Snacking on something healthy all day, like fruit, helps you lose weight – right? Or are you consuming more energy than you need? Dr Tim Crowe reports.
Eating regularly is a part of most weight management guidelines, but this advice is based more on conventional wisdom than scientific evidence. When you’re simply adding more kilojoules to your daily intake, then snacking could be doing your waistline more harm than good.
Will regular snacking help control my appetite?
Snacking isn’t any more or less important than other parts of your diet or lifestyle. As we don’t have a clear definition of what constitutes a snack, one person’s snack (such as a tuna and salad sandwich) could be a meal for someone else. While the idea of snacking regularly seems like a sound way to control appetite and stop overeating, if those “snacks” turn into meal-size portions, then they’re unlikely to help cut down on overeating.
How many snacks should I eat per day?
A recent review paper published in the journal Nutrition & Dietetics looked at the scientific evidence for how eating frequency can affect weight and health. The review – which analysed a wide range of eating patterns, from just one very large meal a day right up to 17 small snacks a day – concluded that body weight is not greatly influenced by how often you eat. It is more about the total number of kilojoules you consume over the course of the day. The review also found that eating smaller meals more frequently does not increase metabolic rate, as is sometimes suggested. Changing the frequency of how often you eat only has a mild influence on feelings of hunger.
No matter how healthy a snack is, it still counts as kilojoules that your body needs to process. To maintain your weight, you need to have the same amount of kilojoules going in as going out over the course of day.
So, what foods should I be snacking on? And how much?
Snacking is a personal choice and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. If you find that you are overeating at main meals, then including three snacks containing around 400kJ or two snacks of around 600kJ may help regulate your appetite and reduce how much you eat during main meals. Just make sure that you snack on something healthy!
Smart snack ideas include:
small can of flavoured tuna
small handful (30g) of dried fruit and nut mix
200g tub of low-fat yoghurt
small bowl of cereal with low-fat milk
The bottom line
To lose weight, you need to eat less kilojoules than you expend. Snacking – even on healthy options – contributes to your total energy intake, so keep that in mind if you are trying to lose weight.