Healthy Snacking: Why, When, and What
In partnership with my friends at Lorissa's Kitchen, we're talking about healthy snacking! We're going to explore why, when, and what are the healthiest snack choices.
Of all the most-asked questions I've ever fielded in my career as a Nutrition Consultant, “what about snacks?” is at the tippy top of the list. While I have addressed that I'm a BIG advocate for 3 balanced, healthy meals as the foundation of our daily nutritional intake, I haven't really tackled snacks. Snacks can be a confusing topic! Should we snack? Should we not snack? If we do snack, are there certain times of the day that are best? Adding to that, are there certain types of snacks that are better than others?
These are GREAT questions and I say it's high time I answer your healthy snacking questions all in one place. Let's get to it!
Snack-lovers, buckle up. I'm about to tell you some reasons why (maybe) it would be a GOOD idea to snack!
So, let's quickly review the metabolism from a 30,000-foot view.
Metabolism is a VERY broad term that encompasses all of the chemical reactions in our body which work in concert to support our lives. Phrases like “speed up” in reference to your metabolism are thrown around a LOT in the health and fitness world. I argue that the majority of the metabolism-boosting claims you'll find are more marketing-motivated than science-motivated, but we can garner at least one pearl of wisdom. Our metabolism WILL stall (or rather, shift to a different gear that may not leave us feeling our best) if we don't nourish it well and often. Does this mean we all need to exchange our 3 bigger meals for 6 mini meals? Absolutely not. It is well and good for our bodies to reach a healthy level of hungry between meals …but it is NOT always well and good to skip or forget meals.
I bring this up because I want to highlight one key decision-making lens: giving our bodies food when our bodies expect food helps keep our metabolism stable. There are several caveats to this statement (if you have food addictions or if you're strategically fasting, which is a whole other topic), but in general, the eat-when-you-need-to-eat shoe fits most.
So, why snack? We snack if we know that our body expects food but we're unable to give it a full meal. We snack because we don't want to throw our bodies out of when-to-expect-nutrients sync.
What's another reason to snack? Because it helps empower us AGAINST indulgent, overboard eating later. Have you ever (accidentally) skipped breakfast and then found yourself indulging in any sweet treat, bagel, fruit roll-up, or leftover Halloween candy in arm's reach about 30 minutes before lunch? Your body is screaming, “food! give me food!” and so you (quite smartly) grab a refined carbohydrate because it will convert into blood sugar faster than a protein or a fat.
WHEN is it best to snack?
There could be (to boldly summarize) three different good times to enjoy a snack:
ONE: You have missed or are going to miss a meal.
Shoutout to my mamas out there who, despite our best efforts, still find ourselves accidentally skipping breakfast. Whether it's a surprise doctor's appointment that you'd forgotten about or you just got carried away tending to the house/work/family, you look up and see that the clock says 11:00 a.m. before you remember breakfast. Maybe you had a cup of coffee (which is now cold), but that's it. THIS is a great time to have a healthy snack! For all the reasons we stated before (avoid the desperate carb binge + keep body running in tip-top shape), snacking when you realized you missed a meal is a great idea.
Snacking is also a great idea when you know that you are GOING to miss a meal! If you see that surprise doctor's appointment on your calendar and know that you can't reheat a breakfast in time, grab a healthy snack (ideally, ).
TWO: You're going out to dinner and don't know the food options.
This is one of my favorite times to strategically snack. We've all been there. We're at the big work event (or wedding or charity dinner). We grab a glass of wine and find our way over to the food. We scan the options available, do some mental math on what we can actually eat, and come up with, “well, I guess I can have the shrimp scampi and can scrape some of that tomato relish off the bruschetta.” Two shrimp and a tiny, sad pile or relish later, you're HUNGRY and with few options. This scenario happens to me too often. Because I really can't eat wheat (migraines), it can significantly limit my food options at group events. SO, before every outing of this sort, I will “pre-game” with a healthy snack at home. I'll even throw an extra stash (again, like some Lorissa’s Kitchen ) in my purse to take with me. This helps keep me from saying “oh forget it” and eating all the gluten-filled foods that I'll FOR SURE regret later. It also keeps me from getting home and having a too-late-in-the-night meal.
THREE: You need a pre or post workout “mini meal.”
This is probably one of the more obvious times to snack! If you're leaving work and plan to hit the gym before dinner, I highly recommend a quick healthy snack so that hunger doesn't strike DURING your workout. Alternatively, if you workout right after breakfast and don't plan to eat lunch for a few hours, a quick snack can help keep your energy high and nutrients replenished.
WHAT is the best option for healthy snacking?
I'm so glad you asked! Even though snack foods are often the most lacking in nutrients (think: cheesy crackers or sugar-loaded fruit packs), I actually argue that it's important that our snack foods are some of our healthiest foods. If we eat junk food for a snack, it's highly likely that we will eat TOO MUCH of it. I'm a firm believer that protein is one of the most IDEAL snack choices available. For so long, this meant that we had to make our own, but I'm so thrilled to let you know that I have found a brand that makes healthy, high-protein, convenient snacks for us! They're the grass-fed, gluten-free protein snacks by Lorissa's Kitchen and I LOVE them. Truly. I have tried (and loved) all of their products. The Ginger Teriyaki Chicken have saved me when I missed a meal due to air travel, the Korean Barbeque Beef are ALWAYS in my purse, and I've loved taking the Original Grass-Fed Beef with me on our early-morning (before breakfast) walks.
Have more snack-related questions? Please ask in a comment below!