by Gerri French, RD, CDE
People in the United States are always eating, often snacking on foods that have been created for their enjoyment by the snack food industry. They may grab food on the run when they don't have time to eat. Very often snacking is done mindlessly and is responsible for many extra calories. Eating this way is not satisfying so when we have time to eat, we do it again.
Is it better or necessary to eat 5 or 6 times a day?
It may be beneficial for some, but usually is not necessary for most people. However, it may depend on how long your day is. If you wake up at 6 am you may feel the need to eat at 8 or 9 AM. The time between lunch and dinner may be lengthy so a mid-afternoon "mini meal" seems appropriate. What you eat at meals will determine your level of hunger in between meals. When a balanced meal is eaten with focus, we should be able to wait at least three or four hours until the next meal. It is okay to have an appetite or be hungry before eating.
When is a snack helpful?
If you eat snacks, ask yourself if it is helping you to:
- Prevent over-eating at the next meal
- Regulate your mood
- Maintain your energy
- Keep a healthy weight
If so, then perhaps for you, eating between meals is beneficial. Keep portion control in mind, and consider eating from single serving packages. Take time to sit and eat slowly. Pause, take a deep breath and enjoy!
If you are snacking due to boredom, frustration, procrastination, or stress, try to identify other ways to overcome this urge. A walk outside for 10 minutes has been found to be one of the best mood elevators. Writing in a journal, talking with a friend or simple deep breathing can also be helpful.
What is a balanced meal or snack?
Some foods digest quickly while others satisfy for longer. Carbohydrates act like kindling in the fire. Proteins or fats are more like the long lasting logs. So eating combinations of foods with carbohydrates, protein and fat is ideal at mealtime.
Foods with significant carbohydrates:
- Fruit (fresh, frozen, dried, canned)
- Bread (whole grain or white flour)
- Tortillas (corn and flour)
- Crackers, pretzels, rice cakes
- Vegetables (fresh, frozen)
Foods with significant protein:
- Meat (beef, pork, chicken)
- Cheese, cottage cheese
- Almond or peanut butter, nuts, seeds
- Tofu, tempeh, vegetable burgers
For a snack, is it okay to eat a carbohydrate without a protein?
It is perfectly okay to enjoy a piece of fruit by itself. Notice if it satisfies your reason for eating it. If a person with Type 2 Diabetes or Pre-diabetes eats large portions of carbohydrate alone, glucose levels may rise to an unacceptable level. Temporarily, testing your glucose level after snacks and meals may provide feedback for you. Talk to your diabetes educator to learn more.
Americans love snack foods such as chips, packaged cookies, sweetened yogurt and bars. Many of us dietitians prefer people to eat 'real food' between meals, when necessary. According to Michael Pollan, author of the The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food Rules - an Eaters Manual, "Eat food that your great grandmother would recognize as food".
What Do the Registered Dietitians at Sansum Clinic Suggest for Snacks?
Gerri French, RD, CDE
Gerri does not usually eat a snack in the morning but mid-afternoon, she will eat:
- Raw vegetables and humus
- Soup - roasted pepper or butternut squash
- Corn tortilla with cheese and salsa
- Couple of dried figs or dates and almonds or pistachios
- Hard boiled egg with tangerine
Sarah Washburn, MS, RD, CSO
Snack suggestions from Sarah:
- Pear and 2T pumpkin seeds
- ½ cup blueberries and handful of nuts
- 1 cup soup, like black bean or lentil with lots of kale or cabbage
- Hard boiled egg and an apple