Is Snacking Sabotoging Your Diet?

To snack, or not to snack? That’s a simple question, right?

After all, how many of us have heard about the age-old diet advice to ditch the three square meals and tackle six mini-meals instead? It’s well-meaning advice, but one that isn’t rooted in sound science. You don’t need to eat every few hours to keep your metabolism burning efficiently. Your metabolism isn’t a furnace that needs to be plied with wood every now and then to keep it going.

Our Collective Snacking Habits

So, why all this fascination around snacks? Simply put: we as a nation snack a lot, and our government has been keeping a pulse on this pattern to see how it affects us. This is achieved through NHANES, a program that samples data from thousands of Americans annually. Here are a few nibbles on what they and others have found with our snacking habits:

  • We get a lot of calories from snacks. About 25% of the average person’s intake comes from snacks. That’s 550 calories if you follow a 2200 calorie diet.
  • We snack often. 79% of respondents snack two or more times per day.
  • Snacking often is linked to a higher weight. A large study of 18,696 participants showed that those who ate five or more times per day were 50% more likely to be overweight or obese compared to those who ate three or less times per day.
  • Junk foods are popular snacks. Nielsen’s global survey finds that while 40–55% of participants snacked on fruit and veggies, chips, chocolate, cheese and cookies are still the most popular snacks. Over 55% of participants snack on these.
  • We don’t snack just because of hunger. Nielsen’s global survey results suggest that we snack for a variety of emotional reasons. 40–60% of all participants reported snacking to improve mood, deal with stress, pass the time or reward themselves for a job well done.

Is Snacking Bad for You?

Maybe. It really depends on what you’re snacking on, how much you eat and how often. The evidence we have suggests that eating more frequently can lead to weight gain. Eating frequently gives you more opportunities to overeat.

This is likely because most snacks are processed junk food full of empty calories, sugar, salt and fat. If you’re an afternoon grazer, there is a silver lining: you can develop healthier snacking habits.

3 Easy Tips to Clean Up Your Snack Act

Snacks can become a healthy part of your day. Just follow these 3 tips:

  1. You choose mostly whole foods, high-fiber snacks. Most of us don’t get enough fruits and veggies in our day
  2. You snack to control hunger, not your emotions. Feeling hungry is a major obstacle for weight loss hopefuls, and snacking may help offset this challenge. What snacks should not be used for is as a bandaid for negative emotions like sadness, anger, depression and anxiety.
  3. You portion out your snacks. Don’t eat straight from a family-sized bag of potato chips. Instead, pour your snacks into a small bowl. Seeing all your food laid out before you snack makes it harder to mindlessly overeat.

Bonus points for making your own healthy snacks at home! Check out these 10 Healthy Snacks You Can Bring to Work for tasty ideas.

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