Snacking - Should we be doing it? If so, what, why and when?

As cliché as this sounds, my response to the question ’should I snack’ that gets asked time and time again is, ‘well, it depends’, and in true dietitian style I continuously stand behind my philosophy that there is no 'one size fits all approach' when it comes to what and why we eat. 

Put simply, the act of snacking refers to consuming foods or drinks between your main meals. As a society, we generally associate snacking with highly processed foods that are laden with sugar, salt and fat. This is why the concept is generally and unfortunately frowned up. As a clinician, If I had a dollar for every-time a client came to me and said "I snack too much” or “I know I need to stop snacking” I would be one wealthy lady. However, despite popular belief (and you may be happy to hear this) snacking can actually be really beneficial for our health and wellbeing and can be used as a tool to help you reach and optimise your nutrition goals. 

Whether you eat three meals a day, six small meals or three main meals and three snacks per day, it really doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that you are eating in a way to fuel your lifestyle and choosing foods that make you feel good. And before you ask….no, eating more regularly does not ‘speed up your metabolism’. Your metabolism will be efficient enough if you are consuming the right quantities of food to meet your nutritional requirements in a healthy and mindful manner (but that’s for another time!).

So as you can probably tell by the nature of this blog, there is no black or white answer when it comes to snacking, if only it was that easy! 

To help you decipher, ask yourself the question “Why am I choosing to eat’?
This is a practise I use with a lot with my clients to help them understand their ‘Why?'. This is imperative in making educated decisions around your eating routine and can help you to avoid mindless snacking or eating to fill emotional voids as the result of boredom or stress (don’t worry, we have all been there). If you are consistently snacking for comfort measures, I do however suggest consulting with a dietitian who can help you work on your relationship with food. 

Why should you snack?  

1. You are hungry (and I mean genuinely hungry).
If this occurs shortly after your main meals, don’t forget to ensure your meals include a source of lean protein, slow-burning carbohydrates and healthy fats to keep you satisfied (refer to our previous blogs on the importance of macronutrients and where to find them in your food).

2. You have increased nutritional requirements. 
Perhaps you are a very active person (or maybe even an athlete for that matter). You might even be breastfeeding or have a medical condition that increases your energy needs too. For this group, eating more regularly can help them consume larger volumes of food to achieve their goals.  

3. You have a condition that favours eating smaller meals. 
Individuals with Irritable bowel syndrome and reflux (as an example) find eating larger meals can cause digestive discomfort, therefore snacking or eating smaller meals regularly is more appropriate for them.

4. You have low energy levels. 
Eating between meals can help to balance your blood sugar levels which can assist with appetite control and optimising your energy.

5. It makes you feel good. 
You’ve asked the question, and your not necessarily hungry, or bored or stressed for that matter, but, there is a KOJA Natural Peanut Butter Bar on your desk that needs to be eaten right away.
So yes, choosing to eat because something is delicious is a totally reasonable WHY! That also goes for a slice of the fresh banana bread I just pulled out of the oven, right?  

6. You find yourself eating the entire kitchen in the evenings. 
While this may be an indication that your dinner wasn’t balanced, it could also be a reflection of not eating enough during the day. If you experience these feelings (please know you are not alone!) you may wish to include snacks throughout the day to help manage your appetite.

How to choose a healthy snack:

When it comes to choosing a nutrient-dense snack, I always recommend looking out for these four things: (Aim for at least two)

  1. Fibre (colour): nourishes your gut bugs and keeps you satisfied
  2. Lean Protein: fuels your muscles and helps to control your appetite
  3. Slow-burning carbohydrates: balances your blood sugar levels and increases your energy 
  4. Healthy Fats: improves your heart health and mood and keeps you fuller for longer 
If you are purchasing a packaged product, choose foods that are:
    1. Low in sugar: less than 5g per serve
    2. Free from preservatives: and artificial ingredients (including sweeteners).
    3. Low in saturated fat: ~3g or less per 100g

    Based on the above information a KOJA Natural Peanut Butter Bar makes for the perfect snack. They contain fibre, healthy fats, protein and slow-burning carbohydrates, as well as being low in sugar and saturated fat and free from preservatives & artificial ingredients. For more healthy snack ideas, visit the recipes page.

    At the end of the day, it all comes down to listening to your body, eating mindfully and choosing foods that fuel you or make you feel your best. Try not to over-complicate it, if you are hungry between your meals, then by all means have a snack. The main goal is to opt for nutrient-dense foods more often than not, but don’t forget to add in a little pleasure too. It’s important to nourish your body, but nourishing your soul is just as essential!

    Written by Accredited Nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian Millie Padula, founder of Dietitian Edition.