Handling Snack Attacks

Most people eat snacks. So, why feel bad about it?

Posted Sep 25, 2014

StockSnap.io, used with permission.
Source: StockSnap.io, used with permission.

Do you love to snack? If so, you’re in good company. Consumer research tells us that snacking accounts for more than half of all eating occasions. That means, for some people, snacks may substitute for at least one regular meal.

Emotional snacking—turning to food when you’re bored, lonely, angry or stressed—is common. Are you a sneaky snacker? Always popping something into your mouth when no one’s looking and then feeling guilty? If snacks were monitored or forbidden in your home while you were growing up, you may always feel some guilt if you eat between meals. Hey, get over it! Why not snack openly and enjoy it? If you plan your snack times in advance rather than snacking randomly, snack on well-chosen foods, eat snack-size portions, and eat these snacks well ahead of mealtime, there’s no reason to feel bad about it.

If you think snacking is unhealthy, that might be because of the foods you associate with snacking. Commercial products designed specifically to be snack foods—chips, dips, pretzels, crackers, cookies and all those individually packaged cakes and pastries—are traditionally high in fat, sugar, and/or salt, and low in essential nutrients. More and more packaged snack foods are made with less salt, less sugar, and healthier fats, and that’s a start toward healthier snacking but it’s not the whole story.

If you snack often throughout the day, and these snacks are contributing excess calories to your diet, and thereby unwanted weight gain, it’s time to find a new snacking strategy. Here’s why: If you feed yourself six, eight, ten times a day, your body comes to expect food at those times of day and you feel hungry more often, even if you really don’t need the food. If you keep feeding that type of hunger, your snack habit will most certainly lead to weight gain, even if you’re eating more nutritious foods.

But snacking can actually be a good strategy for weight control if you snack on wholesome foods in healthier ways and use snacks only to alleviate, say, a mid-afternoon slump, keep your blood sugar even, or prevent you from becoming so hungry that you overeat at your next meal. Think of snacks as mini-meals, and balance them the same way you would a full meal, by making sure there’s a variety of foods on your plate that provide a little of each of the major nutrients: some protein, some carbs and some fat. This may be as simple as a small piece of cheese, a sliced apple and a few roasted almonds, or any food that combines these same nutritional elements into one snack, such as yogurt mixed with fresh or frozen fruit and topped with nuts or whole-grain cereal.

Other ideas: a whole-grain bagel half topped with reduced-fat ricotta cheese and sliced strawberries; toasted whole-grain waffle topped with sliced peaches and yogurt; cheese toast made with whole grain bread, topped with shredded cheese and broiler in the toaster oven or melted in a microwave oven. Non-dairy or vegetarian ideas include a nori seaweed wrap filled with seasoned rice and bits of leftover cooked vegetables or beans, seasoned with kimchi or sirachi and soy sauce, or a small “salad” made with cubes of tofu, watermelon and chopped fresh mint. Keep frozen slices of fruit, such as watermelon, pineapple, orange segmets and grapes on hand and enjoy with a small portion of nuts or sunflower seeds. And, of course, no matter what combo you come up with, reasonable serving sizes are key to healthy snacking. That way you’re not filling up on too much of any one type of food and you’re getting a variety of nutrients at the same time.

The best tip for successful snacking is careful planning. Rather than grabbing random foods, be prepared for snack attacks by having plenty of healthful, ready-to-eat snack foods on hand at home and at work, including a variety of clean and cut-up fruits and vegetables. If you make snacking a conscious activity, as you should also do with regular meals, you’ll pay more attention to the types of snack foods you’re eating, you’ll eat your snacks more slowly, and eat only as much as you need to satisfy between-meal hunger.

Again, snack only at planned snack times or if you haven't eaten in a while and want to prevent yourself from getting too hungry before your next meal. If you are reaching for a snack in response to an emotional upset, find something else to do (like, go for walk). Here are some other guidelines for healthy, guilt-free snacking:

• Choose your snacks from the main food groups: fruits and vegetables; whole grains; low-fat dairy and protein from lean meats, tofu, legumes, or nuts and seeds.

• Keep all junk food out of your house and out of your workplace. If you can’t see it, you won’t be tempted to eat it!

• Be creative. Just because snacks can be good for you, they don’t have to be boring. Try new foods and new combinations of familiar foods, and serve yourself healthy snacks in fun serving containers.