The 411 on 'Snacking'

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN

September 13, 2020


Ever deliberated about your #snacking habits? Whether or not you snack often, there are several factors that influence our decision to 'snack' and our subsequent selections of foods.


'Snacking' is an eating occasion between meals and there is variability in the definition of a snack (how I define a snack -vs- how you would). Why does this matter? How we label an eating occasion (a "meal" -vs- a "snack") influences, not only what we choose to eat, but also how satisfied we feel after eating. Remarkably, studies have shown that people report not feeling satiated after eating a "snack", even if it contains the same amount of calories as a "meal"! (Read more about food density here).


Snacking accounts for at least 25% of daily energy intakes

So, why do we snack?

Motivations for snacking vary immensely, but here are a few:


1. Biological cues: Simply, we eat when we're hungry


2. Social: Celebrations are the most common reasons for consuming (unhealthy) snacks. Alternatively, ever heard of "social modeling" - it is a fancy term for peer pressure in adults - if you are surrounded by individuals that eat large portions of snacks, you are more likely to eat larger portions. Likewise, if they eat smaller portions, you are more inclined to eat less as well ('birds of a feather...').


3. Cultural traditions: In many cultures, a snack is a part of the traditional meal pattern. Take the goûter in France, for example (tea-time with sweets), or the merienda in the Philippines (a light snack eaten twice a day).


4. Hedonic eating: Pleasure eating is a common motivation and a food may be eaten for its palatability, or in celebration of an accomplishment (you finally finished the book!).


5. Food insecurity: individuals who are food insecure (they do not have access at all times to healthful foods) consume snacks as a major source of their energy intake


6. Dieting: Individuals that skip meals may snack more often (Get caught up on #dietculture here)


Is snacking bad?

With the exception of fruit, most snacks/snack foods are high in calories and lack a variety of essential nutrients, giving the term an overall negative connotation.


In addition, distracted snacking - eating while engaged in another activity, such as watching TV, and snacking in the absence of hunger (eating simply because food is available even though you are not hungry... who is guilty of this during covid???🙋‍♀️) both result in overeating and are linked to weight gain... especially if that TV show is boring (science says: boredom contributes to the decision to snack!).


It is all relative...

What is your overall eating pattern? How often do you 'snack'? What types of foods do you choose when 'snacking'? etc.


When determining whether or not to include snacks in your diet, think about the big picture; snacking itself is not bad, but your overall dietary pattern and the frequency and types of foods chosen prove to have health-related impacts. (Get my eGuide to healthy snacking here)

This information is intended for nutrition education purposes only. Always consult with your medical team and Registered Dietitian on a one-on-one basis to determine what is best for you and your health goals.


Sources:

Advances in Nutrition, Volume 7, Issue 3, May 2016, Pages 466–475, https://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.009571


Mahan K. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. In: 13th ed. ; 2012.

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