According to the latest government stats, more than two out of three adults in the Australia are considered overweight or obese. That’s 66 percent of the Australian population! With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that a quarter of New Year’s Resolutions every January have to do with weight loss.
Losing weight is pretty straightforward—burn more calories than you take in. In other words, eat less and exercise more. But new research released late last year has shown that snacking can play a pretty significant role in how successful (or unsuccessful) you are at losing weight. It may have you reevaluating not only what, but how you eat.
In this study, researchers examined the dietary habits of 1,487 adults aged 19-64 years for seven days. Meals or snacks were categorized based on contribution to energy intake (to provide fuel and energy) or time (breakfast, lunch, dinner, other time).
The overall quality of the participants’ diets was measured using the Healthy Diet Indicator (HDI) and Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS). The HDI is based on guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization for the prevention of chronic disease. The scale ranges from 0 to 9, with lower scores indicating poorer dietary choices.
MDS shows the level of compliance to the Mediterranean diet, a heart-friendly eating plan that emphasized intake of monounsaturated fats (such as those from olive oil), fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, seafood and red wine. (Dairy and poultry are consumed in moderation and red meat, sugar and other processed foods are generally avoided.)
Results showed that eating regular meals based on energy contribution was associated with greater fiber intake, less sugar and alcohol and higher HDI (in men) and MDS. Additionally, eating meals at set times was linked to higher HDI and MDS in women.
Conversely, snacking was associated with greater consumption of sugar and alcohol, decreased intakes of cereals, protein, fat and fiber and generally lower HDI and MDS.
To add insult to injury, snacking also led to increased body mass index and waist circumference. The researchers wrote, “Higher snack frequency was consistently associated with lower diet quality and higher adiposity measures…”
Snacking Serves a Purpose
This study may lead you to believe that snacking is a no-no if you are concerned about your weight. But, in reality, it’s not so much the act of snacking that’s problematic, it’s what—and how much—is actually being consumed.
The purpose of snacking is to take the edge off hunger between meals. It should be done mindfully and without exceeding your caloric needs for the day.
Appropriate snacking entails consuming a small portion of nutrient-dense food(s) to provide your body with energy to help you through the following hour or two before your next big meal.
Unfortunately, though, many people snack incorrectly—or for the wrong reasons (boredom, stress, anger, depression, frustration, etc.). When snacking is done without proper intent, it’s more common to make poor choices—ice cream, cakes, lollies or any of the other high-calorie, low-nutrient junk foods that are so typical in Australian households these days.
Bad snacking habits can absolutely leave you vulnerable to weight gain and diseases related to obesity, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Proper snacking, however, will not.
Snacking the Right Way
If you follow a few straightforward rules, you can easily make snacking a healthy part of your lifestyle.
First, incorporate snacks only once or twice during the day, in between your major meals. Late-night nibbling doesn’t do you, and your scale any favors. Neither does eating for any other reason other than hunger. If you’re bored, sad, or angry, find some other productive way to release your emotions. Talk to a friend, see a movie or see a professional therapist to work through your feelings.
Second, choose foods rich in protein and/or fiber, as they tend to provide greater satiety. Also be aware of portion sizes. Snacks should provide no more than 200-300 calories, which means servings should be small.
Here are some excellent snack ideas that are not only low in calories, but also high in nutrients and fiber:
- Half a cup of cottage cheese mixed with a few slices of banana or other fruit
- A handful of raw almonds, walnuts or cashews
- A stalk or two of celery, or an apple, topped with your favorite nut butter
- One hard-boiled egg
- A protein shake (a cup of water, one scoop of whey-based protein, and a few pieces of fruit blended together)
- Two to three tablespoons of hummus with carrot sticks, cucumber or raw broccoli
- Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt drizzled with honey and a tablespoon of granola
- Fruit-and-cheese kebabs (for example, a few skewers made with grapes and cheese cubes)
These are just a few delicious options. You can obviously use your creativity to come up with countless healthy snack ideas. Just be sure to keep it simple, choose whole, unprocessed items—and don’t go crazy with the calorie intake.