Living with rolling lockdowns means most of us are working from home, where our kitchen is only a few steps away.
If reserves are down and stress levels are up, it can be tempting to reach for the snacks. But is snacking really so bad?
Not necessarily, says Dr Rebecca Leech, NHF Research Fellow and NHMRC Emerging Leadership Fellow at the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN).
Rebecca’s research explores how people combine foods during meals and snacks throughout the day, and identifying connections around food choices.
She says while the terms ‘snacking’ and ‘snack foods’ have negative connotations, a bit of thought and planning can ensure your snacks are a healthy addition to your diet.
“We tend to link snacking to poor food choices and eating when our bodies don’t really need it,” she says.
“But not all snacking is unhealthy. Snacking is also linked to higher intakes of fruit and dairy foods and snacks can play an important role in helping meet nutrition requirements.”
Rebecca says labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can be unhelpful.
“Sure, some foods are healthier than others but it’s important to recognise that all foods can be enjoyed as part of a balanced and healthy diet,” she says.
However, she says we need to watch out for foods that provide little nutrition, are energy-dense and promote weight gain. She recommends limiting snacks such as sugary drinks, chips, biscuits, cakes and lollies, and replacing them with foods that contain fewer kilojoules and are more nutritious.
“Research in adults has shown that a snacking or grazing-style eating patterns is linked to higher overall energy intake, higher intakes of less healthy, or ‘sometimes’, foods and weight gain,” she explains.
Examples of more healthy snack options include fruit with unsweetened yoghurt or a handful of nuts such as almonds, cut-up vegetables sticks with hummus or avocado dip, and wholegrain crackers with cheese.
Rebecca’s inspiration for healthy snacks:
- Aim for regularly spaced nutritious meals to help keep hunger at bay.
- Use a food diary app to keep track of food intake as often we don’t realise when we are mindlessly snacking. It may also be helpful to document mood and feelings to help understand what is driving the snacking behaviour. Is it because of feelings of hunger or a default response to feeling bored, stressed, or sad?
- Take control by planning snacks ahead of time so that there is a healthy and tasty snack ready to go at times when you may be tempted by less healthy options.
- Getting adequate sleep and reducing stress in everyday life may also help to curtail the hormones that push people towards overeating foods high in sugar and fat.
Rebecca stresses that eating is a complex behaviour and snacking may be driven by factors other than hunger.
“It’s important to acknowledge that changing ingrained patterns of behaviour can be hard,” she says.
“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to improve snacking behaviours. Eating patterns that are tailored to individuals’ food preferences, psychology, work schedules and lifestyles are more likely to be sustainable and successful in the long run.
“Some people may need extra professional support and cognitive training to facilitate behaviour change.”
Dr Rebecca Leech is a Research Fellow within the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University.
After more snacking tips? Learn how Olympic athletes fuel their bodies.