Snacking versus mealtimes and the debate about whether you should or shouldn’t rages on. The advice is not black and white. As with many things it depends on age, lifestyle, activity levels, what you choose to eat, when you choose to eat, how much you choose to eat and how often.
Constant grazing may impact negatively on your metabolic health and can affect dental health. Make sure you have gaps between meals and snacks and make them a separate occasion rather than a rolling feast, giving time for your body to process the food and look after your teeth. There’s no need to fast though and there are exceptions, for example with older people who have small appetites or those that are unwell who may only want to eat when they feel like it.
Eating when you are hungry sounds obvious, but people ignore their hunger cues or do something else to overcome them rather than choosing the obvious one of eating a meal or snack. If your stomach
is growling, head feeling fuzzy, your mood changing (hangry?), your energy flagging and you’re feeling weak then listen to your body and eat. If you are eating for emotional reasons, out of boredom or lack of sleep, because you have just seen the food or other reasons besides being hungry, work to find a non-food solution. Seek help if you need it.
For children, snacks provide an opportunity to balance smaller appetites and smaller tummies with the increased energy and nutrients they
need for growth and development. Many children need to eat three small meals daily with ‘me size’ portions and one or two small snacks rather than three large meals. Teenagers also need to healthily fuel their growth and development. Most children are ready for a snack at the end of the school day and lower sugar wholegrain breakfast cereal with milk and fruit can be an ideal choice.
Snacks may be needed pre- and post -exercise depending how long it was since your last meal, how long until your next one and what kind of exercise you are doing, and for how long.
A healthy snack can be important if your mealtime is delayed. For example, if you’re used to eating at 6pm but going out to eat means you don’t eat until 8pm or there are long gaps between your meals due to for example, an over running meeting, a long commute or shifts. Having a small, healthy snack will help to keep you going and reduce the risk of overeating when you do eat.
Struggle to reach ‘5 a day’? Snacks can be the perfect way to up veg and fruit intake. Chop up and box veg such as peppers cucumber, carrot, celery and keep in the fridge and have fruit available to grab and go. Remember it’s not just fresh fruit and veg that count. Frozen, canned
in juice or water (drain and rinse to remove salt if added), veg soup, beans and dried pulses, all count too. Pair the veg and fruit with a small amount of high protein dip such as nut butter, hummus or half-fat cream cheese or add some more veg via guacamole or salsa for a tasty snack.
Be mindful of your choice and size of snack. include some fibre and protein to help satisfy you. Look at labels such as traffic light labels on products to help you choose which ones to buy. Compare products and pick snacks with more greens and ambers on the label and cut down on snacks that show any reds.
Wholegrain breakfast cereal with milk or yogurt or a milk-based breakfast drink can make an ideal, tooth friendly snack providing energy, protein, fibre and some vitamins and minerals.