There aren’t many of us that go through a day without snacking. In fact, a study published in 2010 suggests that 97% of Americans incorporate snacking into their regular diet (research conducted in 2006). And with UK trends closely following that of the US it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that us Brits follow suit.
Typically those foods that we snack on tend to be desserts, sweets, salty foods, chocolate and sweetened drinks, which could explain why another study, published in 2005, found that obese subjects were more frequent snackers than a reference group.
So is snacking bad for you?
In short, no. But it’s all down to situation and the types of snacks consumed. Reaching for a healthy snack before exercise is actually beneficial and could also make you less likely to reach for the biscuit tin later (find out more in Eating for Exercise). But when else might you need to snack?
- If you’re diabetic you may need to snack to keep your blood glucose levels up
- If there is likely to be a long time between meals (4-5 hours or more)
- If you have a very active job/lifestyle
- If you have had surgery that reduces the amount of food your stomach can handle (e.g. gastric band or gastric bypass surgery)
- During adolescence kids may need snacks in order to support growth
There are plenty of snack options out there that are more waistline friendly, and with additional nutritional benefits to boot. Check out a few on my post “A Balanced Diet“. However, even healthy snacks can be diet disasters if you’re not careful.
Take dried fruit as an example. If you ate a whole mango you would likely feel very full, and would have taken in around 99 calories. A snack pack of dried mango contains a more hefty 130 calories, and without all the water content you are less likely to feel as satiated. The weight difference here is 165g of the fresh stuff compared to just 40g of dried fruit – now that’s definitely going to make a difference to fullness.
Nuts are another diet-wrecking culprit, with a whopping 585 calories in a 100g bag of cashew nuts it’s easy to overindulge. A typical serving size of 25g still packs a calorie punch of 146 kCals, which is almost as much as in a Cadbury’s Creme Egg!
Now I’m not telling you not to eat dried fruit or nuts, they are far more nutritious than the chocolate bars or crisps that snackers usually reach for; the calorie content of nuts is mainly down to the levels of “good” fats they contain, and dried fruit contains natural sugars. Both are packed with vitamins essential for good health. Just be aware of the calories you are consuming and allow for snacks by adjusting the amount of food you eat elsewhere in the day. Don’t be fooled by the virtuous reputation of these foods!
One thing that never fails to shock me is the poor and often misleading labelling of snack products.
This pack of chocolate fruit and nut mix was labelled in store as a “snack pack”. It carries a label on the front showing the nutritional content for “a serving”. You wouldn’t be alone in assuming that one serving of a snack pack would be the entire snack pack, but no – this snack pack actually contains 1.8 servings. Yes, really… 1.8 servings! I don’t know where the 0.8 of a person comes from, but that is what the pack suggests.
|Chocolate fruit & nut mix “snack pack”|
|Suggested 25g serving…|
|… but it’s a 45g bag!|
As you can see from the photos, the snack pack contains 45g of chocolate fruit and nut mix, but the suggested serving size is 25g! If you were counting on the front of the pack to tell you exactly what and how much you’re about to eat then you may have been in for a bit of a surprise when you found out that instead of the 125 kCals and 8 grams of fat you’d expected to be taking in, you were actually consuming 225 kCals and 14.3 grams of fat. And if you had one of these lovely snacks every day, within a year you could have gained over 10 lbs!
So we’ve established that snacking could be linked to weight gain and obesity, and that it’s on the rise, but that it can also be a very important part of our diets and health. We’ve also learned that some common snack foods can be diet danger zones, and that packaging is misleading. So what do we do with all of this information?
Essentially, it’s up to you! But if you want to lose weight and also remain healthy, then try to stick to small portion sizes, nutritious and filling foods. Fruit is a great snack: most fruits are handily already portion controlled, some come pre-packaged (bananas and satsumas have their own packaging!) and they contain a variety of nutrients and antioxidants. For an extra satiety boost add a small amount of peanut butter to give you protein and fat, slowing digestion in the stomach. But most importantly, read the labels!
- Piernas, C., Popkin, B.M., 2010. Snacking increased among U.S. adults between 1977 and 2006, The American Institute of Nutrition, [Online] Available at: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/140/2/325.full [Accessed 21st November 2012].
- Bertéus Forslund, H., Torgerson, J.S., Sjöström, L., Lindroos, A.K., 2005. Snacking frequency in relation to energy intake and food choices in obese men and women compared to a reference population, International Journey of Obesity, [Online] Available at: http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v29/n6/full/0802950a.html [Accessed 21st November 2012].
- Diabetes.org.uk, 2008. Snacks [Online] Available at: http://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/My-life/Teens/Me-and-my-diabetes/Food-and-diet/Snacks/for-snacking/ [Accessed 21st November 2012].
- Livestrong.com, 2012. The Daily Plate, Mango [Online] Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/thedailyplate/nutrition-calories/food/generic/mango/ [Accessed 21st November 2012].
- WeightLossResources.co.uk, 2012. Calories in nuts and seeds [Online] Available at: http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/calories/calorie_counter/nuts_seeds.htm [Accessed 21st November 2012].
- WeightLossResources.co.uk, 2012. Calories in chocolate and sweets [Online] Available at: http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/calories/calorie_counter/chocolate_sweets.htm [Accessed 21st November 2012].