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Photo of a container of healthy snacks on a tableHealthy eating
Fuel for the fire
Healthy snacks can keep you energized
all day long
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Kerri Cuthbert
May/June 2018

When you think about snacking, what comes to mind?

Is it a negative or positive habit? Is it eating cookies and chips, or yogurt with berries, or tuna on crackers? Is it something you do late at night while watching television, or during the day to keep yourself energized until dinnertime?

As you can see, snacking can mean different things to different people. Snack the wrong way, and you can end up with a spike in energy [followed not long after by a crash] or taking in more calories than you need (which could lead to weight gain over time). Done the right way, however, snacking can help unlock the potential of food to keep you energized all day long.

To better understand why snacking can be good for you, let's start by dispelling a couple of myths.

Photo of a woman snacking on fruit

Myth: Snacking makes you gain weight. People may think eating less often during the day will control or reduce their weight. But this can actually have the opposite effect. A 2011 systematic review looked at the link between daily eating frequency and excess weight in the general population. Of the 11 studies the authors looked at, seven found that eating less often during the day was actually associated with gaining weight. In the end, the research just doesn't support the idea that how frequently a person eats is a cause of weight gain over time.

Myth: Snacking ruins your appetite. Has anyone ever said to you, "Don't eat that, you'll ruin your appetite"? Well, they're wrong. The fact is eating a small, healthy snack an hour or two before dinner is actually a good idea. Of course, it depends on what you're eating, and how much. But, something like an apple or a banana (as opposed to a couple of chocolate bars) will help tide you over until your meal, and you won't be ravenous when you finally sit down to eat.

How can you ensure you're having healthy snacks? Here are some tips to guide you and pitfalls to avoid.

Don't eat too much: Be aware of the effect portion sizes can have on the amount you eat. One often-discussed study gave moviegoers either fresh or stale (14 days old!) popcorn in either a medium or large container. The study found that the people given fresh popcorn ate 45.3 per cent more when it was given to them in large containers. The container size had such an impact that even people eating stale popcorn ate about a third more from the large container, compared to the medium container. So instead of snacking from a large bag or box, serve yourself one portion on a plate or in a bowl, and put the package away.

Don't get distracted: Avoid distracted snacking and listen to your hunger cues. Eating in front of a screen or while working can prompt you to eat more. Control your intake by slowing down and savouring your food. It's also a good idea to ask yourself before you eat: am I truly hungry or am I eating because I am bored, tired or stressed? If you're not sure, do something else, like reading or going for a short walk.

Snack with purpose: Snacks can be a great way to get all the nutrients you need throughout the day. Nearly half of all Canadians don't eat enough vegetables or fruit, and most Canadians are only getting half the fibre they need every day. Fortunately, vegetables and fruit meet both of those shortfalls. Try sliced vegetables with hummus or yogurt dip to add an extra serving or two of vegetables to your day.

Plan ahead: It can be hard to choose healthy snacks if you do not have any on hand. Planning ahead and having a variety of healthy, ready-to-eat snacks can be helpful. Grab a piece of fruit when you leave the house for the day, or keep trail mix in your bag, car or desk.

Learn more about how to incorporate snacking into your day by calling Dial-a-Dietitian toll free at 1-877-830-2892 or 204-788-8248 in Winnipeg. They have registered dietitians on staff to answer all your questions.

Kerri Cuthbert is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

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