Defined as eating a small portion of food in between meals, snacking has come to mean so much more, even powering a billion dollar industry. With more varieties to tempt you than ever before, snacking has almost become second nature to many of us. With snacks so alluringly advertised and made to become increasingly addictive, few stand the chance in the face of the temptation they pose.
Are snacks addictive?
While snacking is not a bad term, the term snack food has come to stand for highly processed foods that are generally seen as unhealthy. This has lent the term snacking a negative connotation. The high salt and sugar content in these snack foods makes them addictive, as both salt and sugar trigger the release of dopamine, a chemical that the body perceives as rewarding. With time we tend to snack more to reward our taste buds rather than to fulfill any nutritional needs, and as our tolerance for salt and sugar increases, we begin to experience stronger cravings.
Whether it’s a late afternoon snack at work or a late night snack while watching tv, Once you get started, these addictive nibbles are hard to put down. Research shows that the most popular snack by far in terms of the number of people who eat it around the world is chocolate. But not far behind is potato chips, consumed with much enthusiasm across the globe. The onset of the pandemic has seen a drastic rise in the sale of snacks, driven by boredom and panic, so much so that companies like PepsiCo have actually seen a 5% rise in quarterly sales during this time.
But while Chocolate and chips still hold pride of place in the pecking order, the last few years have seen a shift in trends towards healthier snacking. With experts recommending eating smaller meals, snacking has become a way to include more variety in terms of nutrition be it more fruit or nuts or flavoured yoghurts.
Why we snack ?
Research shows that we tend to snack when we are hungry, or feeling low on energy. This is easy to understand because snacks are usually ready made and easily available, especially when compared to a meal that requires preparation. The hungrier you are, the harder it is to resist a snack that is right in front of you. But finding yourself in proximity to something tempting is another reason why people snack, even if they have just eaten a meal. People tend to snack more when they are with others who are snacking, a classic example being collectively munching on popcorn at the movies.
In recent times, another big reason that people have turned to snacks in a big way is due to the time crunch they face. Sitting down to have a meal is becoming something of an Indulgence, and especially in countries like India, more and more people are ditching meals for smaller snacks. With more and more people on the move, we will continue to see a corresponding rise in snacking as well.
Are you a sensible snacker?
As more and more dieticians endorse eating small snacks throughout the day instead of heavier meals, what matters most is your choice of snack. The nutritional experts obviously don’t suggest you skip lunch over a bag of chips, therefore we need to start looking at snacking in a healthier way.
The key here is to think about what nutritional benefits the snack offers before you choose to consume it. There is no harm in the occasional bar of chocolate or bag chips, but everyday snacking needs to be more nutritious than this.
Finding snacks that are nutritious, yet convenient has become a lot easier than before, but there are certain pitfalls you have to watch out for, such as keeping your eye out for processed foods with higher trans fats, salt or sugars.
What’s a good snack?
Snacks such as popcorn, fresh fruits, nuts and seeds, yoghurt or cheese are considered healthy as they fulfill your daily dietary needs. But even here, you need to be vigilant about what you choose, for instance while popcorn is healthy, some brands of instant popcorn are loaded with excess calories in the form of butter or oil, making homemade popcorn a more sensible choice.
Nuts and seeds make for a great snack because just a handful are enough to keep you satisfied. Moreover, they are packed with antioxidants, high on protein and fiber and contain good fats such as Omega 3. For those who think cashews and almonds are boring, you can find some low salt, flavoured varieties here.
Yoghurts are a great way to load up on probiotics that will help your digestion, and therefore are a great snack option. With so many exciting flavours to choose from, all you need to look out for is that they don’t contain any added sugar.
There have been many snacks in recent times that claim to be healthy only because they are baked and not fried. Sure they might not contain any trans fats, but these could still be highly processed, and more often than not are heavy handed when it comes to salt.
It is a similar story with fruit juices, with fresh juices being far better than canned ones, but remember that nothing comes close to being as nutritious as eating the fruit whole.
So the next time you’re after cookies or that piece of cake tucked away in the refrigerator, remember that other than the occasional indulgence, what will do you most good in the long run is a good healthy snack, and who knows, with time, the very definition of snacking may stand for healthier eating.