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The Pros and Cons of Snacks

January 2024

Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Research has attempted to see if snacking has a positive or negative impact on health outcomes—but without a clear answer. There is no clear common scientific definition of a snack. Studies find that snacking recommendations from public health organizations generally advise limiting snacks that offer little nutrition and are high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. Snacks may provide 10% of daily calories, with a frequency of eating about two snacks per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 includes recommendations for nutrient-dense snacks, such as raw vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, and plain yogurt.



Power Snacking

The concept of meal planning can be applied to snacks. Take the time to incorporate snack planning to ensure that snacks work for you, not against you. Follow these simple steps and ask yourself:

When: Reflect on a typical day: what hours of the day between meals might you feel hungry or tend to grab extra food?

Why: If snacking occurs frequently, determine if you are truly hungry or eating because of an emotion (bored, stressed, tired, angry, etc.). If you realize you are eating from emotion, consider using mindfulness strategies before snacking.

What: Decide which snack choices will satisfy you. A satisfying snack will alleviate hunger, be enjoyable, and help you to forget about food until your next meal! Think about the last snack you ate—did you still feel hungry or want to keep eating shortly after finishing one portion of the snack? Studies show that snacking on whole foods containing protein, fiber, and whole grains (e.g., nuts, yogurt, popcorn) enhance satisfaction. But it's also important to pause before making a snack choice to consider what will truly satisfy you. If you choose an apple when you really want salty popcorn or a creamy yogurt, you may feel unsatisfied and want more. If you do not have a specific craving but are trying to answer your hunger pangs, choose a small portion that is high in fiber and water to fill your stomach quickly. Consider these nutritious snack choices:

Crunchy—raw vegetable sticks, nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers, apple.
Creamy—cottage cheese, yogurt, hummus, avocado.
Sweet—chopped fresh fruit, dark chocolate.
Savory/Salty—cube or slice of cheese, roasted chickpeas, handful of nuts, nut butter.

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. A general rule of thumb is to aim for about 150–250 calories per snack. This is equivalent to an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a string cheese with 6 whole grain crackers. If choosing a packaged snack such as chips, dried fruit, or nuts, read the Nutrition Facts panel to learn what is one serving. Take small steps to improve the quality and quantity of your snacks for a healthier food intake.