To SNACK or not to SNACK - that is the question. Surprisingly most of us, diet and nutrition experts agree that you should snack between meals. Yet, there are rules to the snacking game. Snacking on the wrong foods, snacking on too much food, snacking too often - and at the wrong time in the wrong place - can make you fat, sleepy, lazy and is unhealthy. Eating no snacks at all can cause weight gain, too.
Avoid the starvation switch
Eating a healthful snack between meals prevents the body from switching into starvation mode. If the body goes without food for longer than four to six hours, its metabolic rate may slow down in a biological response to food deprivation. The body reacts as if it is starving and conserves stored energy for later. This primitive metabolic feature may have been useful during Paleolithic times when our ancestors hunted for big game, ate a feast and then went for several days without eating again. But for us, it means that the rate at which you burn calories slows down big time - and anything more than the normal amount of calories you eat gets stored as fat.
Avoid the blood sugar roller-coaster ride
Your body converts food to glucose, the simplest form of sugar, which it uses for energy. Blood glucose levels must stay within a normal range so the body doesn't think it's starving. Healthful snacking helps to maintain normal glucose levels (without spikes and dips) and prevents a nasty cycle that goes something like this:
When blood sugar drops too low, food cravings increase - possibly causing you to reach out to that giant chocolate bar or any aerated or high sugar drink.
In response, your pancreas releases a glut of insulin into the bloodstream; this insulin processes the sugars from your food and helps store the excess as fat.
Lot of sugar means lots of insulin, which drops your blood sugar below normal, triggering the same cravings that sent you in search of a candy bar in the first place. Plus, low blood sugar releases stress hormones, making things more complicated. Symptoms of low blood sugar, which may be subtle or dramatic, include mild depression, shakiness, mild to severe headaches, food cravings, impaired memory, blurred vision, violent outbursts, low sex drive, tinnitus (ringing in ears), joint pain, fainting, crying spells, phobias and more.
Snacking on the right foods, at the right times, in the right amounts can help avoid these symptoms.
Choose nutrient-dense snacks
Nutrient-dense snacks can help maintain healthful blood sugar levels and keep the metabolism revved. Avoid highly processed foods that are primarily refined flour, sugar and corn syrup; these can spike blood sugar, commencing the roller coaster ride
Count the calories
Keep your snack calories to less than those of a typical meal -- no more than 150 to 200 calories. Instead of eating snacks straight from the box or bag, split them up into 100-calorie portions. Learning portion size will help you realize and control the calories you are eating. Counting calories is no fun, but it beats gaining weight.
Timing is everything
Eat a nutritious breakfast. Snack number 1 should be scheduled for between your breakfast and lunch. Eat lunch between noon and 1:00 p.m. Eat snack number two around 2:30 or 3:00 p.m., and another snack before your dinner no later than 6:00 p.m. Try and finish dinner 2-3 hours before you go to bed.
Having a snack between meals prevents you from becoming so hungry that you reach for unhealthy junk food. A healthy snack keeps hunger at bay and allows you to stick to a moderate amount of food when you do eat your next meal. Choose snacks that are low in calories but will satisfy hunger.
A healthy snack made up of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats increases your energy levels for a longer period of time than sugary snacks do. This is because sugar will cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, leaving you hungry and lethargic. Complex carbohydrates are a stable source of energy, and including them in a healthy snack helps you power through your tasks between meals.
Adding healthy snacks between meals increases focus and performance, both at school and work. Children are able to comprehend and retain information presented in the classroom at a higher rate when their bodies are fuelled consistently, according to studies. Adults may find that eating a small snack in the afternoon gets them through their tasks more quickly and efficiently.