How many times have you made a decision about what to eat based on preserving your calendar over your health? Think about the number of times that you’ve grabbed a candy bar or a bag of chips as a snack because it was the convenient thing to do when you missed a meal. In the busy post-college working world, I often find myself slipping into some bad diet habits and choices, choices that tend to rely on unhealthy snacks to make up for the gaps in my diet. Our reliance on snacks to supplement poorly balanced meals in our diets is an opportunity to make healthy eating decisions, but many of us fail to harness it for good.
Why is this such a problem? First, snacks actually drive the trends in U.S. overeating. A study last year conducted by Health.com revealed that over the past 30 years, Americans have increased daily food consumption by 29%. The driving factor is not only the amount that we’re eating at meals, but the fact that so much of it comes from the additional snacks we’ve added to our diets. On average, one quarter of our daily calories are provided by snacks that are far too fat and carb rich, and nutrient poor. More importantly, the poorer your meal choices are, the more likely you are to make worse decisions about the snacks that you decide to eat. Studies have shown that people who repeatedly eat carb and fat laden meals grow an appetite for them, and tend to favor foods with similar profiles, even when other foods are available. While snacking is not inherently bad, many of us just do not do it in a way that supports healthy eating. When snacking is done right, it is actually a great way to enrich our diets.
Here are some tips for practicing healthier snacking:
1) Use technology. Learning how to snack right should start with holding ourselves accountable to the amount, type, and frequency of the foods that we eat. Today, technology and social media give us the opportunity to both easily track what we do, and hold ourselves publicly accountable for our actions. To that end, you can use technology and social media to reinforce the good snacking behaviors you want to have. This must begin with acknowledging your current diet habits and the snacks that you eat. Whether your mode of tracking is a spreadsheet, text messages, or pictures of food, consistent logging presents many opportunities for positive growth -- if you are honest with yourself. Begin by spending a week logging the meals and snacks that you eat, and keep track of how the nutritional content adds up. Websites like www.sweeterspoon.com (full disclosure: I am a community manager for Laveem, the company that runs SweeterSpoon) are very helpful resources for determining the nutritional content of most of the foods you might encounter in your day.
2) Healthier Choices. Next, resolve to make healthier choices in the snacks that you choose by always starting off with fresh fruits and vegetables. A good snack should provide a maximum of 200 calories and be a good source of the essential vitamins and nutrients that we need. The closer you get to processed snack foods, the more difficult it becomes to find foods that meet those requirements. Even the snacks marketed as healthy, such as granola bars and juice drinks, are often full of refined sugars and too little of the good stuff that our bodies need. SimpleSnacking has a great infographic that includes examples like boiled eggs, clementines, and pistachios: foods that are energy rich, packed with vitamins and nutrients, and filling.
3) Acknowledge Your Decisions. Finally, once you’ve made your decisions, publicly acknowledge them! This may seem like an awkward thing to do at first, but a public record of your resolve to make a healthy eating decision for yourself is a great way to hold yourself accountable. Tweet, post, or pin your snacks and pay close attention to the frequency of these actions. If it makes you feel better, I’m more than willing to read all tweets directed @rlbouquet with your snacking itinerary (include #livelaveem on those tweets if you want the company to give you a shout out)!
4) Stay away from bags and boxes of snacks! Make a 1 serving limit for what you’re going to have, put it in a small bowl, and then remove the bag/box from your line of sight! This avoids the “might as well finish it” phenomenon, a daily battle this writer faces.
5) Watch out for those drinks! Those tastymocha/frappe/chailattes, energy drinks, and fruit juices can add the same empty calories that other snack foods do, so be careful. When in doubt, go for the glass of water.
6) Enjoy your meals! Thousands of years of human experience reveals that the biggest deterrent to bad snacking is ... to avoid being hungry. Taking the time to sit down and slowly enjoy a balanced meal gives your body the chance to consume just what it needs to feel satisfied and avoids the risk of overeating. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to finally receive the feedback signals from your intestines that you are full, so slow down!
In general, we can all take proactive steps to be more informed about the trends in our diets especially when it comes to snacking. As technology gives us more insights into our lifestyles, we approach an immense opportunity to use it to help make informed decisions about the food that we eat and the impact it has on our lives. Though snacking often gets a bad rap, in many of our fast paced lives it can make a huge difference in our overall dietary outlook. Whether you’re following the food pyramid of our youth, the latest trending one, or any number of specialized diets, use snacking to make healthier food decisions!
Ralph Bouquet is the Community Manager of Laveem. Laveem is a TechStars company whose mission is to curate all nutritional knowledge about food and provide services and apps that help people make more informed decisions about the food they eat. Laveem recently launched their first consumer application called SweeterSpoon at www.sweeterspoon.com.