Did you know that our digestive system was designed to receive and process food every four hours or so? That’s why we often get the munchies in the middle of the afternoon, between lunch and dinner time.
Hunger is the physiological drive to eat, regulated by internal mechanisms. When we haven’t eaten for a while, body cells become deprived of fuel, which stimulates the feeding centre in the brain to signal us to eat. Therefore, snacking is a way to maintain our energy levels.
Snacking also helps to improve our mood (low blood sugar makes us cranky), curb cravings, and may keep us from overeating the next meal.
And for some people, it may also be an opportunity to get import nutrients. Busy lifestyles and hectic schedules can keep us from having nutritious regular meals. In addition, hard gainers (the ones who can’t seem to put on weight no matter what), young children and older adults may benefit from grazing, because of their difficulty in having large portions at mealtime.
It seems like great news. Now before you go grabbing a bag of chips, I have a few guidelines for you to make snacking part of a healthy diet:
- Eat only when hungry. Avoid eating out of boredom, frustration, or stress.
- Keep portion control in mind. Separate the portion you intend to eat in a bowl or plate. Eating out of the box usually leads to overconsumption.
- Plan snacks ahead of time. Shop for healthy snacks and have them at hand. You’ll be less likely to attack the vending machine, if you have your own snacks with you.
- One or two snacks a day is enough for most adults. Use snacks to keep your energy levels in check. Avoid mindless eating.
- Keep your snacks under 200 calories. Active adults, teens, and athletes may consume snacks up to 300 calories.
- Give preference to nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and dairy products, and lean protein sources. These foods are generally rich in nutrients and low in calories.
- Beware of fruit drinks, pastries, baked goods, and energy and protein bars because they are usually loaded with sugar and fat. Salty snacks such as chips, some varieties of microwavable popcorn, and roasted peanuts often contain too much oil and salt.