Is Snacking Healthy or Unhealthy for Me? What are Some Healthy Snacks?


I receive a few emails every week from readers asking: “What are some healthy snacks you can recommend?”

These concerned Rebels are doing their best to shift their dietary habits, and are interested in adjusting their snack foods as well.

I wanted to set the record straight on snacks today, and do what I do best:

TOTALLY NERD OUT and go overboard on a seemingly simple topic.

If I can do it with Sesame Street and The Goonies, then an article on snacking should be a…piece of cake?…easy as pie?

Probably not the BEST expressions to use here ūüôā

Anyways! ¬†Let’s go down the rabbit hole, learn about snacks, and make healthier decisions moving forward.

It turns out, the truth about the snacking question might not be as simple as you think…

Snacking: a brief history

pretzel

I’m not quite sure what the first recorded history of a snack was, but we know we can go back hundreds of years to find the first pretzel. So, snacking is not necessarily a NEW thing. ¬†

Regardless of where it began, it’s obvious where snacks reign supreme these days: the potato chip was invented in 1853, the vending machine was invented in 1888, and it’s been downhill ever since. ¬†

According to PackagedFacts.com, ¬†sales of snack foods in the United States reached $64 billion in 2010…up from $56 billion in 2006. And projected sales are expected to reach $77 billion by 2015! ¬†That’s a rendonkulous amount of money spent on meals between meals.

Not surprisingly, this increased amount of money spent on snacking has coincided with America getting fatter and fatter. ¬†Although correlation does not prove causation, I think it’s fair to assume that snacking on¬†processed¬†foods isn’t helping.

Especially when we’re eating things like Lay‚Äôs Chicken & Waffles Chips.

No, I didn’t make that up. Those chips actually exist.

So, what gives?  Is snacking to blame?

Let’s see: over the past 30 years, snacking has taken a greater and greater role in our daily routines, accounting for roughly 480 extra calories per day on average. One study found that Americans went from eating an average 3.8 meals and snacks a day to 4.9¬†over the last three decades ‚ÄĒ a 29% increase. The average American now consumes about 2,375 calories per day, about a third more than in the ‚Äô70s.

So, if we do a bit of dot connecting (and who doesn’t love that!?), it’s clear we have an overeating problem, an unhealthy eating problem, and a problem with eating the wrong stuff.

That’s a Triforce of Suck working against us and our waistlines!

Why all the snacking?

chewy chips

It’s probably weird to think about, but snacking never used to be a big part of our lives and culture.

Go back a number of years, and you’d see three square meals a day with an occasional¬†snack. ¬†Go back even further to the caveman days, and you might only be eating one big meal a day while hunting and gathering for your other meals.

Compare that to today in America: we have ready access to food ALL DAY.  

Look in your office right now РI bet you can make a quick trip to the break room or vending machine and come back with 5,000 calories worth of food in about five minutes.  Snack food is EVERYWHERE, companies have created snacks with addictive properties, and we get hit with advertisements for snacks, candy, and high calorie beverages every time we click on a web page or turn on the TV.

Especially here in America, we are set up to fail.  

On my epic journey around the world, I noticed that not many other countries snack like Americans do: most famous of the non-snackers would probably be the French and their “paradox” of eating unhealthy foods and staying thin and trim. One thing I did notice, snacking opportunities and packaged “snacks” were popped up in other countries as they became more westernized.

So, what can we do about it?

Is snacking good or bad for you?

pringles man

Now, there are differing schools of thought on snacking:

1) You should snack in between meals, or break up your eating into many smaller meals so you don’t overeat.¬† Conventional wisdom tells us that by eating smaller meals, your metabolism is always firing and thus working faster.

This theory says that by allowing yourself SMALL snacks in between meals, you will not be tempted to overeat for your regular meals.  It has nothing to do with metabolism speeds throughout the day, but rather total calories consumed compared just eating three meals. Obviously the goal here is to eat healthy snacks instead of donuts and chips and Goldfish crackers.  If you get so hungry between meals, you might be tempted to eat unhealthy lunches and dinners, so snacking can potentially help curb your appetite so you eat a normal meal for lunch.

2) You should NOT snack between meals ¬†People tend to eat unhealthy snacks, and then eat a normal sized breakfasts lunches and dinners, which results in overconsumption and weight gain. ¬†Rather than eating snacks between meals, put your focus on eating filling, healthy meals. Eat until you’re full, and then don’t eat again until your next meal. ¬†Because you’re not eating between meals, it’s more of a challenge to¬†over consume for the day since you can only eat so much in a single sitting (compared to when you mix in extra calories in between each meal).

Let’s address both sides of the argument before presenting my opinion.

What are some healthy snacks?

