The most important factor to remember with snacking is to listen to your hunger cues — don’t ignore them or force them. At the very least, people need to be eating three meals a day. If you’re not hungry between meals then there may be no need to add snacks in. However, if you’re only having three meals and are ravenous at these meals and perhaps overeating as a result, then adding snacks in between meals could be a good option. The bottom line is that it depends on your individual health needs and goals.

Although snacking is a great way to avoid overeating at main meals and keep your body fueled, the main traps we fall into often have negative consequences on our weight maintenance or weight loss goals. You might be ticking the boxes with your main meals and physical activity, but little things can sneak into our seemingly healthy routine and become ingrained habits. And before you realize, these little habits can add up and counteract our good intentions.

Common snacking pitfalls:

  • Snacks that are the same size as main meals
  • Snacks loaded with salt, sugar or fat
  • When you eat out of boredom (instead of hunger)
  • Choosing low-fiber, low-fat snacks that won’t fill you up, meaning you may need to grab another snack shortly
  • Mistaking thirst for hunger




When to snack?

Just because you always grab a granola bar and coffee at 10 a.m. doesn’t mean you should. Don’t snack because it’s part of your daily routine; do it when you’re a little bit hungry. Use a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is starving and 10 is stuffed.  You need a snack when you’re at a 3 or 4. Many people won’t hit that mark until about three hours after a meal, but some will get there faster. In those cases, experts say, don’t punish your rumbling belly. Go ahead and have a bite. However, if you’re trying to drop a few pounds and are not truly hungry, consider holding out until lunch and having your first snack in the afternoon.

Snack timing

What to snack on?

Keep these general guidelines in mind when choosing a snack: 150 to 250 calories, about 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and no more than 12 grams of fat. Protein and fiber help you feel full and satisfied. So you shouldn’t feel the need to grab another snack soon after, and you’ll be less likely to overeat at your next meal. Realistically, hitting all these markers with every snack is near impossible. So aim for overall balance. If one snack is short on protein, for instance, make sure your next one has a little extra.

What to Snack on

How to snack?

One word: mindfully. Treat each snack as a mini meal by taking one serving and, if possible, putting it on a plate. Keep a salad plate in your desk drawer at work. Why? We tend to associate a clean plate with satisfaction and a feeling of fullness (something an empty 100-calorie–pack wrapper may not supply). Also, don’t multitask when you eat; simply enjoy the flavors of the food. Try to apply this strategy at regular meals, too. When you’re distracted during mealtime (for e.g. watching TV), you may be more likely to over snack later on. When we eat, we encode information about a meal, including the flavors, the textures, and how satisfied we feel, which is called a meal memory. So distractions might be preventing us from forming proper meal memories. That can trick our brains, leading us to pick later, even though we may not be physiologically hungry.


3 Ways to Control Your Cravings

If, despite the best-laid (snack) plans, cupcakes still call your name, there may be something else going on—like stress or fatigue. These tactics may help you calm your emotions and stave off a junk-food binge.

Take a walk

Researchers at the University of Exeter, in England, found that a walk can help derail mindless snacking. In their study, published this year, subjects who took a brisk 15-minute walk before indulging in a chocolaty treat consumed less of it than did those who stayed put. Stress, boredom, and fatigue are all factors that can cause us to snack when we’re not hungry. Exercise may combat these, says Oh, thereby helping you avoid unnecessary nibbles. 



Get more sleep

A lack of shut-eye has long been shown to be associated with overeating in general, but new research suggests that it can lead specifically to over snacking. Inadequate sleep can change the body’s levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate feelings of hunger and fullness, respectively. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep may put those hormones back in balance.



Tweak your environment

If you’re tempted to snack at the same place or time every day (when you hit the couch after dinner, for example), some other cues could be to blame. Lighting and temperature may affect how much you eat. Keep the thermostat at a warmer temperature (throw on a sweater if you can’t turn down the air-conditioning), people tend to eat more in cold temperatures. And switch on bright overhead lights. Research indicates that dim or soft lighting may prompt people to consume more food.


The next time you reach for a snack, keep these healthy snacking tips in mind:

1. Consider the size

The easy part is eating frequently — the hard part is keeping the amount you eat to a snack size. A snack should not be the same size as a main meal. Snacks are really just a small hit to take the edge of your hunger and provide a boost of energy. With this in mind, aim for your snacks to be around 600 kilojoules (roughly 150 calories).

However, this may be less for people who are watching their weight, or more for active people. Examples include one small apple with 10 almonds, 100 grams of natural low fat yoghurt with a quarter cup of muesli, or two whole grain crackers with 30 grams of reduced fat cheese.

2. Tune into hunger cues

Boredom or stress eating is something we all do, so it’s helpful to ask yourself whether you’re truly hungry or not. Tune in and listen to your hunger cues. It is important that you eat when you are actually hungry, and not because you’re a bored, tired or emotional.

hunger scale

3. Keep healthy snacks with you

There’s nothing worse than getting hangry when you’re on-the-go. This makes going to the nearest convenience shop for a quick doughnut, chocolate bar or pie way too easy. If you have healthy snacks on you, you will eat healthy snacks.  Always keep some snacks on hand to avoid going to the cafe or vending machine. And, it goes without saying, keep processed junk food snacks like chips, biscuits, lollies, chocolate and pastries as treats.

4. Prioritize fiber and protein

The ideal snacks, which will keep you full for the longest, are those which are high in both fiber and protein. Think muesli and yoghurt, roasted chickpeas, whole grain crackers with peanut butter, nuts and fruit, and veggies and hummus. Choose snacks that are high in fiber and protein as these will help to keep you feeling full and satisfied and prevent overeating at main meals.


Here are some healthy snack ideas:




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  2. Chapman CD, Benedict C, Brooks SJ, Schioth HB. Lifestyle determinants of the drive to eat: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(3):492-497.
  3. Chapelot D. The role of snacking in energy balance: a biobehavioral approach. J Nutr. 2011;141(1):158-162.
  4. Leidy HJ, Campbell WW. The effect of eating frequency on appetite control and food intake: brief synopsis of controlled feeding studies. J Nutr. 2011;141(1):154-157.
  5. Mekary RA, Giovannucci E, Willett WC, van Dam RM, Hu FB. Eating patterns and type 2 diabetes risk in men: breakfast omission, eating frequency, and snacking. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(5):1182-1189.




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