In years past, the act of snacking wasn’t looked upon very favorably. Your mom told you to skip the snack or you would ‘spoil your dinner’. Perhaps your doctor told you to lay off the snacks because of the added calories. And many snack foods are usually high in sodium, added sugar, trans-fat, and contain other unrecognizable ingredients not found in nature. But consider a recent report by the consumer-goods market research company Packaged Facts (and reported by FoodNavigatorUSA.com). The report indicates that more and more U.S. consumers are replacing meals with several smaller snacks, and busy lifestyles and more on-the-go eating will indeed lead to a continued increase in the consumption of packaged snacks. Thankfully, there are an increasing amount of healthy packaged snack options. If done mindfully, snacking is good.
While I strongly believe in the value of sitting down for a leisurely meal with family and friends, I also understand (and live in) the reality: these are busy times and we are often on the go. And so it’s not always possible to sit down for a relaxing home-cooked meal. Let’s look at a few of the benefits of eating smaller, more frequent meals or snacks during the day:
- Stable blood sugars. Eating more frequently throughout your day helps keep your blood sugars steady, leading to balanced moods, increased brain function, and more energy.
- Less hunger. Going too long without eating can lead to impulse eating and overeating. If you have a snack before leaving the office for the day, chances are you’ll leave the bag of potato chips in the pantry while you cook dinner.
- Minimize cravings. If you have a tasty yet healthy snack on hand, you might reconsider buying that chocolate chip cookie with your afternoon latte or the M&M’s from the vending machine.
Here are some quick tips for putting mindful snacking into practice:
1. Make each snack nutrient-dense. Stay away from traditional ‘snack’ foods such as pretzels and chips. Fresher foods will give you more nutrient bang-for-your-buck with fewer calories. Choose packaged foods with a good balance of carbohydrate (including fiber), protein and fat. Check labels for sodium and sugar content, and try to choose foods without a long list of unrecognizable ingredients.
2. Be prepared. Leave the house with containers full of cut-up veggies and hummus and nut butter. Portion out some whole grain crackers with good deli turkey or sliced cheese. Grab some fresh fruit and a baggie of raw nuts or trail mix.
3. Think balance. Include a carbohydrate, protein, and fat source in each small meal or snack.
4. Try to eat a balanced breakfast. Remember the post about the Second Meal Effect? Eating a balanced breakfast can actually carry over benefits to your blood sugars for the rest of the day.
Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.