The Benefits of Snacking
Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN
Is snacking a healthy habit or not? Like most nutrition topics, the answer is “It depends.” Snacking can add nutrition to your diet and benefit your health, or snacking can make you less healthy. It depends on the snacks you choose and other factors, such as why and when you choose to snack.
This article will help you look at your relationship with snacking, so you can make any necessary shifts in your habits to support your health. Let’s dive into the pros and cons of snacking; keep reading to learn more about:
- Snacking cons
- Snacking pros
- Healthy snacking tips
- 30 healthy snack ideas
Let’s jump in!
The Downsides to Snacking
Snacks are a part of American culture. Adults in the U.S. get 20% of their daily food from snacks, and snack one to three times per day. Snacks contribute even more for kids, about one-third of their daily intake.
Most snack foods are highly processed and refined. Think cookies, chips, candy, snack bars, baked goods, soda, sugary coffee drinks, etc. These foods provide a lot of calories but not much nutrition, which is not good for your health, especially over time. In fact, snacking on desserts and sweets is associated with a higher body mass index (BMI).
Weight gain isn’t the only downside of eating ultra-processed snack foods. These snacks can also contribute to:
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Hormone imbalances
- Cavities and poor oral health
- Increased risk for diabetes and other chronic disease
Your relationship to snacking isn’t only about what you choose to eat; why and when are important questions too.
Are you snacking because of stress instead of hunger? Are you snacking because you skipped a meal? Are you snacking late at night? Does your snacking make you feel guilty or like you have no willpower? If so, looking deeper into your relationship with snacks might be helpful. If you need help, work with a dietitian.
The Benefits of Nutritious Snacks
Unlike highly processed snack foods, healthy snacks can contribute to the overall quality of your diet. Those who snack on fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods have an increased intake of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. In other words, snacks contribute to meeting your nutrient needs. Nutritious snacks may make it easier to maintain a healthy weight, along with other benefits, including:
- Blood sugar balance – Highly processed snacks tend to spike blood sugar, leading to blood sugar crashes, fatigue, cravings, and irritability. On the other hand, snacks high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats support balanced blood sugar, which supports overall metabolic health. Read How to Balance Your Blood Sugar (And Why it Matters) for more.
- Adrenal support – If you are going through a stressful time or recovering from one, snacking can be a tool to help your body better handle stress. Nutritious snacks provide the nutrients to support a healthy stress response and hormone balance. Read How to Support Your Adrenals and a Healthy Stress Response for more.
- Meet your nutrition needs – Your body needs a certain amount of protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients daily. Nutrient needs increase during stress, recovery from illness, growth, detoxification, and more. And most of us have difficulty meeting these needs with a standard diet. This nutrition gap is why taking a multivitamin and choosing nutritious snacks can be helpful, especially for children, pregnant and lactating women, and others with greater needs.
- Fuel an active lifestyle – Athletes and active people also have higher nutrient needs that may be challenging to meet from meals alone. If you are working to build muscle, improve performance, increase endurance, or enjoy a good workout, the quality and timing of your snacks can make a significant difference.
Healthy Snacking Tips
Next, let’s talk about how to get the most out of your snacks with these healthy snacking tips:
- Choose whole food snacks that include protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbs (like Twenty2 Nutrition Whole Food Bars) to keep your blood sugar stable and hold you until your next meal. This combination will help you feel full and satisfied so your snacking doesn’t turn into grazing.
- Avoid late-night snacking; instead, use snacks when you are active during the day. Frequent snacking at night can contribute to weight gain, impact sleep, and doesn’t give your digestive system the rest it needs. Plus, it can decrease hunger the next morning, so the cycle repeats.
- Plan your meals. Don’t let snacking replace your meals. Start your day with a balanced breakfast and eat lunch. You won’t need as many snacks in the afternoon or after dinner when your body gets what it needs earlier in the day.
- Plan for snacks when you know your meal will be pushed later or on hectic days. The best choices aren’t always available when you are out and about, so be sure to pack something like Twenty2 Nutrition Whole Food Bars.
- Understand your snacking motivation. Why do you snack? Sometimes we snack because of habit, stress, challenging emotions, or as a physical response to undereating. Getting clear about the driving forces can help you take steps to shift unwanted snacking behaviors.
- Snack from a bowl or plate instead of a box or bag. It’s easier to overeat from a large container. When you choose a packaged snack, serve yourself a reasonable portion.
- Practice mindful snacking. Mindful eating means eating without distraction or multitasking while focusing on your senses. Mindfulness also helps you slow down, tune into your body’s fullness cues, and enjoy pleasure from the eating experience.
30 Healthy Snack Ideas
Your snack choices matter. Snacking can contribute to overall diet quality. When you snack on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other whole foods, you get more nutrients into your day, leading to more health benefits. But these aren’t always the type of snacks people gravitate towards and may not be as convenient as more processed options. However, a little planning goes a long way.
Here are 30 whole-food snack ideas to make your snacks work for, not against, your health:
- Fruit and veggie smoothie with protein powder
- Hard-boiled egg + peach
- Seed crackers and smoked salmon
- Handful of almonds + 2 squares dark chocolate
- Whole milk yogurt + hemp seeds and berries
- Overnight protein oats
- Plantain chips and guacamole
- Sliced bell peppers + olives
- Homemade trail mix with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut, raisins, and dark chocolate chips
- Hummus + carrot sticks
- Celery and cream cheese
- Apple + peanut butter
- Fresh berries + Brazil nuts
- Whole grain crackers + cheese slices
- Cottage cheese + tomatoes and balsamic vinegar
- Popcorn (in coconut or avocado oil) + nutritional yeast
- Date with sunflower seed butter
- Chia pudding with fresh berries
- Kale chips or beet chips
- Roasted chickpeas
- Grass-fed beef jerky or meat stick
- Whole grain tortilla with cheese
- Almond flour crackers and cashew cheese
- Carrot or zucchini muffin
- Homemade energy balls with dates and nuts
- Turkey and avocado roll-ups
- Sliced cucumbers with hummus and olives
- Rice cake with almond butter and cinnamon
- Twenty2 Nutrition Whole Food Bars
Twenty2 Nutrition Chocolate Chip Banana Bread and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Whole Food Bars offer solid nutrition and a convenient snack choice. The organic bars contain an almond or peanut butter base, pea protein, and other nutrient-dense ingredients, including dates, oats, chia seeds, and dark chocolate. They provide healthy fats, protein, and fiber to keep you full, satisfied, and fueled throughout the day.
While common snack foods aren’t always the best option, well-placed whole-food snacks can positively influence your nutrition and health. Try some of the ideas in this article and notice how you feel differently regarding energy, mood, and cravings throughout the day.
This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider before changing your diet or beginning a new supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take medication, or have a medical condition.
Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, functional nutritionist, writer, and recipe creator. Ryah helps clients use a natural, food-as-medicine approach to improve fertility, pregnancy, hormone balance, autoimmunity, and discover a healthy relationship with food and body. Learn more about Ryah and her private practice at econutrition.co.