The Science of Snacking


I like a snack. Do you? You are either a snacker or you are not. There are also mixed opinions about snacking. Some believe it’s healthy while others say it’s best not to do it. Here is a detailed look at snacking. 

Why do people snack?

Why do people snack?

A snack is generally defined as any food eaten between your main meals. There are many reasons why people snack. Your stomach may start growling a few hours after your last meal. Or your energy levels may dip. Or maybe you just look forward to the taste of a certain snack food. A study that asked other weight people the reasons behind choosing to snack and the most common response was temptation, followed by hunger and poor energy levels.   Habit, location, food availability and environment also play a role.

The science of snacking

Research has attempted to see if snacking has a positive or negative impact on nutrition and health outcomes—but without a clear answer.  This may be because of a lack of a common scientific definition of what is a snack. Studies find that snacking recommendations from public health organizations worldwide generally advise limiting snacks that offer little nutrition but are high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium; they find that snacks provide at least 10% of daily calories, with a frequency of eating about two snacks per day. 

There is a common myth surrounding snacking that it increases your metabolism, however there is little scientific information to support this.  Research indicates that meal frequency has little or no significant effect on your metabolism. Whether snacks affect appetite and weight seems to depend on the individual, the type of snack consumed and the timing of the snack.

Although snacks can be part of a healthy diet, they can also lead to health problems. What differentiates the two scenarios is what you snack on, how much you snack and how snacks fit into your overall eating plan. Studies suggest that the most common snack choices are fruit, crackers, biscuits, cake, yogurt, crisps, popcorn, sweets and nuts and seeds. Processed, high-sugar snacks may give you a brief jolt of energy, but you’ll probably feel hungrier an hour or two later.

The pros and cons of snacking

Can provide a boost in energy when there is a big gap between meals and blood glucose levels dropUnwanted weight gain if consuming too many calories ( eating big portions, snacking too much or on the wrong thing)
May prevent overeating at the next mealToo much snacking can reduce hunger at mealtimes
Provides extra nutrients if choosing fresh fruit, vegetables, and nutsWhen it comes to ultra-processed foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat – once you pop it’s hard to stop
If appetite is poor due to an illness may help boost caloric intake

Simple steps to snacking smart

If you choose to snack, here are some steps on how you can make snacks work for you not against you.  

  1. WHEN. Your number of snacks varies based on your activity level and meal size. If you’re very active, you may prefer 2–3 snacks per day, while a more sedentary person may do best with 1 in the afternoon or no snacks.  Reflect on a typical day. When are you snacking?
  • WHY. If snacking is happening often, determine why you are snacking. You may want to do the Broccoli test*.  IF you are hungry then ensure you snack smart. If you find yourself snacking because of an emotion (bored, stressed, tired etc) then start checking in to your emotions more regularly and discover non-food related ways to meet your emotional needs.
  • WHAT. Think of your last snack. Did you feel hungry or want to keep eating shortly after finishing one portion of the snack? A satisfising snack will alleviate your hunger, be enjoyable and you should forget about food until your next meal. Studies show that snacking on whole foods containing a combination of nutrients like protein, fibre, wholegrains, and some “good fats” is best. If you do not have a specific craving but are trying to fill a small gap, choose a snack that is high in fibre and water that will fill your stomach quickly.
  • HOW MUCH? A snack portion should be enough to satisfy but not so much that it interferes with your appetite for a meal or adds too many calories. In general, it’s best to eat snacks that provide about 200 calories and at least 10 grams of protein to help you stay full until your next meal.


It’s important to pause and think of what type of snack will really hit the spot. Ig you choose and apple when you really wanted something salty, then you may end up feeling unsatisfied and want more. Consider these nutritious snack choices depending on your preference.

What do you want?Example of snacks 
Something sweetChopped fruit with some Greek yogurt70% dark chocolate2 dates with 1 tbsp nut butterEnergy balls 
Something saltyCarrots & HummusHandful of roasted chickpeas or soy nutsHandful of unsalted nutsOlivesThumb of cheese with 2 oatcakes 
Something creamy Chopped fruit with cottage cheeseFruit smoothieGuacamole on oatcakes 
Something crunchy PopcornRaw vegetable sticksFruit with some nut butterHandful of Edamame beansSeaweed crisps 

Take home message

There is no one eating pattern than works for everyone. For some snacking can be good. However, others may work better on eating 3 or fewer meals per day. At the end of the day its finding that works for you as an individual. If you snack. Snack smart.