By Emily Freeman

From specific products marketed for your sweet/salty afternoon cravings, to “snack packs” that are convenient to grab and go. But is snacking really beneficial? What really constitutes a “snack?”

From a science perspective, eating consistently throughout the day is shown to keep blood sugar levels regular and keep your metabolism strong. It can also prevent the “hangry” feeling where your hunger and low blood sugar may potentially lead to a sour mood. This has led to the common diet plans of 3 large meals and 2-3 snacks, or 6 small meals/snacks per day.  So science proves that having regular meals/snacks is healthy, and many who follow this would agree.

But what should we be snacking on? This is the real issue. If you are snacking on things like chips, cookies, cake pops, candy, protein shakes, and rice cakes, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Many processed snack foods are packed with sugar, salt, and other additives to leave you wanting more. Or leaving a bowl of little candy pieces laying around in your office or kitchen may look cute – but it promotes mindless snacking on empty calories that will not benefit you.

Healthy snacking includes planned, portioned snacks of foods that provide nutrients, carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. All of these leave you feeling satisfied, full, and provide energy to get you through the next few hours until a meal. Examples of healthy snacks would be:

– 1 cup raw vegetables and 1/3 cup hummus,

– 2 tbsp nut butter on 1 slice whole grain toast or a whole grain waffle

– 6-8 oz. non-fat Greek yogurt with ½ cup fruit OR ¼ cup granola

– 1 banana or apple with 2 tbsp nut butter

– trail mix or granola bar with oats, nuts/seeds, and dried fruit

The bottom line: snacking is a great way to keep yourself alert, energized, and functional during the day. You can avoid the “hangry” feelings that might occur from missing a meal or snack. But you must look at what you are snacking on to determine if your routine needs to change. Mindless snacking on processed foods and snacks can lead to empty calories, weight gain, and overall frustration. Take an extra 5-10 minutes a week to plan and prepare snacks so they are ready for your busy week!