Written by Talia Cecchele
Are you that person that has lunch at 12pm, powers through all afternoon and walks through the door at 7pm ravenous?
You pick on snacks while preparing dinner, overeat your main meal and then sit on the couch (uncomfortably full) pondering about why you couldn't just have a normal sized meal?
Is snacking good for you?
Snacking sometimes gets bad press or generalised as an unhealthy habit but we're here to reassure you that in fact, snacking is a normal part of eating. Some people snack more, others less. There are no set rules for snacking but generally snacks are eaten in the 2-3 hours after a main meal, to help satisfy appetite and regulate hunger levels throughout the day. Typically 1-3 snacks are eaten per day, with room for variation as every one is different!
How snacking impacts your health
Let's take a look at some of the health benefits of regular snacking. Snacking can help to:
Stabilise weight and eating habits. Snacking can prevent you from becoming too hungry and overeating as a result, sometimes seen in people experiencing a binge-restrict cycle.
Stabilise blood sugar levels
Reduce mood swings (irritability, low concentration, headaches a.k.a. hanger as a result of not giving your body enough fuel)
Add more variety to your daily intake (and help to get your 5-a-day) which in turn can benefit gut health
Re-fuel after exercise
Keep energy levels consistent throughout the day
Increase your total caloric intake if you are struggling to maintain or gain weight
When is the best time to snack?
Of course, the best time to eat a snack is whenever you need to! Snacking will look different for everyone and how often a person snacks, usually varies from day to day. In my experience, the afternoon snack (anywhere between 3pm-5pm) is the snack that most people find the most helpful in reducing overeating or hanger by dinner time. If you have a good quality breakfast, many people will feel satiated until lunch time. But the afternoon time slot is often a much longer gap between meals, and if you go to the gym after work or you are stuck in traffic it is important to give your body the nutrition it needs to stop hanger kicking in just before dinner. I always encourage my clients to check in with their hunger signals mid-afternoon.
Do I have to snack?
As an intuitive eater, snacking is a choice that you will make based on your hunger levels, environment, social situations and health goals to name a few. There are no rules. If you are healing your relationship with food, then prescriptive snacking (e.g. eating 3 meals and 3 snacks a day) might be recommended as part of your treatment, in which case the answer would be yes, you do need to have regular snacks. Once you have recovered from disordered eating, you will be able to move away from prescriptive eating and decide how often you snack and how much food you eat.
Top 10 healthy snack ideas
As a dietitian, I always get asked if I snack and what my favourite snacks are so I thought I would share my top 10 healthy snacks with you (in no particular order):
Bliss balls. My favourite is peanut butter
Fresh fruit with nuts
Greek Yoghurt with honey or fruit
Nuts or seeds
Cheese and tomato on wholegrain crackers. Can't go past Vita Weats
Peanut butter on toast
Roasted fava beans or chickpeas. The Happy Snack Co make great ones.
You will notice that I didn't include portion sizes. That's because portion sizes differ for everyone based on individual energy requirements, hunger level experienced on the day, physical activity and health goals. If you are trying to manage your weight, portion size is something I recommend you review as it is very easy to get into the habit of "grazing" if you are really busy or bored rather than sitting down and having a dedicated snack.
Do snacks always have to be "healthy"?
It is also important to note, that although the snacks I listed above are "healthier" in that they contain more wholefood options, are focused on higher fibre and protein content and minimal ultra-processed ingredients, that doesn't mean you cannot snack on less nutrient dense foods such as biscuits, crisps or chocolate. I am an advocate that no food needs to be removed from your diet, but the consistency of the quality and quantity of your food choices is important.
Biscuits, crisps or chocolate might even be the "healthiest" option for someone with high energy requirements post surgery, undergoing medical treatment which reduces appetite, or for people on a weight restoration journey or healing their relationship with food (and working on breaking food fears of food rules).
This is why I will always recommend individual advice when it comes to your health. What works for you might not work for someone else.
At the TC Nutrition virtual clinic, our specialist dietitians can support you to build a healthy relationship with food, learn to nourish yourself and overcome disordered eating. Get in touch to book a free 15 minutes discovery call.
Specialist Dietitian & Founder of TCN
Talia Cecchele is a Highly Specialist Eating Disorder Dietitian and Founder of Talia Cecchele Nutrition, a virtual clinic of specialist eating disorder dietitians. Talia is passionate about supporting people to ditch the extremes of dieting, bring balance back to nutrition and find food freedom by overcoming food rules. You can follow Talia on Instagram @tcnutrition for more content and resources
Talia Cecchele Nutrition is a team of registered dietitians that specialise in eating disorder recovery, disordered eating, digestive issues and sports nutrition. We aim to bring balance back to nutrition, help you to break free from food rules and find food freedom. We offer virtual consultations and group programs so whether you are based in London, the United Kingdom or around the world we would love to support you. To enquire about a private consultation please fill out a contact form.