By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT
Maybe you had a snack today. Or, maybe you’re planning on it.
Either way, consider yourself trendy.
The era of snacking seems to be upon us, whether that means munching between meals or fully replacing meals with snacks. A whopping 94 percent of Americans are snacking daily, according to a report by Mintel, a global market intelligence agency, and about half are snacking more than once a day.
Science of Snacking
When snacks are balanced and include a carbohydrate (like a piece of toast or fruit) and a protein (like a handful of peanuts or a spoonful of peanut butter), and are eaten between balanced meals, they can help us sustain steady energy and focus throughout the day. Plus, eating a snack during long stretches between meals will most likely keep us from eating like wild animals the next time we sit down to dine. A good rule of thumb is about 200 calories per snack, in addition to three well-rounded meals.[i] However, if we do not eat enough calories during the day because we are substituting those meals for small snacks, chances are we will be starving by the day’s end and may end up overeating.[ii]
One study of about 11,000 people showed that there is an association between snacking and a more nutrient-dense diet. For example, higher snacking frequency was linked to higher participant intake of fruit, whole grains and milk, and a more healthful intake of sodium, compared to lower frequency snacking.
On the flip side, the same study showed a negative association between snacking frequency and vegetable consumption. And the study had its limitations, including the potential of underreporting or misreporting of diet intake by participants.[iii]
Junk food is sometimes what we think of when we hear “snack time.” These days, snacks are often made up of nutrient-dense foods like fruit, whole grains and nuts, and it’s clear that we’ve begun writing a new definition for snacking.
Still, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most of the U.S. population’s snacks are lower in key nutrients (iron, protein, vitamin D, fiber and potassium) when compared to full meals. Plus, almost half of Americans’ daily intake of added sugars, which are commonly found in soft drinks, candy, cakes and cookies, come from snacks. [iv]
So, remember the quality and types of foods we choose as part of our snacks are key in providing us with what our bodies need for optimal health and energy. And peanuts and peanut butter can fit in well to your snacking routine, and give it both a flavor- and nutrition boost. They pack protein, good fats, fiber and several vitamins and minerals. And it is easy to bring peanuts and peanut butter away from home, whether it’s in a bag of trail mix, energy bites or a PB&J.
Snack with Intention
While snacking can be healthfully integrated into anyone’s diet, it’s important not to let it become an unhealthy habit like stress eating. Three out of every five people are reaching for salty snacks as a way to relieve stress, according to another Mintel report.
Instead of snacking mindlessly to relieve stress at the office or in the car, slow down and tune in to your body’s signals. To practice mindful eating, try to snack away from distractions, to engage all your senses while snacking, and ask yourself: Am I truly hungry or am I really stressed out right now? If you answer yes to the latter question, take a deep breath and turn to another stress-reliever, such as a walk, talking to a trusted friend or journaling.[v]
Snacking, and eating in general, is meant to be an enjoyable and nourishing experience.
For Your Next Snack Attack
Creating a nourishing and satisfying snack is almost as easy as 1+1. You can think of it as a simple equation.
Carbohydrate + Protein/Fat = Snack
1 slice Whole wheat toast
½ cup Fresh fruit or 1 piece whole fruit
½ cup Oatmeal
1-1.5 Graham cracker sheets
¼ cup Granola
5 Whole wheat crackers
½ English muffin
1 cup Yogurt
1 oz. (about 28) Peanuts
1-2 Tbsp. Peanut butter
¼ cup Edamame
1 Hardboiled egg
1 oz. Cheese (looks like 4 dice)
½ cup Pumpkin seeds
Here are a few combos. to get you started:
Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon
Banana with peanut butter and a drizzle of honey
Graham cracker spread with peanut butter
Whole wheat crackers with avocado chunks
Fresh pear slices with Brie cheese
Plain Greek yogurt with berries
Blueberries and spicy pumpkin seeds
Keep in mind, these snack combinations are not intended to replace complete meals, but to instead supplement them. Happy Snacking!
[i] Recommended Nutrition Standards for Food Outside of School Meal Programs. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/nutrition/pdf/nutrition_factsheet_parents.pdf. Accessed December 29, 2016.
[ii] Snacks for adults. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000338.htm. Accessed December 29, 2016.
[iv] Part D. Chapter 1: Food and Nutrient Intakes, and Health: Current Status and Trends - Continued. Part D. Ch 1: Food and Nutrient Intakes, p. 4 - 2015 Advisory Report. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/06-chapter-1/d1-4.asp. Accessed December 29, 2016.