Snacking for Your Health

Written by: Melissa Hawthorne, MS, RD, CDCES, LD

“What’s for snack?” is a common phrase heard from children and adults in the mid-afternoon hours. Choosing the right type of snack can help boost metabolism, provide opportunity for meeting nutritional needs and increase energy levels.

Research has found that eating three meals per day, along with one to three snacks per day, will help boost metabolism, provide longer satiety between meals and regulate blood pressure. But, not every snack is a good snack, especially when most Americans immediately think of chocolate cookies, chips or what every sweet treat might be in the employee lounge when deciding the snack they choose. While studies over the last decade have shown that Americans are indeed snacking more, the snacking is not necessarily leading to improved health for children or adults, likely because of poor snack-time choices. The Center for Disease Control has determined that the obesity rate in the United States is 36.5% for adults and 17% for children, and the rate continues to rise.

The ultimate question is whether snacking more often versus not snacking at all is the best way to an improved health outcome. Snacking is the correct method, but it must be done in an appropriate manner. Consuming small bites of food or sips of sugary beverages frequently between meals is not a desired strategy, and snacking on sugary foods in lieu of meals is equally unhealthy. Snacks should be planned and scheduled to be eaten 3-4 hours after a meal, and any snacks that contain high levels of added sugar or that are mainly carbohydrates will digest quickly and not satisfy hunger for longer than 1-2 hours. An ideal snack should contain a high-fiber carbohydrate (whole grains, fruit, vegetables) combined with a lean protein and/or some healthy fat (low fat dairy, nuts, seeds, nut butters, etc.). These carbohydrate-protein snacks will stabilize blood sugar levels, give satiety and boost metabolism for longer periods of time compared to a carbohydrate-only snack. And, as an added benefit beyond blood sugar control and satiety, these types of snacks and their timing may aid in weight loss if they fit within the person’s daily total calorie allotment.

Below are some fun and creative snacks to try for adults and children that fit the criteria for a metabolism boosting snack:

Avocado Pea Toast – Mash together peas and avocado; spread onto whole grain bread

-White Bean & Veggie Soup – Start with a base of low-sodium tomato soup; mix in ¼ cup no-salt- added cannellini beans plus cooked broccoli florets or cooked spinach

-Chickpea Salad – Mix together ¼ cup of chickpeas, 2 Tbsp. reduced fat feta cheese, ½ cup sliced cherry tomatoes, 2 tsp. olive oil, cracked pepper to taste

-Cucumber Hummus Toast – Spread hummus on whole grain bread; top with sliced cucumbers and sprinkle with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional) -Nutty Banana – Peel a banana and dip it in low fat yogurt, then roll in chopped nuts