You may have seen social media jokes about people eating all their quarantine snacks in the first day. Or maybe it’s not a joke.
As more of us work from home with a view into the kitchen, it can be tempting to snack frequently. Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Randi Brown offers advice for keeping snacking in check.
Snacking as an activity can be defined as “eating between meals” or “nibbling, munching, or grazing.” Eating between meals has been promoted for years by health professionals to help manage hunger signals, a healthy metabolism, and healthy blood sugar levels by providing a regular source of calories throughout the waking hours. Some national organizations that focus on healthy eating continue to promote eating patterns that include 3 meals and 1-2 snacks each day or some other combination of small frequent meals.
Changes in this thinking have begun to emerge in the past 5-10 years. New research has heightened the importance of allowing time to lapse between meals. Rather than eating every 2-3 hours (4-7 meals and snacks each day), now some experts are recommending you should practice what’s called intermittent fasting (IF) or time-restricted eating. This usually involves extending the duration between your last meal of today and your first meal of tomorrow from 12-20 hours.
How we eat during the waking hours can be managed based on individual goals, preferences, hunger, health conditions, and possibly metrics such as blood glucose monitoring. A popular version of IF is the 16:8 diet where fasting lasts 16 hours and the eating window is compressed to 8 hours. Recent research has found benefits of IF to be weight loss, improvements in metabolic health, increased insulin sensitivity, reduction in risk for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, and protection against memory loss and neurological disorders. An example of how to implement the 16:8 diet is to start your first meal at 10 a.m. and end the last meal at 6 p.m.
With IF, how often you eat during the eating window is up to you, but you should choose fresh, wholesome foods with ample amounts of protein and fat. This can help manage hunger and improve nutrient density as metabolism speeds up. Protein sources include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, low-fat cheeses and Greek yogurt, while fat sources include olive oil, coconut and avocado oils, nut and seed butter, and high fat cheeses. Adding high fiber foods also helps with feeling full. These include herbs, leafy vegetables, and other vegetables grown above ground. An example of a meal to break your fast is huevos rancheros prepared with eggs, vegetables, herbs, and olive oil, or Greek yogurt with a few colorful berries and a sprinkling of chopped nuts and seeds.
Eating carbohydrates, on the other hand, can be used strategically to boost energy levels during the most active part of the day. Some carbohydrate-rich foods are fruits, vegetables like winter squash and potatoes, breads, cereals, rice, pasta, crackers, low-fat yogurt, and other dairy products.
If you’re not active, you don’t need all of these carbohydrates. In other words, if you are sedentary throughout the day, you can see why it is hard to lose weight, especially when carbohydrate-rich foods make up most of your diet.
So, where does this leave snacking? It doesn’t! In fact, snacking, nibbling, munching, and grazing during the waking hours can be redefined as an unhealthy habit that we would be wiser to reprogram.
Rather than food, consider some self-care alternatives, such as:
- Go out for a brisk walk especially early in the day – vitamin D and sunshine help set your body clocks and improve sleep.
- Take short breaks and practice deep breathing – get your body into the rest and relax state as opposed to fight and flight where stress takes hold.
- Rest your mind by learning to meditate for 5 minutes or longer – meditation and mindfulness do wonders for stress management.
- Call a friend or family member – social connection, according to Blue Zone research is a key to longevity.
- Video chat a colleague or friend – body language and expression represent 80% of human communication.
If You’re Having Trouble
Intermittent Fasting can be a difficult transition. Try hanging in there with these small portions that have protein and fiber but with fewer calories.
- Mixed nuts
- Cottage cheese and fresh berries
- Nut butter on celery or apple slices
- Hummus and veggies
- Melons or berries with low-fat cheese
Image by bauhaus1000