Carrot Sticks

If you are firmly planted on Team Snacking, I want to provide you with my favorite healthy snacks and options:

  • Vegetables –¬†Boring, I know. ¬†But veggies are so nutrient dense and calorie-light that they make the best snack possible. ¬†I sometimes fire up a tray full of asparagus and chow down. ¬†Carrots? Celery? ¬†Boom.
  • Apples and almond butter –¬† This is probably my favorite “snack” of all time, though I load up on this snack when I’m trying to GAIN weight. ¬†Cut the apple up into slices, dip in Trader Joe’s almond butter, and enjoy. ¬†Almond butter is better for you than peanut butter, and way more tasty. ¬†TRUST me on this.
  • Fruit –¬†Along with apples, mix in some other fruit like pears, orange slices, or a banana (with almond butter!). ¬†I would avoid dried fruit like raisins, as it’s a LOT of sugar and calories; you can eat a lot of them without realizing it. ¬†Keep an eye on how much fruit you’re eating, if your goal is weight loss.
  • BaconMy second favorite snack. ¬†Bacon is delicious. ¬†And nutritious. ¬†Oink Oink!
  • Protein –¬†If you are really hungry in between meals, there’s no reason you can’t eat normal meal things! ¬†Grilled chicken breast can help cut down your hunger, fill you up with protein, and keep you on target. ¬†In second place would be protein shakes, as they can fill you up and are incredibly quick to prepare.
  • Nuts –¬†Incredibly high in calories, so keep an eye on your total intake, but a small handful of nuts can help curb hunger pangs between meals. Almonds are my go-to. I like pistachios as well, as you have to earn each one ūüôā
  • Dark chocolate –¬†A really high cacao % (75% or greater) dark chocolate bar is a decent sweet-tooth option in a pinch. ¬†Just keep your portion size SMALL!

Long story short – aim for snacks with high fat and/or high protein. ¬†Veggies are always okay. ¬†What you need to avoid are the processed snacks with lots of calories and lots of carbs. ¬†They don’t fill you up, and you can end up eating WAY more than you realized.

Speaking of calories and carbs, don’t get fooled into thinking granola is a healthy snack! ¬†It sounds¬†healthy, it’s marketed as healthy, but it’s really just a bunch of grains and dried fruit stuck together with some sort of sugar concoction. ¬†Unless it’s homemade with just nuts and fruit, granola bars are not healthy snacks!

And don’t even get me started on Rice cakes…stay away!

Tell me about Team No Snacking

cheetah

I used to be firmly in the “lots of smaller meals throughout the day” camp, but I am no longer a pro-snack supporter.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with snacking per se, provided you are eating the right types of snacks and keeping your other meals to a reasonable size. ¬†But your metabolism isn’t as smart as you think it is, and at the end of the day your calorie consumption is going to be the best indicator of whether or not you’re going to gain weight or lose weight.

When people come to me and ask, “What are some healthy snacks? I want to lose weight and need option…”

I try to explain my answer, the thing they don’t want to hear: “stop snacking!”

If that sounds like a ridiculous concept to you, you’ve been brainwashed by the Empire!

You’ve been trained to expect a constant supply of food all day. ¬†You might even be eating between meals simply because your body has been trained, like a Pavlovian dog, to expect food and to get hungry in between meals because you keep feeding it.

A quick personal story: I have always been a breakfast guy – growing up, I would go through boxes and boxes of cereal. ¬†For the past five years I’d have a big smoothie for breakfast in my quest to get big and strong like a superhero. ¬†I’d wake up hungry and have to eat or I’d be cranky for the rest of the morning.

Welp, for the past month I haven’t eaten ANYTHING before noon.

Following the advice of Anthony Mychal and Lean Gains, I’ve cut out my first meal of the day, I’m training in a fasted state, and then eating my food in the afternoon and evenings. ¬†For the first week, I definitely felt hungry in the morning, because I had 28 years of breakfast expectations to break.

However, since then, my body has quickly adjusted, and now I honestly don’t miss breakfast. ¬†My¬†athletic¬†performance has improved, my body fat percentage hovers between 11-12%, and I’m building more muscle. ¬†I’ll occasionally eat breakfast moving forward, but it’s been liberating to simplify my life and meals.

I’m going to cover this (including my results) in an upcoming NF article on Intermittent Fasting, but here is why I’m fully onboard the No-Snack Train:

It’s cheaper. ¬†Snacking can get expensive! ¬†No more trips to the vending machine. ¬†No more scrounging for quarters. ¬†No more runs to Starbucks. ¬†Put that money towards higher quality foods and healthier meals.

You can be¬†more productive.¬†¬†If you’re at work and you have to go eat and snack every 30 minutes, or you keep food at your desk and you’re constantly eating; you’re not doing your best work, but thinking about food and eating food all the time!

No worrying about meal timing.  Instead of freaking out about eating every three hours, or having to bring four meals with you to work, just focus on the ACTUAL meals and making them the best, most delicious meals they can be.

There’s less risk of overeating.¬†¬†The problem with snacks is that they’re often high in carbs, calories, and¬†deliciousness…which means we can quickly eat 500 calories of ¬†a snack in a few minutes and not realize it. ¬†Then, when we eat our normal meals, we’re not full from the snack so we end up eating normal sized lunches and dinners…and put on weight from the extra calories. ¬†Put me within reach of a 10 pound tub of Animal Crackers and I’ll eat the entire thing before I realize what’s happening.

It makes me feel like I’m sticking it to the Empire. ¬†We are surrounded all day every day with snacks, and the Empire wants us to get fat, to get hooked on their foods, and to accept that being overweight and snacking is the new norm. I say, screw that! ¬†Not falling victim to their marketing tactics, and that means +1 for the Rebellion.

Tips and tricks about NOT snacking

squirrel and bird

I realize saying “just don’t snack” is like saying “just eat less and move more and you’ll lose weight.” ¬†Clearly there are more factors at play, most important of which is your willpower (a finite resource) and the fact that you probably have decades worth of snacking habits built in.

That being said, if you truly put your mind to it and put a plan in place for how you’ll adjust over time, success is possible! ¬†

When you are hungry between meals, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are you REALLY hungry?¬†Or have you conditioned your body to expect food every two hours, whether you’re at the office or watching a movie? This can actually happen: if your body anticipates food is¬†imminent¬†(through conditioning), it makes you feel hungrier than you really are.
  • Did you not eat a big enough breakfast or lunch?¬†¬†In the future, can you fill up with more protein and healthy fats?
  • Maybe you’re just thirsty. ¬†Some people can mistake being thirsty with feeling hungry. ¬†Get a big glass of water and then decide.
  • Are you bored?¬†¬†Sometimes we eat or we feel ‘hungry’ when we’re bored. ¬†Keep your brain occupied with an important task and you’ll be less likely to think about the fact that you haven’t eaten in, gasp!, two hours!

The more you can be aware of your body, the more you can seriously analyze why you feel a way you do, the better chance you’ll have at succeeding. ¬†

If you’re down with Team No Snacking, here’s how to dominate.

  • Drink up! ¬†Stay hydrated. ¬†If you get hungry in between meals, get yourself a big glass of water. ¬†Worried about overeating for your first meal of the day? ¬†Drink a lot of water before the meal and you’ll be less likely to overeat. Struggling to make it to lunch? Try black coffee or tea to help you feel satiated.
  • Read the Power of Habit. This book changed my entire perspective on how we function and how we can better ourselves. ¬†The author has a specific section on habit changing for snacks in an office that’s worth the cost of the book.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. ¬†It’s REALLY tough to not think about eating snacks when you see snacks everywhere. ¬†Don’t keep candy on your desk. Don’t keep your shelves stocked with snack foods. ¬†Increase the¬†difficulty¬†and number of steps between you and having an unhealthy snack by getting the junk food out of your house!
  • Slow and steady. ¬†If jumping to Team No Snacking all at once is too big of a change for you, you’ll never stick with it. ¬†Instead, try changing things up: cut back on snacks or switch to healthy snacks, and then slowly but surely, move more and more of your calories into your big meals and away from your in-between snacks.

The No Snack Challenge

pacman photo

For the rest of this week (or even a few days), I challenge you to join Team No Snack.

I don’t care if you switch back to Team Snack right after, but I’d like you to spend a few days being aware of your body and how it reacts when you only eat at meals.

I want you to prove to yourself that you’re not a victim of the Empire, that you’re not conditioned to NEED snacks – that you can decide for yourself to eat GREAT healthy meals instead of eating all day.

When you inevitably get hungry in between meals, go back to that checklist up top. ¬†Are you hungry, thirsty, tired, or just bored? ¬†What can you do differently so you’re not stuck in between meals?

This is just one nerd’s humble opinion. ¬†As stated in the Rules of the Rebellion, question everything and find out what works for you. ¬†I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on snacking:¬†

Are you a snacker?  If so, what are your favorite HEALTHY snacks?

Gonna try out Team No Snack and stick it to the Empire?  Let me know.

Scared to give up snacks? ¬†Let’s talk about it. ¬†

-Steve

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photo: snack shelf, pretzel, chewy chips, pringles man, carrots, cheetah, squirrel and bird, Pacman fruit

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  • http://www.the10principles.com/ the10principles

    I had an eating disorder for 10 years and was totally confused about eating and preoccupied by trying to reach a healthy weight. When I started eating balanced meals made of whole foods and balanced snacks made of whole foods (when I’m hungry between meals) I lost 30 pounds. And I’ve maintained my healthy weight ever since (for the last 17 years). Some days I snack, some days I don’t. Depends if I’m hungry between meals. Love all your great and well-researched information Steve. And your pictures are awesome!!!

  • Insiya Zakir

    I personally love snacking as I tend to get a little hungry by the next meal. Snacking keeps me fueled. I bring along with me at work snacks and in the right portions, so I do not tend to over eat the snacks. My options are generally 2 rice cakes w/ half tsp peanut/almond butter on each OR a fruit (could be anything) OR 5-7 almonds/walnuts OR veggies like carrots/cucumbers/celery etc. or a small cup of low fat yoghurt.

    Snacking also helps me have a constant supply of energy. Some may agree and some may not. We all have different bodies and how the bodies work.

    Taking a set amount of things for snacking helps in portion control. Otherwise, I know, things could go a little out of hand!