I am a snacker. I typically do not leave the house without two things: a snack and my water bottle. Snacking used to have a bad reputation. The standard American diet consisted of three square meals a day, not snacks. Snacking was linked in people’s minds with overeating and weight gain. It was a bad thing to do.
Oh how things have changed. Snacking is no longer the exception, it is now the norm and it may help people to lose or maintain their weight.
I got to thinking about this because I came across an article entitled “Frequent Snacking Linked to Healthier Diet” (1). This article reports on a five-year study of over 11,000 people aged 20 and over which found that snackers consume more healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, and milk products and less high-sodium foods. Well, it sounds like snackers do have healthier diets! As one reads on, the study also reported that snackers also consumed more sugar, solid fats, and alcohol along with fewer vegetables. Hmmm. Finally, the article reports on another study in a younger population (teenagers) that found that teen snackers also consumed more fruit and dairy products.
Another study on snacking from the November 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2) looked at women in the 30-60 age range and grouped them by BMI. The study found that normal weight women had the highest number of snacks (2.3 snacks/day), followed by those who had lost weight and were maintaining that loss (1.9 snacks/day), followed by those who were overweight (1.5 snacks/day).
This all seems to point to the fact that snacking may actually be beneficial in terms of BMI as long as we choose healthy snacks.
But is there a downside?
Let’s say that we eat a snack that includes carbohydrate-containing foods, such as fruit, milk, or grains. For most people, it takes 1 to 2 hours for all consumed food to move through the stomach and reach the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed. Absorption of glucose (blood sugar) from the carbohydrate-containing foods triggers the hormone insulin, which is needed move glucose into our cells for use.
If we graze all day or have large snacks of carbohydrate-containing foods in between meals, we are asking our bodies to continue to release insulin and our insulin levels do not have time to go back down in between meals. On the flip side, if we eat three big meals a day, we see a big spike of glucose after that big meal and we may overload insulin’s ability to be effective. Both overloading our insulin with high levels of glucose at one time and having constantly elevated insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance and potentially to type 2 diabetes. Insulin also promotes energy storage – in other words, it makes our bodies store fat.
What’s a snacker to do?
It sounds like moderation and balance are the keys. I think we have heard that somewhere before. Here are some guidelines to help you keep your snacking healthy.
· Respect your body and eat when you are physically hungry. If your stomach is grumbling and you have been drinking your water, then it is time to eat something.
· Pick your snacks wisely. Focus on healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you decide to have a “fun food” for a snack, then pay attention to the next point!
· Watch your portion size. A snack should not be the same as a meal in size or calories.
As always – enjoy your food!
1. Frequent Snacking Linked to Healthier Diet. Today Health Web site. Available at: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/45307103/ns/today-today_health/t/frequent-snacking-linked-healthier-diet/
2. Bachman et al. Eating Frequency is Higher in Weight Loss Maintainers and Normal-Weight Individuals than in Overweight Individuals. Available at: http://www.adajournal.org/article/S0002-8223(11)01376-9/abstract