The Importance of Healthy Snacking : Munch your way to Good Health!
Snacking frequency, along with the energy density of snack foods, are significantly increasing among the U.S. population every year. However, snacking does not necessarily have to mean calorie excess and weight gain (Larson NI et al., 2016)! A recent study shows a significant positive correlation between healthy snack food choices, adequate diet quality and healthy BMI (Barnes TL et al., 2015). In this study, those who snacked on fruit juice and nuts tended to have a healthier diet overall compared to those that snacked on desserts and sweets.
Nonetheless, snacking mindlessly throughout the day can easily contribute to extra calories and weight gain (Bellisle F, 2014). It is therefore important to be mindful when it comes to snacking. The context and environment in which one snacks as well as the frequency of food consumption and choice of snack all play a role in healthy snacking.
Upon the comparison of snacking habits between a normal-weight population an obese population, various studies show that for the normal-weight population, snacking helped to balance out energy and carbohydrate intake throughout the day without consuming excessive calories (Bellisle F, 2014). On the other hand, the obese population tended to snack on energy-dense foods and without feeling hungry. For example, this population appeared to snack while watching television without focusing on the food they were consuming. This resulted in overconsumption of food and weight gain.
Snacking mindfully therefore not only takes into account adequate food choices, but also appropriate behavior.
Eat a nutritionally balanced, whole food-based snack!
Nutritional balance is important when choosing a healthy snack. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) represent the proportion of macronutrients needed per day in order to obtain all the essential nutrients all the while maintaining a healthy body weight. According to the AMDR, an average adult is required to consume the following macronutrient proportions every day:
- 45-65% carbohydrates
- 20-35% fat
- 10-35% protein
- 38g fiber (males) & 25g fiber (females)
Moreover, it is important to choose whole foods when it comes to preparing a healthy snack. A whole food is a food that can either be found in nature or that is made up of 100% natural ingredients. Whole foods do not contain unhealthy additives such as artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, sugar alcohols, or excess sodium. Examples of whole foods are fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds!
Don’t forget the antioxidants!
It is also a great idea to incorporate antioxidants in your snack. Antioxidants are essential for optimal health as they neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are harmful substances that can damage DNA and other chemicals in the body. They may cause certain cancers, diseases, and accelerate the ageing process. Free radicals are formed when cells are oxidized due to exposure to oxygen. Antioxidants can therefore protect cells from being oxidized and may even reverse the process of forming free radicals.
Here is a list of the most common antioxidants and where they are found:
- Vitamin C: Oranges, bell peppers, kiwis
- Vitamin E: Nuts & seeds, eggs, avocado
- Vitamin A: Carrots, sweet potatoes, eggs
- Selenium: Brazil nuts
- Flavonoids & Polyphenols: Red wine, tea
- Lycopene: Red tomatoes
Six Delicious and Satisfying Power Snack Ideas
1. Nuts & Dried Fruit
Note: Beware of portion sizes! Calories can add up very rapidly! Here is an example of an adequate portion:
- 2 brazil nuts
- 10 almonds
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
Vitamin C: 10%
2. Greek Yogurt & Berries
- 1/2 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
- ½ cup blueberries
Vitamin C: 12%
3. Veggies & Hummus
- ½ cup hummus
- 1 cup raw carrots
Vitamin A: 428%
Vitamin C: 13%
4. Egg & Grapefruit
- 1 hard-boiled egg
- 1/2 grapefruit
Vitamin C: 65%
Vitamin A: 34%
5. Apple + Peanut Butter
- 1 apple
- 2 tbsp organic peanut butter (100% peanuts)
Vitamin C: 10%
6. Golda Bar
- 1 Golda Bar Cacao Almond bar
Vitamin C: 2%
Barnes TL, French SA, Harnack LJ, Mitchelle NR, Wolfson J. (2015). Snacking behaviors, diet quality, and body mass index in a community sample of working adults. J Acad Nutr Diet.;115(7): 1117-23.
Bellisle F. (2014). Meals and snacking, diet quality and energy balance. Physiol Behav.;134:38-43.
Larson NI, Miller JM, Watts AW, Story MT, Neumark-Sztainer DR. (2016). Adolescent Snacking Behaviors Are Associated with Dietary Intake and Weight Status. J. Nutr.;146(7): 1348-1355.
Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients/Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) retrieved July 17 from: https://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/DRI_Macronutrients.pdf