In Defense of Snacking

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Our Let’s Dish! team recently had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie Mull while filming a video about healthy living for busy families.  Stephanie is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) who is energetic and passionate about finding easy ways for folks to make better eating decisions.  With minimal begging on our part, she agreed to be an occasional guest at thedishblog.com.  This is the first installment of what we hope will regular contributions from Stephanie.  Learn more about her at http://www.smullnutrition.com. – Ed.

Does any of this ring a bell?  You just realized it’s been 7 hours since you’ve eaten anything so you hit up the vending machine for a snack.  Or you just got home and you need to make dinner but you are so hungry that you can’t wait so you reach into the pantry and pull out the saltiest, fattiest snacks because it’s the only thing that sounds good.  Or you are on a road trip and realize you didn’t plan accordingly and your kids are starving.  So you swing by McDonald’s because it’s cheap and easy.  If any of this sounds even somewhat familiar to you, then it’s time to makeover your snacking!  

Snacking is essential to your eating pattern because it helps regulate your appetite and prevent overeating of unhealthy foods.  If we didn’t snack, we’d be left with only 3 times to eat a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I don’t know about you but I love food and I love to eat.  Eating only 3 times a day doesn’t cut it for me!  Strategically placing snacks in between meals helps control hunger and regulate your metabolism.  Snacking also provides your body energy to keep up with your busy schedule and it keeps your mind sharp and focused.  From a weight management perspective, snacking is essential to regulate calorie intake throughout the day.  If you are left with only 3 times to eat, those meals will be very large.  Your dinner meal would typically be the largest of the three because it would come at the end of the day.  By snacking, your portions at meals will go down because you won’t be as hungry.  You also have a tendency to eat better.  If you let yourself get too hungry, then you’ll crave high fat, high sugar, high salt, and overall high calorie foods.  Your body needs food NOW!  Don’t let yourself get to that point!  Snacking gives you some extra time at meals to determine what to eat which means smarter choices.

There is a positive psychological effect that results from snacking.  If you know you will be able to eat every 3 hours or so, don’t you think you’ll typically eat less in general at any given time?  Otherwise, if you don’t eat regularly, then you’ll overeat because you won’t know when you’ll get to eat again.  Snacking allows you to not feel restricted even if you are trying to watch your calories. 

So when should snacking occur?  Ideally, you should try to eat every 3 to 4 hours.  For some people, that means eating a snack between breakfast and lunch and then again between lunch and dinner.  Sometimes breakfast and lunch are close enough that no snack is needed.  So you need to look at your own schedule and figure out if it would be beneficial to throw a snack in there.  Snacks aren’t designed to be large from a portion or calorie perspective.  They should be less than 150 calories (maybe more depending on your exercise level and your weight goals).  Usually fruit and vegetables with a few nuts or a scoop of peanut butter meet those requirements.

There are lots of options for healthy snacks!  If you aren’t sure if you need a snack or if you think you need to come up with some new and healthier snack options, talk with your dietitian.  Happy snacking!

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