Research has demonstrated that small, frequent meals may offer health advantages, such as blunting the insulin response and lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Note, however, that in research conditions the required daily calories are divided evenly over the day and eaten under supervision. By contrast, in real life, people eat snacks in addition to full-sized meals, and thus snacking makes it easier to consume excess calories and gain weight.
Snacks contribute to non-hunger eating and are encouraged by advertising, which stresses convenience, taste, and food fashion. These snack foods are often of low nutrient and high caloric value. Avoiding frequent snacking plus drinking more water between meals is a better strategy. Not eating between meals has also been identified as one of seven lifestyle factors associated with better health.
Who needs a snack anyway?
Young children, athletes, and some older people may find snacks beneficial if they’re struggling to meet their daily energy requirement. If you are sedentary and already have an expanded waistline, limit your snacks and choose minimally processed foods without much added sugar, fat, or salt. Whole foods supply dietary fiber and antioxidants, so you get a healthy return for your caloric investment. For those who do choose to snack, the following suggestions make for the best choices.
10 healthful snack ideas
- Fresh fruit in season
- Unsalted nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds)
- Dried fruit (raisins, figs, apricots)
- Low-fat yogurt (dairy and soy options are available)
- Raw vegetables (cherry tomatoes, cucumber strips, pink radishes)
- Grainy fruit bread.
- Fruit smoothies made with low-fat milk or soy milk
- Fresh vegetable juice (note, fruit juice is higher in calories)
- Homemade, plain popcorn
- Corn on the cob
Beware of snack-food bars, and check labels, as many contain excessive amounts of added fat and sugar. Potato chips, corn chips, candies, and sodas should be limited to party times.
Nutritionist Sue Radd is the award-winning author of The Breakfast Book and coauthor of Eat To Live, internationally acclaimed for showing how savvy eating can combat cancer and heart disease and improve well-being. See www.sueradd.com for more nutrition information.