To Snack or Not To Snack…That Isn’t The Question

The great snack debate is one that has embattled many of so-called “dieters” for decades.  It’s roots were planted at a time when doctors offered advice to their patients who wanted to shed a few pounds that sounded something like this, “If you want to lose weight, you need to cut out all your snacks in-between meals.”  This may have worked well at a time where most people sat down to three regular meals each day, possibly around a family table (think Ozzie and Harriet) to consume their food.  However, by today’s standard, it’s a rarity when a family has a single meal together, let alone three!  Family members always seem to be going in different directions with their schedules, and most tend to grab food on the run.  And often times what we grab isn’t what we would consider a meal, but rather a snack to hold us over until our next meal.   

New research released last week from the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting indicated that what we consider as snacks (including what we drink between meals), comprises more than 25 percent of our total calorie intake every day.  On average, this equals about 580 extra and usually unaccounted for calories each day.

Most people would probably say at this point, “So what?  500 or so extra calories isn’t that much and besides if I’m really concerned about it, I’ll just do a few more minutes on the treadmill and burn it off in no time.”  To test this theory, let’s apply a little math:

500 extra calories a day (above what you use) = 3,500 extra calories a week

Based on metabolic equations- 3,500 extra calories a week = 1 pound of weight gain/week or 52 pounds of potential weight gain each year!

Now you’re convinced that the extra few minutes on the treadmill everyday will take care of those pesky calories.  The average 150 pound person would have to be on that treadmill 1 full hour extra each day to burn off approximately 450 calories-not even reaching the target of 500.  Most already have difficulties finding a few minutes to sit down to a healthy meal- who realistically will make the commitment to an extra hour or more of exercise?

It’s All About Choice

Asking people to stop eating snacks and begin sitting down to 3 meals a day at home is unrealistic.  The issue isn’t whether or not to partake in snacking, but rather look at making some smart choices that will work to stretch your calorie budget over the course of the day.  Moral of the story…choose wisely.  If you are among the many that find yourself eating on the run, opt for getting the most nutritional bang for your buck.  Choose grilled over fried, fresh over processed, and if weight control is one of your goals-make every effort to include low calorie/high fiber options like fruits, veggies, and whole grain products like oatmeal, popcorn, or whole wheat crackers.  The extra fiber will help keep you fuller longer thus making it less likely you’ll be tempted to grab another snack before your next meal.  Plus, it may also help prevent you from becoming overly hungry which can prove disastrous on a weight loss plan.

Beverage Calories

Make every attempt to avoid drinking your calories.  The calories we get from beverages can really pack a 1-2 punch.  They not only add up and contribute to our overall intake each day, but sweet beverages can spike blood sugar levels and often leave us hungrier in the end as those levels quickly take a dive in an attempt to return to normal.

Size Does Matter

Lastly and probably the most important, portion control.  Our best defense to guard against unwanted weight gain is to keep our portions in check.  A couple weeks ago, I covered information about the new USDA MyPlate educational materials.  One of the major objectives of this program is to help people understand appropriate portion sizes.  Because at the end of the day, all calories not used by the body regardless of whether they come from carbohydrates, protein or fat, will result in potential weight gain.

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