What Is Snacking?
A snack is defined as any food or beverages you consume in between your regular meals. Snacking helps bridge the hunger gap between two meals. It helps curb your appetite and control your meal portion sizes. Hunger is usually the major motivation behind snacking.
Snacks don’t only refer to processed, high-calorie, unhealthy items like fried chips. Snacks also include healthy choices like fruits or nuts.
However, the wrong snack choices or snacking too frequently can lead to overconsumption of calories during the day. This could lead to weight gain. Fiber-rich snacks twice or thrice a day are ideal. Foods rich in fat, sugar, and salt can lead to health problems like obesity if consumed regularly.
Healthy snack choices can aid in weight loss and maintain your overall health. It can also help keep you full and limit your cravings for unhealthy food items.
Snacks are commonly very energy-dense and contain empty calories. Processed, high-sugar snack items result in a weak satiety response. They may satisfy you temporarily and provide energy. This effect is short-lived, and you may end up feeling hungry and snack again in an hour or two. This frequent snacking can lead to excess daily energy and calorie intake, which can be unhealthy.
Snacking can be good in some cases to prevent hunger in people who tend to overeat when they skip meals. Snacking is a personal choice. Healthy snacks can make you feel satisfied and full, more than unhealthy choices.
Genetics and Snacking
Studies have found the effect of genes on snacking patterns. Changes in your genes influence your snack choices.
The MC4R gene carries instructions for the production of melanocortin 4 receptor. This receptor is responsible for sending signals that make you stop eating after you eat a full meal and your stomach is full. When you’re hungry, this receptor is inhibited, and this leads to an increase in appetite. Changes in this gene are found to be associated with snacking.
rs17782313is a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP in the MC4R gene. Individuals carrying the C allele were found to have a tendency to snack more. They are also likely to have a higher intake of total energy and dietary fat and higher BMI.
Non-Genetic Factors That Influence Snacking
Although hunger is the main motivation to snack, other factors that influence snacking include location, food availability, social environment, and time of day, and distracted eating.
- Hunger is the main motivation to snack. When you go without eating proper meals for a long time, snacks help satisfy that feeling of hunger till you eat your next meal.
- Location can affect the type and portion size of food. A study done to assess the effect of snacking on location found that snacks eaten in the workplace were more nutritious and less energy-dense with low sugar content compared to snacks eaten at home, at restaurants, or while traveling.
- The amount of food consumed by the people you are eating with can affect your consumption of food too. If your eating companion eats a larger portion of food, you tend to eat more also.
- Even in the absence of hunger, people tend to snack more if there is some appetizing food in front of them readily available.
- What you’re doing while eating also matters. People, especially young adults who watch TVor play videogameswhile eating meals have a tendency to snack more.
Recommendations to Manage Snacking
While snacking is a personal choice and can be both advantageous and disadvantageous, healthy snacking is better than eating large amounts of processed food high in sugar and calories. There are several healthy snack options that you can switch to. Healthy snack choices can make you feel full and satisfied for a longer period of time. Some of the healthy snack options are
- Mixed nuts
- Fruit and vegetable slices
- Dark chocolate
- Chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Cottage cheese
A good source of protein and fiber can fill you up and prevent hunger.
Choose snacks that do not contain too many calories and include a good amount of protein. The frequency of snacking also matters. If you’re a very active person, you may snack 2-3 times a day. For people following a sedentary lifestyle, a reduced amount of snacking is a better option.
Choose the right snacks to help maintain your health and prevent unwanted weight gain and overeating.
- Snacking refers to consuming any food or beverage between regular meals. Snacking helps bridge the hunger gap between two meals. Snacks refer to both healthy and unhealthy food types, including fried chips, fruits, or nuts.
- Wrong snack choices or snacking too frequently can lead to overconsumption of calories during the day. Healthy snack choices can keep you full and limit your cravings for unhealthy food items.
- Changes in certain genes can affect your tendency to snack. The C allele of SNP rs17782313 found in the MC4R gene can increase your tendency to snack more. People with this allele likely to have a higher intake of total energy and dietary fat and higher BMI.
- Apart from your genes, other factors influence snacking. Hunger is found one of the most significant contributors to snacking.
- Opting for healthy snack choices can be beneficial. These food items can fill you up and satisfy your hunger for a longer time. They do not contain unnecessary calories and sugar.
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