Opinions on snacking have often been divided. For some people, a snack is automatically thought of as an unhealthy, processed, high-calorie item like crisps or biscuits. For others it is a necessary part of their diet such as an apple or a banana. The pandemic has changed people’s lifestyles and with this shift has come a change in people’s attitudes towards snacking.
A recent survey commissioned by Glanbia Nutritionals, a leading supplier of nutritional solutions to food producers, revealed that snacking was more often than not associated with being healthy. Of the 2000 people asked, nearly half reported they were conscious of what they eat to stay healthy and had chosen healthy snacks whilst working from home. The trend is that snacks at home seem to be used as a meal replacement, rather than as a between meal addition. As such, consumers are looking for wholesome, clever ingredients to make a snack that will provide good nutrition, but is easy to eat and will keep them going, without having to stop for a traditional lunch. When it comes to what consumers are looking in a snack, most popular responses were for low calorie, low sugar or sugar free and high protein.
The survey results support what we already know about snacking: that both the desire to snack and the effect of snacking on health appear to be highly individualized. Factors that influence snacking include age, lifestyle and beliefs about whether snacking is healthy.
Often hunger is the main motivation behind snacking, but factors like location, social environment, time of day, and food availability contribute as well. Studies show that people will snack when appetizing food is around, even when they’re not hungry1. In one study, overweight people were asked why they chose unhealthy snacks, the most common response was temptation, followed by hunger and low energy levels2.
A popular myth is that snacking boosts metabolism, however scientific evidence does not support this. Research shows that meal frequency has no significant effect on how many calories you burn. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition3, compared people consuming an equal number of calories in either two or seven meals per day and found no difference in calories burned.
Another belief is that snacking is necessary to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. However, most studies4 have reported no difference in blood sugar levels when the same amount of food was consumed as meals or meals plus snacks
The type of snack and amount consumed are the main factors that affect blood sugar levels. Low carb, high fibre snacks have consistently demonstrated a more favourable effect on blood sugar and insulin levels compared with high carb and sugary snacks. Snacks with a high protein content can also improve blood sugar control. One study5 demonstrated that snacking on high protein foods during the afternoon improved appetite, satiety, and diet quality in adolescents, while beneficially influencing aspects of mood and cognition.
Studies on the effects of snacking on appetite and weight have provided mixed results. Some results indicate that although snacks briefly satisfy hunger and promote feelings of fullness, their calories are not compensated for at the next meal resulting in an increased calorie intake for the day. Other studies have shown that snacking can help reduce hunger and promote satiety meaning less is consumed at mealtimes6.
Most research indicates that snacking between meals does not affect weight compared with eating the same amount of calories as three meals. Indeed, a few studies suggest that eating snacks high in protein and fibre can actually aid weight loss7. Such mixed results suggest that the effect of snacking on appetite and weight vary by individual.
Research into snacking to investigating other potential health benefits such as improving energy levels and the ability to concentrate and stay focused as well as looking at the effects on relaxation and sleep patterns. Many brands will be interested in developing new products that can incorporate nutrients to create functional snack products.
When it comes to choosing a healthy snack, consider the following points:
- Type of snack – a high protein snack, providing at least 10 g of protein can help to improve blood sugar and regulate appetite. Protein has a high satiety factor, which means you will feel fuller for longer.
- Size of snack – look for snacks that provide no more than 200 calories.
- Frequency – base how many snacks you eat on how active you are and the size of your meals. If you’re very active, you may need 2–3 snacks per day.
- Convenience – keep easy to carry snacks with you when you’re out so that if you become hungry you won’t end up buying sweets.
- Snacks to avoid – don’t use high-sugar snacks and drinks to boost energy, they just make you feel hungrier later on.
Ultimately, it’s really a personal choice. If you’re going to snack, make sure to choose healthy foods that keep you full and satisfied.
- Hess JM, Jonnalagadda SS, Slavin JL (2016) What Is a Snack, Why Do We Snack, and How Can We Choose Better Snacks? A Review of the Definitions of Snacking, Motivations to Snack, Contributions to Dietary Intake, and Recommendations for Improvement. Adv Nutr. 16;7(3):466-75.
- L Cleobury 1, K Tapper (2014)Reasons for eating ‘unhealthy’ snacks in overweight and obese males and females. J Hum Nutr Diet. 27(4):333-41.
W P Verboeket-van de Venne 1, K R Westerterp (1991) Influence of the feeding frequency on nutrient utilization in man: consequences for energy metabolism. J Clin Nutr. 45(3): 161-9.
- Nerys M Astbury 1, Moira A Taylor, Stephen J French, Ian A Macdonald (2014) Snacks containing whey protein and polydextrose induce a sustained reduction in daily energy intake over 2 wk under free-living conditions. Am J Clin Nutr. 99(5):1131-40.
- Heather J Leidy 1, Chelsie B Todd 2, Adam Z Zino 2, Jordan E Immel 2, Ratna Mukherjea 3, Rebecca S Shafer 2, Laura C Ortinau 2, Michelle Braun 3 (2015) Consuming High-Protein Soy Snacks Affects Appetite Control, Satiety, and Diet Quality in Young People and Influences Select Aspects of Mood and Cognition. J. Nutr. 145(7): 1614-22.
- Michelle K Alencar 1, Jason R Beam 2, James J McCormick 3, Ailish C White 3, Roy M Salgado 4, Len R Kravitz 3, Christine M Mermier 3, Ann L Gibson 3, Carole A Conn 5, Deborah Kolkmeyer 6, Robert T Ferraro 6, Chad M Kerksick 7 (2015) Increased meal frequency attenuates fat-free mass losses and some markers of health status with a portion-controlled weight loss diet. Nutr Res. 35(5):375-83