How to Snack Better
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
Say the word “snack” and I immediately start to get hungry.
Having a snack between lunch and dinner is a regular part of my day and it seems that I’m not alone. Americans are moving further and further away from just eating 3 meals a day (your classic breakfast, lunch, and dinner) to eating about 5 meals or snacks a day. This increase in eating occasions is largely due to snacking (1).
I’m not sure which came first. In my opinion, it is a chicken and the egg situation, but the food industry is also upping its game when it comes to snack offerings. Over the last decade, snacks (along with beverages and bakery food) have topped the list for most new product introductions into the market (2).
This uptick in snacking was seen before the COVID-19 pandemic and it's grown even more since. A survey conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) in April of 2020 reported that about 26% of Americans snacked multiple times a day. Another survey by IFIC in August of 2020 showed an increase in snacking: about 36% of Americans snack multiple times a day now (3,4).
So we’re increasing the number of times we eat in a day by incorporating more snacks, plus we have tons of snack options at the store to feed this habit (pun intended). Is snacking part of a healthy, balanced diet though? Just as with every nutrition question, it depends!
For some individuals, it can be beneficial to eat several smaller meals/snacks throughout the day instead of the traditional three meals. For others, it may be best to have three meals and maybe one or two snacks. Others may benefit from not snacking. At the Functional Kitchen, we always say everyone is a nutritional snowflake and we mean it! We all have unique needs!
Now that’d be a pretty boring end to a blog though so here are some basic ways to keep snacks balanced and healthy:
Keep snacks snack-sized:
A snack is meant to be just that, a snack! It can be easy to eat a meal-sized snack and some prepared snacks you can find at the store definitely come in large quantities. Snacks shouldn't be spoiling our appetite for our next meal. Rather, they're a useful way to tie us over to our next meal!
Build balanced snacks:
Let's keep things simple here - when building a snack, aim for 2 different macronutrients and always pair carbohydrates with a buddy. You can even incorporate all 3 macronutrients in your snack!
Quick refresher, the major macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
That means a snack can be a combination of:
protein + carbohydrates (exp: turkey jerky + an apple)
protein + fat (exp: yogurt + pistachios)
carbohydrates + fat (crackers + hummus)
protein + carbohydrates + fat (sliced turkey + rice cake + guacamole)
Leave 3-4 hours between eating occasions:
Leaving 3-4 hours between eating occasions helps keep your digestive system healthy and happy by giving your body time to "clean" your stomach and small intestine. This can keep gut inflammation down and keep unwanted bacteria out of your small intestine.
If you want to read up more on this, check out our recent Instagram post!
Watch out for high salt and added sugar:
Salt is not inherently bad. We need it to live our healthiest lives! It's a key electrolyte that helps us keep the right amount of fluid in the right places. Packaged snacks do tend to be quite high in salt though so look for lower-sodium options or prepare your own snacks at home!
Too much added sugar has been tied to numerous health problems so it's best to watch our intake of it. We're not talking about the naturally occurring sugar in a whole piece of fruit - we're talking about sugar that's intentionally added to something. Next time you're eating a prepared snack, check out the "added sugar" line on the nutrition label and see if you can find an option with low or no added sugar!
1. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, DC.
2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
3. International Food Information Council. Eating and Shopping During a Global Pandemic. International Food Information Council; September 2020 2020.
4. Food Insight. Food Trends to Watch in 2021. International Food Information Council; January 6, 2021.