Do You Snack Wisely?

            Have you noticed how many people snack between meals?  If you have, the Department of Agriculture assures us, it’s not just the people around you.  According to Government surveys, snacking between meals has increased significantly over the past 50 years. By the 1970s, about 50% had taken up snacking between meals.  More recent surveys tell us that about 94% now snack.

            Although snacking had become common by the 1970s, a generation before that snacking was an unusual practice.  Over time, the result has been that for many, three meals a day has evolved into near all day munching and soda sipping routine.

            Most that snack do so because they have a false sense of hunger.  Reasons for these false urges include cravings from food addiction, the ultra enticing taste of engineered foods, the availability of snack foods, boredom, and emotional needs.  Regardless of other factors driving hunger, insulin resistance due to poor diet and inadequate physical activity are usually contributing factors.

            Many consider healthy eating alternatives when they select a snack.  Not so obvious, snack manufacturers anticipate consumer nutrition concerns and have messaging to help overcome purchasing resistance.  Greenwashing with words and pictures that suggest health is a common ploy.  Offering products in side by side displays where one product appears much healthier is another strategy.  Unfortunately, when selecting snack foods from those most commonly available, the lesser of two poor choices is still a poor choice.

            Interestingly, some of the more deplorable snack foods have seen a slight fall in sales due to increased health awareness.  In response, expect to see more advertisements suggesting responsible eating.  In one advertisement, participants are told to breathe slowly and evenly during a meditation exercise, then slowly reach for a chip, take one bite, and then set it down.  While this may be generally good advice for someone trying to control their food intake, the notion of trying to control the intake of snack foods is rather odd when you think about it.  Would an alcoholic be expected to solve their addiction by taking smaller drinks at intervals?  It’s a page out of the advertising book for how to sell more alcoholic beverages and cigarettes. Not to be missed is the suggestion that indulging in cookies, crackers, ice cream, and candy is ok sometimes.  Really, when they know their product is engineered to make “eating only one” near impossible, how many are likely to maintain control?  Neither alcoholics nor drug addicts improve by “occasionally indulging.”  The same is true for people with food addictions.

            Perhaps you are thinking, I’m not a food addict, I can easily control how much I eat.  For two-thirds of Americans, a trip to the bathroom scales will dispel this fantasy.  For the remainder, a deeper look at the nutritional baggage that comes with processed foods is important to consider.  For more about these concerns read, “The Cheese Conundrum.”

            For those that would like to snack less, an especially counterproductive force is free food.  The problem is that where you may be reluctant to spend money on an unhealthy snack, the thought that it’s free removes the cost obstacle.  The typical office environment can easily become a zone of mindless free food eating.  Often the snack trigger is a missed breakfast.  With that as the setup, a box of free pastries will be irresistible.  Equally enticing is a readily available snack food when you hit the afternoon slump.

            To minimize mindless eating, change the placement of free food.  When food is in a common pathway or place where people congregate, it encourages mindless eating.  For offices with a large staff, consider consolidating birthdays, so there aren’t a lot of sweets in the office throughout the month.

            Another way to resist free food is to keep on hand healthy fruit and vegetable snacks.  If not prepared with healthy snacks, a trip to the vending machine may become irresistible. As a reminder, post to yourself the note, “No food taste as good as good health feels.”

            For healthy snack ideas, read the articles “Plant-Strong Snacking” and “WFPB Travel Snacks For Your Next Trip.”  For more ideas, use the search term “plant-based whole food snacks.”  Perhaps you have a favorite plant-based whole food snack you would like to share? Just send your recipe idea along, and I’ll give it a try.

            Nancy Neighbors, MD

Mindful Eating Tips

  • Don’t eat until you have overdone it.  At first, this may be challenging since by the time you perceive yourself to be full you’ve likely overeaten. The goal is to eat until about 70% to 80% full.  With practice, you can ‘rewire’ your brain to sense when you have had enough.
  • Mindful eaters pace themselves despite the presence of other stress in their busy world.  The goal is to slow down and give each nourishing bite the time to be savored.
  • Be selective about what you eat.  If the food can’t be enjoyed, then don’t eat it.  Not to worry, no one will starve.  When hungry enough, every nutritious food is appealing.
  • Try to gauge your hunger before taking a bite. Just ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”  Know that whatever is on your mind other than food may be the emotional trigger urging you to eat more.
  • Recognize the habit of overeating.  Know that thinking about anything other than eating at mealtime diminishes your ability to control eating.  This includes watching videos or reading while eating.

Snack Facts

  • Lunch is the meal most often replaced by snacks (49% of Americans.)
  • The peak snacking hours are between 1:00 p.m. and to 4:00 p.m.
  • The most common “snack meals” include cheese, crackers, chips, prepared meats (like turkey slices), fruits, nuts, and yogurt.
  • Millennials tend to treat three standard meals a day as a thing of the past.  On average, they consume snacks for meals 6 times a week.  Twenty percent of millennials eat snacks on their feet while running errands.
  • When it comes to dinner, about half of those that turn to “snack dinners” do so due to the lack of time to plan, prepare, and sit down for a meal.
  • Many feel that eating comfort foods reduces their stress and anxiety.  While this is a possible short term effect, it’s counterproductive to long-term stress and anxiety reduction.  Upwards of 80% of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut.  Without the fiber, that is usually missing in snack foods, a healthy gut biome will not develop to produce serotonin.

Published by Nancy Neighbors, MD

... Dr. Neighbors provides a blend of traditional family medicine and evidence-based lifestyle medicine in Huntsville, Alabama. When indicated, lifestyle change is recommended as the first line of therapy.

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