Is Snacking Good or Bad for You?

There are mixed opinions about snacking.

Some believe that it’s healthy, while others think it can harm you and make you gain weight.

Here is a detailed look at snacking and how it affects your health.

What is snacking and why do people snack?

Snacking is when you consume food or beverages between your regular main meals.

The term “snack foods” is often used to refer to processed, high-calorie items like chips and cookies.

However, snacking simply means to eat or drink something between meals, regardless of whether the food is healthy.

Hunger is the main motivation behind snacking, but factors like location, social environment, time of day, and food availability contribute as well.

In fact, people often snack when appetizing food is around — even when they’re not hungry.

In one study, when people with obesity or excess weight were asked why they chose unhealthy snacks, the most common response was temptation, followed by hunger and low energy levels.

In addition, both the desire to snack and snacking’s effects on health appear to be highly individualized. Factors that influence snacking include age and beliefs about whether this practice is healthy.

SUMMARY

Snacking refers to eating or drinking outside of regular main meals. Reasons for snacking include hunger, food availability, and environmental and social cues.

Does snacking boost your metabolism?

Though it’s been suggested that eating every few hours increases your metabolism, scientific evidence doesn’t support this.

Research indicates that meal frequency has no significant effect on how many calories you burn.

One study in people consuming an equal number of calories in either two or seven meals per day found no difference in calories burned.

In another study, people with obesity who followed a very-low-calorie diet for 3 weeks showed similar decreases in metabolic rate, regardless of whether they ate 800 calories as 1 or 5 meals per day.

Yet, in one study, active young men who ate a high-protein or high-carb snack before bed experienced a significant increase in metabolic rate the following morning.

SUMMARY

Snacking every few hours is often believed to increase metabolism. However, most studies show that eating frequency has little or no effect on metabolism.

How snacking affects appetite and weight

Studies on snacking’s effects on appetite and weight have provided mixed results.

Effects on appetite

How snacking affects appetite and food intake isn’t universally agreed upon.

One review reported that though snacks briefly satisfy hunger and promote feelings of fullness, their calories aren’t compensated for at the next meal.

This results in an increased calorie intake for the day.

For example, in one study, men with excess weight who ate a 200-calorie snack 2 hours after breakfast ended up eating only 100 fewer calories at lunch.

This means that their total calorie intake increased by about 100 calories.

In another controlled study, lean men ate either three high-protein, high-fat, or high-carb snacks for six days .

Their hunger levels and total calorie intakes didn’t change compared with the days on which they ate no snacks, indicating that the snacks had a neutral effect .

However, studies have also shown that snacking can help reduce hunger.

In one study, men eating a high-protein, high-fiber snack bar had lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and higher levels of the fullness hormone GLP-1. They also took in an average of 425 fewer calories per day.

Another study in 44 women with obesity or excess weight noted that a bedtime snack high in protein or carbs led to decreased hunger and greater feelings of fullness the next morning. However, insulin levels were also higher.

Based on these varied results, it appears that snacking’s effect on appetite depends on the individual and type of snack consumed.