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Is Snacking Good or Bad for You?

Three Granola Bars Stacked on Top of Each Other

There are mixed opinions about snacking.

Some believe that it is healthy, while others think it can harm
you and make you gain weight.

Here is a detailed look at snacking and how it affects your
health.

What Is Snacking and Why Do People Snack?

Snacking is when you consume food or beverages between your
regular meals.

The term “snack foods” is often used to refer to
processed
, high-calorie foods like chips and cookies.

However, “snacking” simply means to eat or drink something
between meals, regardless of whether the food is healthy or not
(1).

Hunger is the main motivation behind snacking, but factors like
location, social environment, time of day and food availability
contribute as well.

In fact, people often snack when there is appetizing food
around, even if they’re not hungry.

In one study, when overweight and obese people were asked why
they chose unhealthy snacks, the most common response was
temptation, followed by being hungry and feeling low on energy
(2).

In addition, both the desire to snack and snacking’s effects on
health appear to be highly individualized. Factors that
influence snacking include age and beliefs about whether
snacking is healthy or not (3).

Bottom Line: Snacking refers to eating or
drinking outside of regular meals. Reasons for snacking
include hunger, food availability and environmental and
social cues.

Does Snacking Boost Your Metabolism?

Bowl of Mixed Nuts

Although it’s been suggested that eating every few hours will
increase
your metabolism
, the evidence does not support this.

Studies have found that meal frequency has no significant
effect on how many calories you burn (4).

In one study, researchers compared the responses of people who
consumed an equal number of calories in either two or seven
meals per day. They found no difference in calories burned
(5).

In another study, obese people who followed a very low-calorie
diet for three weeks showed similar decreases in metabolic
rate, regardless of whether they ate 800 calories as one or
five meals per day (6).

Interestingly, one study reported that a bedtime snack may lead
to a higher metabolic rate the next morning.

In this study, when active young men consumed a high-protein or
high-carb snack before bed, they experienced a significant
increase in metabolic rate the following morning (7).

However, this increase in metabolism would be expected, given
that the snacks provided additional calories that were burned
overnight. The researchers didn’t compare the effect of
including these foods at meals instead.

Bottom Line: Snacking every few hours is
often believed to increase metabolism. However, studies have
shown that eating frequency has little or no effect on
metabolism.

How Snacking Affects Appetite and Weight

Studies on snacking’s effects on appetite and weight have
provided mixed results.

Snacking’s Effects on Appetite

Hands Holding a Fork and a Knife

How snacking affects appetite and food intake isn’t universally
agreed upon.

One review reported that although snacks may briefly satisfy
hunger and promote feelings of fullness, their calories aren’t
compensated for at the next meal.

This results in increased calorie intake for the day (8).

For example, in one study, overweight men who ate a 200-calorie
snack two hours after breakfast ended up eating only 100 fewer
calories at lunch (9).

This means that total calorie intake increased by about 100
calories.

In another controlled study, lean men ate either three
high-protein, high-fat or high-carb snacks for six days
(10).

Their hunger levels and total calorie intakes didn’t change
compared to the days on which they ate no snacks, indicating
that the snacks had a neutral effect (10).

However, studies have also shown that snacking can help reduce
hunger (11, 12, 13).

In one study, when men ate a high-protein, high-fiber snack
bar, they had lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and
higher levels of the fullness hormone GLP-1. They also took in an average of 425 fewer
calories per day (12).

Another study in 44 overweight or obese women found that a
bedtime snack high in protein or
carbs
led to decreased hunger and greater feelings of
fullness the next morning. However, insulin levels were also
higher (13).

Based on these varied results, it appears that snacking’s
effect on appetite may depend on the individual and type of
snack consumed.

Snacking’s Effects on Weight

Apples, Grapes, a Fork and a Knife on Scales

Most research has shown that snacking between meals does not
affect weight (14, 15).

However, a few studies suggest that snacking can help
you lose weight
(16, 17).

For example, a non-controlled study in 17 people with diabetes
reported that consuming snacks high in protein and
slow-digesting carbs resulted in an average weight loss of 2.2
pounds (1 kg) within four weeks (17).

On the other hand, some studies in lean and obese people have
found that snacking may lead to slower weight loss or even
weight gain (18, 19).

