Should A Healthy Diet Include Snacks?

If you’re interested in nutrition and healthy eating, then you may be wondering, should a healthy diet include snacks?  If you eat three healthy meals every day, do you really need snacks as well?

The answer is: it depends!

Some people can go all day on three meals, others feel better with three meals plus two snacks, and others still might prefer four or five smaller meals spread throughout the day.  If the overall calorie and nutrient intake is balanced, that’s fine.  Everyone has different snacking needs depending on their body shape and lifestyle.  And the same person may have different needs at different times.

When Should You Snack?

As a general rule, if you’re hungry between meals, you should eat!  Denying yourself, or making yourself wait a long time until the next meal can mean you then overdo it when you do start eating.  However, choose your snacks wisely!  Some snacks are ‘filler’ foods that provide empty calories but not a lot of goodness.  They taste delicious and can be very-moreish, but aren’t doing your body any good.  Too many of these ‘filler’ snacks can also decrease your appetite for mealtimes.

There are also certain times in life when people are more likely to need a snack.  Childhood is one of these times – children have smaller stomachs and therefore need to eat more frequently.  In addition, a healthy snack can provide nutritional insurance.  If you’re having dinnertime battles with a fussy eater, offering them nutrient-dense snacks between meals can help to bridge the gap.  As long as your child is still hungry at mealtimes, snacks are ok.

There are other times in life where you may need more calories and nutrients than you can get from three meals a day, such as during pregnancy and breastfeeding, or intensive fitness training.  Picking a nutritionally balanced snack helps your body get everything it needs at a time when it has extra demands to meet.

Snacking for Nutrition

A typical snack is made with highly processed ingredients, unhealthy fats, sugar, salt and other additives.  They will temporarily satisfy your appetite but because they are just empty calories, you are getting very little benefit from them in terms of nutrition.

On the other hand, a healthy snack will contain whole grain and real food ingredients.  As well as filling your tummy, they will give you a whole range of nutrients including protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  They also don’t contain harmful additives.

Many healthy snacks are made with 100% fruit and vegetables, and these snacks can count for one portion of your five a day.  This makes them a great option for children who are reluctant to eat their fruits and veggies.  In addition, some of these healthier options contain superfood ingredients that have benefits for our health and wellbeing such as maca for balancing hormones and guarana for energy.

Snacks to Stabilise Blood Sugar

We are all individuals and some people are more sensitive to changes in their blood sugar levels than others.  Some people have mood swings if they don’t eat regularly.  Others may feel tired and lethargic, or experience brain fog.

the role of snacks in a healthy diet
Does your child turn into a mini-demon in the hour or so before a meal time?  This is a sign that their blood sugar has dropped and they might benefit from a healthy snack between meals.

Do you feel like you need to fall asleep half way through the afternoon?  If you’ve been up all night with a teething toddler, that’s understandable, but otherwise a blood sugar dip could be to blame.

Traditional snacks like crisps, biscuits and chocolate bars are full of refined carbohydrates and sugars that give you a quick boost of energy.  However, the effects don’t last long as it is burned off quickly.  They just keep the cycle of highs and lows going, and you may find yourself raiding the snack cupboard again a short time later.  Look for snacks with balanced ingredients, containing protein, healthy fats and fibre to keep you full for longer.

Snacks for After Exercise

A healthy snack eaten soon after exercising can boost recovery, help you hit your fitness goals, and reduce the risk of injury.  A workout obviously uses up energy, but did you know that exercising creates microscopic tears in your muscle tissues?  Your body needs the right nutrients after exercise to repair and grow muscle, and replenish energy stores. A good post-workout snack should include a mixture of carbs (for energy) and protein (for muscle repair).  Just be wary of falling into the trap of using a snack as a reward for exercise.

Mindful Snacking

Snacks should always be eaten mindfully – that means listening to your body and paying attention to your hunger cues.  It’s very easy to fall into the habit of eating a snack at the same time every day.  But don’t eat just because its ‘snack time’ – only eat if you’re hungry.  Think about it – do you have biscuits with your cup of tea because you are truly hungry, or is it just a habit?

Other reasons people sometimes snack between meals is because of boredom or stress.  Find other ways to address this – for example, do some yoga stretches, put on some music you love, take a few deep breaths, or phone a friend.  Alternatively, a herbal tea can be a good substitute for a snack – there are so many different flavours to choose from, so have fun experimenting!  This has the added benefit of hydrating you!  Sometimes, the urge to eat can actually be down to thirst and not hunger.

At the same time, don’t push yourself to go through to the next meal without eating if you’re truly hungry.

The Role of Snacks in a Healthy Diet

Do snacks have a place in a healthy diet? Absolutely!  Not everyone needs a snack in between meals, but some people do.  If you eat three healthy, balanced meals a day and are hungry in between meals, it’s a good idea to have a snack.  You may need a snack some days and not others – listen to your body’s signals.  Don’t be perfectionist about eating – it is ok to have an ‘unhealthy’ snack now and again if your diet is healthy overall.  It’s all about balance and moderation.

If you want to include more healthy snacks in your diet, sign up to our email newsletter for tips and advice on healthy snacking.

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