Snacking: Does it Help or Hurt?
By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD, METS
Snacking has become quite the habitual activity in today’s society, and even replaces meals much of the time. Because so many of our social activities involve food, we tend to be eating more than we are not eating. But is this healthy?
There is no clear-cut answer because each individual metabolizes fuel somewhat differently. Some folks prefer a couple of larger meals per day. Others follow the standard three-meal, two-snack per day game plan. Yet another group consists of grazers, who snack all day. Which way is best?
Just like most questions in life, there are two sides to the story, so let’s take a look at both the advantages and disadvantages of snacking.
1) You stay sated throughout the day
Folks who don’t snack may approach mealtimes like a free-for-all. It’s been hours and hours since they’ve eaten and they lose willpower, possibly making bad choices due to hunger. Healthy snacking helps to control the mad desire to buy that giant bag of Cheetos on the way home from work, then shovel them in at light speed.
2) You have better control over blood sugar and energy levels
If you eat a meal only every six hours or so, blood sugar is destined to increase, particularly if the meal is high in carbohydrates. Snacking can help better regulate blood sugar, especially when metabolically efficient snacks are consumed (fiber + protein + fat). If you feel energy dips during the day and are able to avoid this by having small, controlled snacks, then snack on.
3) You consume smaller meals
Let’s face it; giant meals aren’t good for anyone. Eating smaller, controlled meals leads to more efficient digestion and metabolism. When snacks are omitted from the day, meals tend to be larger, which can translate to feeling like you need to be rolled away from the table or out of the restaurant.
1) You suffer from poor snack choices
If your go-to snacks are processed, packaged items, you are better off sticking with meals only. Most snacks are high-carb, low-nutrition. Better snacks to seek out include hummus and raw veggies, plain Greek yogurt with seeds, nuts and fruit, or a whole-food bar (like a Larabar).
2) You could take in too many calories
If your goal is to maintain weight and your caloric need per day is, say, 1,700 calories, you could very easily exceed this requirement with unnecessary snacks. Many snack foods do tend to be high calories (even healthy ones like nuts), so keep a close eye on this.
3) Your snacking leads to constant grazing
This is where you need to be honest with yourself about your eating habits. If you start munching and are not able to stop, incorporating snacks into your daily regimen is probably not a good thing.
The answer to the question, “To snack or not to snack?” varies from person to person. Get in touch with your eating habits and determine whether snacking starts a chain reaction of overeating, or whether you are able to effectively manage snacking. For athletes who are burning a considerable amount of calories per day, snacks can help bridge the gap between meals and keep eating on track. Seek the help of a sports dietitian for further guidance.
Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD, METS Level II is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including three Ironman races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific, metabolically efficient fueling plans for her clients. Brooke and her husband, John, own Destination Kona Triathlon Store in south Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at www.fueltothefinish.com.