Is your morning or afternoon banana the reason you’re not losing weight? The message to snack regularly is often encouraged because it helps stabilise blood sugar levels, keep you feeling full and resisting the urge to pile up your plate during main meals. However, there are two schools of thought on snacking, and more evidence is building that snacking is in fact one of the main things preventing weight loss.

Let’s start by looking at both sides of the argument to understand where these ideas have come from.

Case against snacking

Snacking = higher insulin levels

Those who argue against snacking explain that it is the insulin response that is the problem. When carbohydrates break down into sugar, insulin (hormone) is released and helps shuttle the sugar in your blood into cells, namely muscle and the liver. Once it has used all the sugar it needs for energy, sugar is converted into triglycerides and stored in the body as fat. Frequent snacking, on carbohydrate (sugar) based foods means that the levels of insulin in your blood stay higher, leading to a greater chance of the sugar being shuttled into your cells and stored. By having breaks between eating, you can settle your insulin levels and hence reduce the amount stored.

Snacking = more energy, not compensated for at main meals

Studies of food composition show that the snacks we choose are often higher in energy and lower in nutrients than main meals.  If eating less at the next main meal compensates for this extra energy, then there is no issue. However, this is not always the case. If you are one of those people who is snacking just for the sake of it and not modulating your amount at main meals, then perhaps your snacking is doing you more harm than good.

Snacking for the wrong reasons

You’ve had a horribly stressful morning & fight with your partner, ‘I deserve a croissant with my morning coffee’, you received a glowing recommendation for your new project at work, so you reward myself with a few cookies or chocolate from the jar at work. Snacking for reasons apart from hunger is what I see to be one of the main barriers for most people. Reward yourself with non-food related things instead, a massage, manicure, new book, new pair of shoes, Netflix subscription.  This also includes night-time snacking, there is clear evidence that those who snack later at night store more of the energy consumed. A study by the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology found that young females who snack at nighttime prevent fat breakdown.

Case for snacking

You’ve heard your skinny Minnie friend say she can’t go for more than 2 hours without food – and she is lean! There is also no solid evidence, observed in randomised control trials that having six small meals per day automatically accelerates your metabolism compared to three meals. However, there ARE studies that show high fibre snacks curb your appetite and help control weight, compared to sugary snacks that could prevent weight loss.

Overall these leaner people are eating less calories because they are smart snackers. Think about it, high fibre snacks include things like vegetables, fruit, wholegrain products, nuts/seeds. No processed, sugar rich, fat drenched foods in that list. Majority of the time, fibre munching snackers are more conscious of their health in general, I bet they are more likely to choose a chicken & avocado salad at lunch or a side of extra vegetables instead of chips with their steak. Is it a coincidence that they don’t struggle with their weight, I think not!

Snacking fuels muscle metabolism

Any calorie restriction results in a breakdown of body tissue, usually a mixture of protein and fat. However, you ideally don’t want to be losing too much muscle, so this is where snacking is helpful. Frequent protein based snacks, deliver small amounts of amino acids into your blood, which the body uses to replenish your muscle stores. The body doesn’t only use protein to build muscle after a workout, it is doing so continually, so giving it an adequate supply is helpful to maintain your levels of lean muscle, whilst still minimising your calories.

Even more reasons to snack:

  • Stay alert and increases concentration levels
  • Feel more energised
  • Helps prevent bingeing on main meals
  • Teaches you what smaller portions look like
  • Improves food selection at main meals (ie a chicken soup over a Massaman curry)
  • Improves mood (HANGRY anyone?)

Listen to your body and become a smart snacker. Choose unprocessed, fibre rich foods like whole fruits and vegetables and protein-based snacks like boiled eggs, tuna, milk, cheese, yoghurt and nuts, Finally – there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating a banana as your snack. They will not make you FAT!  They have slow release energy, fibre and taste really good. They aren’t processed, have no added salt, fat or sugar. Don’t let people make you feel guilty about eating them – so you have my permission to go bananas.