Snacking has become an integral part of our eating habits. Indeed, 97% of Americans say they snack at least once a week, with the vast majority snacking on a daily basis.
However, even if you abstain from soda and junk food, some experts believe that snacking may be detrimental to your health and contribute to weight gain.
Here’s what you need to know about snacking and how to kick the habit if it’s causing you problems.
Why should you abstain from snacking?
Because the research is frequently contradictory, experts do not always agree on whether snacking is beneficial or detrimental to your health. This could be because when participants are questioned about their eating habits, they typically report eating less.
According to a 2011 review published in the Journal of Nutrition, when under-reporting is considered, people who eat more frequently during the day consume more calories overall, which may result in weight gain.
Snacking on whole foods such as nut butter and fruit can be beneficial for seniors who frequently struggle to consume enough calories. However, for those under the age of 60 who snack excessively, this may add unnecessary calories and contribute to conditions such as obesity.
Even if you consume healthy snacks and limit your calorie intake, snacking may still be detrimental to your health. This is because your immune system initiates an inflammatory response whenever you eat. This immediate response aids in the fight against any bacteria ingested with your food.
While a brief inflammatory response can be beneficial for your health by aiding in healing and infection resistance, if you snack frequently in between meals, choose less healthy snacks, or have an underlying condition, you may be putting your body into a chronic inflammatory state. This can eventually result in health problems, as chronic inflammation has been linked to dangerous conditions such as diabetes and cancer.
How to cut down on snacking and improve your health
To avoid chronic inflammation, it’s critical to allow your body a break between meals, which means abstaining from snacking whenever possible. Here are a few strategies for breaking the snacking habit:
Consume protein and fiber at each meal.
Protein and fiber are critical components of a balanced diet, and they also help you feel full, according to Stacey Lockyer, PhD, a registered nutritionist and nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.
Consuming a diet high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fiber may result in blood sugar spikes and dips, which may cause you to feel hungry sooner.
Several protein-rich foods that you can incorporate into your daily meals include the following: Lean meat, eggs, fish, tofu, nuts
According to Lockyer, some fiber-rich foods include the following: Whole grains, nuts, seeds fruits, vegetables
Utilize a food diary application.
Food diary apps can assist you in keeping track of how much food you actually consume. “Often, we are unaware that we are snacking mindlessly,” says Rebecca Leech, PhD, a registered nutritionist and researcher at Australia’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition.
According to Leech, keeping a food diary or tracker can also help you identify patterns in your snacking, such as whether you snack more when you’re stressed or sad. This can help you maintain awareness of your snacking habits and make more deliberate choices about when and what to eat.
Certain food tracking apps, such as Noom and Rise, can be quite costly. However, others, such as HealthyOut and MyFitnessPal, are available for free.
Get sufficient sleep.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body struggles to regulate the hormones that cause hunger or fullness, making it more difficult to resist a snack, Leech explains.
Even one late night can exacerbate snacking cravings. For instance, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research discovered that when people slept for only four hours one night, they felt significantly more hungry the next day.
Experts recommend that you sleep between 7-9 hours per night to avoid confusing your body’s natural hunger signals. If you believe you aren’t getting enough sleep, check out Insider’s guide to 25 sleep-related tips.
Consuming an occasional snack is unlikely to be detrimental to your health. However, if you are constantly reaching for snacks in between meals, this may result in weight gain and, over time, more serious health problems.
When you’re between meals and in need of a snack, Leech suggests substituting healthier options such as fruit with yogurt, a handful of nuts, a banana, or carrots with hummus for sugary beverages and baked goods.
“Changing deeply entrenched patterns of behavior can be extremely difficult,” Leech explains. If none of the above methods work, you can always seek professional assistance from a therapist or registered dietitian nutritionist to assist you in making a change.