When snacks make sense

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

October 2008

For most of our existence, humans didn't have regular mealtimes, but grazed as modern primates do. Perhaps later Stone-Agers had one or two meals a day but even they grazed — or snacked — throughout the rest of the day. So if snacking is normal, what's the problem?

It's easy to snack your way to an extra 500 calories a day with the concentrated foods that we surround ourselves with from early childhood. That's only 6 Oreo cookies, 1 ½ jelly donuts, 2 scoops of regular ice cream or 3 ½ ounces of potato chips. One of those snacks a day will not only add a pound a week to your frame, the repeated spikes in blood sugar will guarantee that your cells will eventually become insulin-resistant and type 2 diabetes is likely to be in your future.

I strongly advise that you DO snack between meals in order to avoid hunger pangs that can lead to cravings. It's normal to have cravings when you're really hungry. If the object is to satisfy hunger you should at least figure out a way do it without penalty. A medium-sized apple (75 calories), a handful of grapes (60), a large banana (100) or one-half of a protein bar (110) will not only leave you feeling more full than a sweet snack will, but you'll take in some fiber, some protein, lots of antioxidants in the fruit, and zero trans fat.

How do you start? DON'T bring home jelly donuts, ice cream or chips! DO shop for a variety of fruit. That will also save a few bucks a week. It will cost a lot more to fill up on Oreo cookies or potato chips than it will on a medium-sized apple, or even two.

A reminder: we often confuse hunger with thirst. A feeling of slight hunger will almost always be satisfied with a 12-ounce glass of water. Is that boring? Then have a tray of ice cubes handy that are made from cranberry or grape juice and add a couple to every glass. Have a cut lemon ready-to-squeeze on the top shelf of the fridge. If fresh mint is in season, drop a crushed leaf or two into a glass of water.

Unsalted nuts are a great snack because they satisfy your urge to chew, and that alone helps to relieve hunger. Their good fats, protein, fiber, magnesium and other minerals are a good reason to keep a jar of them in the family room or in your office. Be sure to eat nuts slowly, one or two at a time; they have lots of calories so limit your intake to about 1 or 1 ½ ounces a day.

Like nuts, dried fruit is a healthy snack but it's easy to overdo. When you eat a half dozen prunes you'll get lots of fiber and antioxidants, but remember that it's like eating 6 plums, about 150 calories.

Keep a Tupperware container in the refrigerator with your favorite raw veggies — baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper, radishes, etc. Do without the dip. After all, this is a snack, not a party.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.