Guest Column: A Balanced Approach to Snacking

Nick Morgan, in-house nutritionist for Bounce Foods, discusses why manufacturers should ensure consumers’ have access to simple, nutritious solutions so they can take a balanced approach to snacking.

Snacking is a behaviour that needs to be better understood as it has become an established routine in the modern world. People are finding it increasingly difficult to fit three square meals into the day and it is reported 60% of the UK population snack at least once a day (Harris Interactive, 2017).

People snack for many reasons and often it’s not driven by feelings of hunger, or a defined health purpose but perhaps because of boredom, stress or fatigue. Others may prefer the smaller size of snacks compared to large meals, or they may snack because they don’t have time to sit down to enjoy a meal (Hess et al., 2016). As a result, the types of foods consumed are broad and range significantly in terms of nutritional composition and therefore, it is no wonder that there is no clear definition of ‘snacking’.

Snacking can be a positive when decisions are made at a conscious level, as data published in America and in Europe demonstrates it is beneficial for healthy, normal-weight adults and children – appearing to facilitate the adjustment of energy intake to needs, in addition to valuable macro- and micro-nutrients. Snacking can also offer benefits to those who cannot meet their nutritional needs from meals alone, providing convenient sources of key nutrients such as protein, fibre and essential vitamins and minerals.

But, the variability of snacking behaviours and the quality of the food choices made means every snacking occasion is multifaceted, complex and crucially, individual. This means there is a need to keep decisions simple for consumers who remains confused as to what to have, when and for what reason. As a result, a balanced approach to snacking ensures the nutritional quality of the food consumed meets the body’s needs; a quality intake of carbohydrate, protein and fat in addition to fibre, without restricting any single macronutrient. It should be a ‘snapshot’ of general healthy eating guidelines, particularly as the majority of snacking consumption relates to long periods between meals.

A simple way to describe this would be to be protein rich, carbohydrate clever. That is, provide a high-quality protein source (~10g) along with low to moderate GI carbohydrates whilst minimising simple sugars. Although, dietary guidelines talk less about calorie counting these days; the British Nutrition foundation and Food Standards Guidelines for Institutions recommend 20% (400 kcal) of an individual’s calorie intake comes from snacks. Split twice per day, it would seem that ~200 kcal is a good guidance to boost energy and/or reduce feelings of hunger between meals.

The priority should be to provide the mainstream consumer with simple and nutritious solutions that enable them to consume good quality food at times when they need it – so they can make better decisions more often. Realistically, it is almost impossible to attribute the effects of a single dietary component to any health outcome and as a result, individuals should focus on overall diet quality with a balanced approach to snacking a snapshot of their everyday food intake.

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