Myths About Snacking You Should Ignore
What should you reach for when hunger strikes between meals? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, given all the conflicting opinions out there about what we should eat and when. The conventional wisdom at any given moment can drive you to make food choices that aren’t always based on fact. Food myths and misinformation proliferate, often because we’re seeking easy solutions to complex problems.
To help you snack smart, we’ve put together this list of five myths about snacking that you should take with a grain of salt.
1. Snacking is a bad habit
Snacking is a surprisingly divisive topic. People in the three-square-meals-a-day camp look at snacking as a bad habit that needs to be broken, while other people believe that snacking can and should be part of a healthy diet, especially if it helps you avoid overeating at regular meal times. Even scientists can’t agree on whether snacking is OK or if it contributes to weight gain and other health problems.
According to Mayo Clinic, indulging in snacks between meals is perfectly fine, even if you’re trying to lose weight. But you need to choose low-calorie healthy snacks, like fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Processed snacks foods should be avoided. Also, try to eat only when you’re hungry. Check to make sure you’re not actually bored or just thirsty before reaching for a snack.
2. Don’t snack at night
The idea that nighttime snacking will cause you to pack on the pounds isn’t totally crazy. People often crave sugary and starchy comfort foods in the evening, according to Health magazine. Eating too much of those snacks when your activity levels are low might contribute to weight gain. Plus, those less-nutritious options don’t help your body repair itself as you sleep.
But that doesn’t mean evening snacking is totally off-limits. If your stomach rumbles after the dinner hour, reach for filling but good-for-you snacks rather than a bag of chips or a bowl of ice cream.
“Snacking at night is not necessarily bad but unless you’re extremely active or an athlete you’re better off to have it focused around protein and vegetables,” said Jamie Logie, a personal trainer and the host of the Regained Wellness podcast.
3. Snack-size servings are a smart choice
One-hundred-calorie bags of chip and pretzels, single-serve snack wraps, and other convenience foods line store shelves. These easy-to-grab eats do have the advantage of helping with portion control, but unless you’re munching on little bags of nuts or veggies, they’re usually nothing more than well-packaged junk.
“The problem with these is that they still contain refined flours and sugars that actually cause you to get hungrier,” said Logie. “They are missing the three things that keep you full which are protein, water, and fiber.”
4. Protein bars are always a healthy snack
When you want to get a dose of post-workout protein, reaching for a protein bar is the easiest thing to do. It’s not a bad impulse, necessarily. “When you work out, your muscles are primed to respond to protein,” Jeffrey Volek, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition and exercise researcher at the University of Connecticut, told Men’s Health. “[Y]ou have a window of opportunity to promote muscle growth.”
Unfortunately, some protein bars are little more than candy dressed up in a healthy wrapper. Varieties that are packed with sugar and have dozens of ingredients are best avoided, according to fitness guru Jillian Michaels. Making your own after-exercise snacks can help you eat smart, like these cookies and cream protein bars from Edible Sound Bites.
- ¾ cup coconut butter, softened until spreadable
- 1½ tablespoons cashew butter
- 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 60 grams (2 scoops) vanilla protein powder
- 3 tablespoons dark chocolate chunks
Directions: Line a 6-by-4-inch loaf pan or baking dish with parchment paper.
Add the coconut butter, cashew butter, honey or maple syrup, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Stir until fully combined. Add the protein powder and chocolate chunks and stir until everything is well mixed.
Spread the mixture into the parchment-lined pan, pressing down so that you have an even layer. Cover and then place in the freezer for 20 minutes until set. Slice into 8 bars of equal size and store, covered, in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to eat.
5. Snacking on carbs is bad
Carbohydrates have developed a bad reputation in recent years, taking the blame for increases in obesity and other health problems. But carbs can be part of a healthy diet, say experts. It just depends on what carbs you eat, and what you eat them with. Whole grains are usually a healthy choice, even ones that people might put in the junk food category, like popcorn.
“With popcorn, as long as it is done on a stove top with a little olive oil, or air popped [it] is pretty decent as it contains a good amount of soluble fiber,” said Logie. But steer clear of the jumbo-sized bucket at the movie theater. “When you get into microwave and movie popcorn you’re looking at a pretty horrific food choice,” he added.
Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS