The Smarter Way to Snack
Snacks: The Good, the Bad, and the Sensible
Does all this mean snacking is ipso facto bad for our health? Not at all. Most dietitians say one, two, even three snacks a day keep energy high, blood sugar steady, and hunger in check. "It's reasonable to eat something every three hours," says Rebecca Unger, MD, a pediatrician at the Nutrition Evaluation Clinic at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. "Snacks are important, but if they're not nutritious, they do more harm than good."
The fact that we snack isn't the problem -- it's that we snack poorly, filling up on jumbo portions of high-fat, low-nutrient, calorie-dense foods and drinks. Take your average midmorning snack, say, a Starbucks' cinnamon scone. How bad could that be? Very: It has 530 calories and 26 grams of fat. And the Lincoln Navigator of snacks, Cinnabon's Pecanbon, packs a whopping 1,100 calories and 56 grams of fat into its doughy swirls -- more than half a day's calories. Then there are the liquid "snacks": super-size sodas and juice drinks. These are major pitfalls, not only because a 60-ounce soda can contain 700 or more calories, but because we drink them without thinking, then eat more on top of them. A Cornell University study found that regular soda drinkers consumed nearly 250 more calories each day than non-soda drinkers.
"We don't know why liquid calories don't tweak the hunger system as much as food calories, but they really add up," says Barbara Rolls, PhD, Guthrie chair of nutrition at Penn State University and author of The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan.
Finally, snacking while working, driving, channel surfing, or otherwise doing something that takes our mind off what we're eating only prompts more snacking. "When we don't focus on our food, we don't have the sense that we're being fed, so we eat more," says Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "When you're aware of what you're eating, you become more satisfied."