It got to be a running joke in our family. “I’m starving,” my teenage self would lament, even though it was several hours before dinner would be served. “Go have an apple,” my mother would comment. So I’d go rummaging through the refrigerator to find an apple or other snack that could sate my hunger until dinner was ready.
However, that pattern of having a snack to tide you over is changing as people turn to grazing on small snacks throughout the day. In fact, these new eating patterns are starting to make the time-honored American tradition of three square meals a day into an antique. For instance, a recent Wall Street Journal story points to a woman who eats snacks of instant oatmeal, sliced chicken and brown rice six times a day instead of conforming to the traditional eating plan.
Snacks are no longer considered an indulgence; instead, they are increasingly becoming nutritious and portable. Interestingly, Americans tend to choose healthier foods to snack on during the morning, with fruit and dairy products leading the way. In the afternoon, we tend to opt for either fruit or salty snacks, although sweets often get chosen at this point. In the evening, almost one in of five Americans chooses sweets as a snack while a smaller percentage opts for salty snacks or dairy products.
At this point, researchers aren’t sure whether snacking or eating three square meals is the healthiest route to nourish the body. However, there are some potential drawbacks to snacking. For instance, snacking can encourage tooth decay, especially if you consume foods that are rich in carbohydrates, which have simple sugars that support the growth of plaque bacteria. Therefore, you should try to avoid sticky foods or ones that often lead to food particles stuck between teeth or in the pits of the molars. Additionally, snack foods that are high in refined carbohydrates or added sugars can trigger high blood triglyceride levels and lower the good type of cholesterol. These foods also can contribute to inflammation as well as oxidative stress, which can put you at an increased risk for heart disease.
And obviously, snacking can add calories to your daily intake if you aren’t careful. When you eat a larger number of calories and don’t burn them off through physical activity, you’re putting yourself at risk of gaining weight. And remember that as we age, the body’s metabolism becomes less efficient so that high-calorie snack you could easily consume (and burn off) when you were in your 20s isn’t so easily negated.
So if you what to snack, what should you choose? The National Institute on Aging makes the following recommendations:
- Avoid snacks that have “empty calories” such as sodas, chips and cookies.
- The NIA write-up puts alcohol as a snack and warns that it also has many empty calories.
- Don’t eat chips or nuts from the bag since it’s easy to overindulge. Instead, figure out a serving and then close the bag and put it away.
- If you’re travelling or away from the house, take some healthy snacks with you so you won’t be tempted by a candy bar.
So those are great guidelines, but what are some of the best snacks? Nutritionists who were surveyed offered some usual candidates (fruits, vegetables, cheese and crackers, nuts and popcorn), as well as some interesting choices, such as Greek yogurt, roasted seaweed, a cup of hot chocolate, old-fashioned oats with nut butter, hummus, vegetarian jerky, beet chips, sweet potato chips, hard-boiled egg and lentils.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Campbell, M. (ND). Bad effects of snacking. SF Gate.
Esterl, M. (2014). Forget dinner. It’s always snack time in America. The Wall Street Journal.
Huffington Post. (2012). Healthy snacking: What do nutritionists eat between meals?
National Institute on Aging. (ND). Healthy snacking.
Published On: July 10, 2014