunger signals when really we’re just thirsty. Always pair up each snack with a glass of water or herbal tea to keep your body balanced.
Are you a snacker? What’s your go-to snack when you’re in a pinch?
Dr. Laura Belus is a Naturopathic Doctor that focuses on detoxification and hormone balance for weight loss, stress management, and greater energy. She believes in making simple, yet powerful, changes to diet & lifestyle habits that create lasting results. She practices in Mississauga and Toronto.