The habit of snacking is believed to be healthy by some, while some think of it the other way. Let’s understand the reason behind this by learning about the science of snacking.
First, let’s understand what is snacking? Snacking is the consumption of any food item between the three main meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some of the common snack choices are chips, cookies, cold drinks, fruits, ice cream and nuts.
Snacking is a common habit and according to a survey, approximately 57% of people have a snack at least once in a day, while only 3% of people said they never snack!
Why Do We Have Snacks?
There are several reasons that make one reach out for a snack. This differs from person to person and the circumstances.
Hunger is said to be one of the common reasons behind snacking in a majority of people. This can be triggered by a dip in blood sugar levels. After every meal or snack, the blood sugar level rises and then returns to the pre-meal level 2 hours after eating. This can cause a dip in energy levels in some people which makes them feel hungry and leads to snacking. Most often hungry snacking is associated with healthy choice of snacks.
Some other reasons behind snacking include boredom, sudden food cravings, social occasions or simply the sight of food-online and offline. Some people find pleasure in snacking and feel they are treating themselves by having a snack. At times, main meals are also replaced by snacks. In all such scenarios, the snack of choice is usually an unhealthy one.
The broader reason behind an increase in eating snacks is the change in lifestyle and eating patterns. Most of our traditional lifestyles have been replaced with a fast moving on-the-go way of living. We are working for longer hours and therefore feel the need to keep eating to feel energized. This need has been fulfilled by the food industry by coming up with an array of snacky foods, cafes round the corner for quick work meetings and doorstep delivery of food within a short span of time.
All this has made snacking not only a habit, but a cultural phenomenon in India and across the globe. This has been further fueled by the Covid-19 pandemic, during which a majority of people were at home with easy access to food all the time!
What Are The Benefits Of Snacking?
Snacking has its own benefits if done in moderation. The key to healthy snacking is to choose the right snack and keep portion size in mind. A snack should not contain more than 200 calories. Any food item in its natural state is always a better option for snacking as compared to processed and packaged food.
Snacks like fruits, yogurt, hummus, cheese, dark chocolate, nuts and peanut butter are loaded with nutrients and are considered as healthy. They are good for growing up children whose nutritional requirements are not met just by consuming main meals.
Some people cannot have a full meal due to certain illnesses. Eating snacks is a good option for them as it helps them get adequate nutrition through multiple small meals.
Provides Instant Energy
Snacking is a good way of boosting your energy when the gap between two main meals is longer. They help in balancing any drop in blood sugar levels in between meals.
Since snacks help in restoring energy, they can promote faster muscle recovery after exercise.
Prevents Cravings And Overeating
Snacking throughout the day can prevent overeating during main meals. This promotes healthy digestion and metabolism.
What Are The Drawbacks Of Snacking?
Snacking has been notoriously labelled as unhealthy by many. This is true in cases where it is done in excess which can lead to weight gain due to extra calorie consumption.
Too much snacking can disturb the regular eating pattern that makes one prone to skip the main meal. If this becomes a habit it can cause nutritional imbalance which in turn can give rise to many diseases.
The choice of snack also makes a big difference. Snacks like ready to eat packets of chips, soft drinks, cakes, cookies are high in salt, sugar and fats. These snacks are bad when consumed on a regular basis or in larger portions. Binging on such snacks reduces appetite and can also cause some sort of an addiction.
Snacking can be healthy or unhealthy depending on what you eat, frequency of snacking and whether it is required by the body. The key is moderation and mindfulness while snacking which will decide whether it is good or bad.
Dr. Deepali Kampani is a digital content specialist who weaves health and food through her pen.