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In one study, 36 lean men increased their calorie intake by 40%
by consuming excess calories as snacks between meals. They
experienced a significant increase in liver fat and belly fat
(19).

Interestingly, another controlled study suggests that the
timing of snacks may be what makes a difference when it comes
to weight changes.

This study in 11 lean women found that consuming a 190-calorie
snack at 11:00 p.m. reduced the amount of fat they burned
significantly more than consuming the same snack at 10:00 a.m.
(20).

The mixed results suggest that weight responses to snacking
probably vary by individual.

Bottom Line: Mixed results from several
studies suggest that weight and appetite responses to
snacking vary by individual.

The Effects of Snacking on Blood Sugar

Hands Taking Pieces of Fruit of a Plate

Although many people believe that it’s necessary to eat
frequently to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the
day, this isn’t always the case.

In fact, a 2014 study in people with type 2 diabetes found that
eating only two large meals per day resulted in lower fasting
blood sugar levels, better insulin sensitivity and greater
weight loss than eating six times per day (21).

Other studies have reported no difference in blood sugar levels
when the same amount of food was consumed as meals or meals
plus snacks (16, 17).

Of course, the type of snack and amount consumed are the main
factors that affect blood sugar levels.

Lower-carb, higher-fiber snacks have consistently been shown to
have a more favorable effect on blood sugar and insulin levels
than high-carb snacks in people with and without diabetes
(12, 22, 23, 24).

In addition, snacks with a high protein
content may improve blood sugar control (25, 26).

In a study of 20 healthy men, consuming a high-protein,
lower-carb dairy snack led to lower
blood sugar levels
before the next meal, compared to
higher-carb dairy snacks or orange juice (26).

Bottom Line: It isn’t necessary to snack to
maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Eating high-protein or
high-fiber snacks raises blood sugar levels less than
consuming high-carb snacks.

Snacking Can Prevent Ravenous Hunger

Peanuts, Bananas and a Protein Smoothie

Snacking may not be good for everyone.

However, it can definitely help some people avoid becoming
ravenously hungry.

When you go too long without eating, you may become so hungry
that you end up eating many more calories
than you need
.

Snacking can help keep your hunger levels on an even keel,
especially on days when your meals are spaced further apart.

However, it’s important to make healthy snack choices.

Bottom Line: Eating a snack is better than
letting yourself become ravenously hungry. This can lead to
poor food choices and eating more calories than you need.

Tips for Healthy Snacking

In order to get the most out of your snacks, follow these
guidelines:

  • Amount to eat: In general, it’s best to eat
    snacks that contain about 200 calories and at least 10 grams
    of protein to help you stay full until your next meal.
  • Frequency: The number of snacks you need
    will vary based on your activity level and how big your meals
    are. If you’re very active, you may prefer 2–3 snacks per
    day, while a more sedentary person may do best with one snack
    or no snacks.
  • Portability: Keep portable snacks with you
    when you’re out doing errands or traveling in case hunger
    strikes.
  • Snacks to avoid: Processed, high-sugar
    snacks may give you a brief jolt of energy, but you’ll
    probably feel hungrier an hour or two later.

Bottom Line: When snacking, be sure to eat
the right types and amounts of food in order to reduce hunger
and prevent overeating later on.

Healthy Snacks to Eat

Cottage Cheese and Raspberries

Although there are many packaged snacks and bars on the market,
choosing nourishing real
food
is best.

It’s a good idea to include a protein source in your snack.

For example, both cottage cheese and hard-boiled
eggs
have been shown to help keep you full for hours
(27).

Furthermore, high-fiber snacks like almonds
and peanuts may reduce your appetite and the amount of food you
eat at the next meal (28, 29).

Here are a few other healthy snack ideas:

  • String cheese
  • Fresh vegetable slices
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Cottage cheese with fruit

Also, check out
this list of 29 healthy snacks
.

Bottom Line: Choosing healthy snacks that
are high in protein and fiber helps reduce hunger and keeps
you full for several hours.

So Is Snacking Good or Bad?

Snacking can be good in some cases, such as for preventing
hunger in people who tend to overeat when going too long
without food.

However, others may do better eating three or fewer meals
per day
.

In the end, it’s really a personal choice. If you’re going to
snack, make sure to choose healthy foods that keep you full and
satisfied.

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