The Science of Snacking | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan … – HSPH News

Are snacks good or bad for you? A snack is generally defined as any food eaten between main meals. Many people snack at least once during the course of a day, and there are several reasons why. The most common scenario is that our stomachs start growling a few hours after our last meal. Another might be a dip an energy levels that a small bite can remedy. Or maybe we just look forward to the taste of certain snack foods.
Market research in the U.S. shows the most common snack choices are fruit, cookies, chips, ice cream, candy, popcorn, soft drinks, crackers, cake, milk, nuts and seeds, tea, and yogurt. [1] Snacks have been associated with both weight gain and maintaining weight, as well as with a lower or higher diet quality. [1,2] Although snacks can be a regular and important part of a healthy diet, they can also lead to health problems. What differentiates the two scenarios is one’s snacking behavior: what you snack on, why you snack, frequency of snacking, and how snacks fit into your overall eating plan.
The 2020 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council revealed several insights into how Americans snack. [5]
In children, snacking makes up about 27% of their daily calorie intake and there has been a substantial increase in snacking habits over the past few decades. [4] American children tend to consume snacks that are calorie-rich and nutrient-poor, which is concerning when more than 30% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. [6] Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show that children do not obtain enough calcium, vitamin D, fiber, and potassium, but have high intakes of calories, carbohydrates, and sodium. [6] Snacks such as low-sugar yogurt, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, and nuts can help provide these needed nutrients in young children and preadolescents while controlling excess calories.
Research has attempted to see if snacking has a positive or negative impact on nutrition and health outcomes—but without a clear answer. [7] This may be because of a lack of a common scientific definition of what is a snack. Studies find that snacking recommendations from public health organizations worldwide generally advise limiting snacks that offer little nutrition but are high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium; they find that snacks provide at least 10% of daily calories, with a frequency of eating about two snacks per day. [7,8] The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 includes recommendations for nutrient-dense snacks, such as raw vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, and plain yogurt. [9]
We know that snacks are meant to be satisfying small bites between meals. But some studies show that snacking can lead to weight gain. [2] Although eating too many snacks may be the obvious reason, there are several subtle factors that can feed this occurrence. [4,8]
Simply being aware of these factors can help reduce the chances of snack overload. Use mindfulness strategies such as being intentional about snack choices, savoring small bites and chewing thoroughly, eating slowly, and using the senses to fully appreciate the colors, textures, and tastes of snacks.
The concept of meal planning can be applied to snacks. Take the time to incorporate snack planning to ensure that snacks work for you, not against you. Follow these simple steps and ask yourself:
Asian Trail Mix
Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas
Dried Fruit and Nuts
Green Lentil Hummus with Herbs and Olives
Lemon Chickpea Muffins
White Bean and Kale Hummus
Whole Wheat Banana Nut Muffins
The contents of this website are for educational purposes and are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The Nutrition Source does not recommend or endorse any products.
Use healthy oils (like olive and canola oil) for cooking, on salad, and at the table. Limit butter. Avoid trans fat.
Drink water, tea, or coffee (with little or no sugar). Limit milk/dairy (1-2 servings/day) and juice (1 small glass/day). Avoid sugary drinks.
The more veggies — and the greater the variety — the better. Potatoes and French fries don’t count.
Eat plenty of fruits of all colors
Choose fish, poultry, beans, and nuts; limit red meat and cheese; avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats.
Eat a variety of whole grains (like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, and brown rice). Limit refined grains (like white rice and white bread).
Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.
Create healthy, balanced meals using this visual guide as a blueprint.

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