America is a nation of snackers. According to a recent Neilsen survey 91% of adults snack at least once a day, including 25% who say they snack 3-5 times a day and 3% who claim to be always nibbling. Among the favorites are chips, chocolate and cheese. Fresh fruit comes in at fifth among choices.
When it comes to the health and nutrition of snacks, experts seem to be divided. Some claim there are benefits like helping to lose and/or maintain weight; others focus regular meal patterns and not skipping meals instead of snacks. While there is no consensus what stands out is that both meal and snack quality is more important than frequency. That means considering lifestyle (active vs. sedentary), health (good vs. diabetes or other), emotional state, and a host of others.
As a dietitian, I tend to favor snacks. They can contribute nutrients like calcium, fiber, vitamin D and potassium which most people under-consume. To do get those nutritional benefits means to think before you act. So I suggest people ask yourself two crucial questions: “Am I really hungry,” and “Is this what I really want?” If the answer is "yes" to both, I say do it. If not: wait.
This notion of giving more thought to food choices is now known as "Mindful Eating." It involves paying deliberate attention to what, when, where we eat; physical and emotional state; savoring each bite, appreciating the aroma and other aspects of eating. It is just as important to be mindful about snacks as it is for meals.
Individual, portioned-sized foods are a good way to start with snacks. Apples or poprcorn are a simple choices for a crunchy snack; a container of yogurt or a piece of Laughing Cow cheese will satisfy a creamy craving. Because you have to unwrap the cheese, it's a perfect way to take a moment, slow down, and savor the moment - and the snack. You might pair the apple and cheese if you're looking for a combination of tastes and textures. A simple glass of chocolate milk is a great choice when you're thirsty and want something sweet.
What makes all of these smart nutrition choices is that they boost your intake of nutrients like potassium, fiber and calcium. Snacks can run the gamut of creamy or crunchy; sweet or salty; hot or cold; savory or spicy. Yes, you can have it all when you do it mindfully - and savor the moment. That's Confident Health!
Photos courtesy of Laughing Cow; tips at #reinventsnacking.