The snacking diet and the 24/7 food culture

May 24, 2023, 11:00 AM | Updated: May 25, 2023, 11:39 am

Employee Natasha Borgersen scans a box of Cheez-it crackers for Lisa Pitts at Reams in Sandy on Tue...

Employee Natasha Borgersen scans a box of Cheez-it crackers for Lisa Pitts at Reams in Sandy on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

We Americans are snacking up a storm. Nearly 50% of us are eating three or more snacks per day. That’s up 8% in two years.

“Definitely we are seeing higher rates of snacking,” said Tiana Barker, outpatient dietician with Intermountain Heath. “I’m not opposed to a snack here and there. I think it comes down to choices.”

Too many of us are choosing unhealthy snacks. Our favorite snacks? Lay’s potato chips, Hostess cupcakes, Snickers, goldfish crackers, Oreos and Cheetos.

“The foods that we’re seeing more of are processed foods, which are fine to have in moderation,” Barker said. “But we are seeing high rises of them when we should be trying to focus on having other foods available for those snack times.”


Are regular meal times old-fashioned now?

“It’s getting harder,” Barker explained. “We see it especially with breakfast. I think that’s a common one that people tend to skip and might make up with snacking later in the day.”

Americans have always loved snacks, but the pandemic saw a significant increase in demand for candy and popcorn.

“We are becoming more of a snacky culture,” Barker said. “We got used to being home where the snacks were available. It’s become more of a habitual thing.”

A snack vs. snacking

Getting back to a healthier state will require a change of habits.

“A snack is ok,” Barker said, “but snacking or grazing gets us into a little more trouble.”

Intermountain Health dieticians like Barker like the “rule of threes” — three meals per day required, and up to three snacks optional.

“Based on your hunger, fullness and maybe eating every three or so hours, because then you’re giving yourself adequate energy throughout the day without sabotaging yourself.”

It’s important to listen to your body. When we snack too much, Barker says, we can’t hear the cues of hunger or fullness.

How big is a snack?

The Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health said a snack is about 150-250 calories.

“About a cup is a serving size,” Barker added. “If you’re having whole wheat crackers or something, a good rule of thumb is five or six crackers. Look at the label.”

The size of a snack is tied to the purpose of a snack. The purpose is not to make you full. It’s to temporarily satiate hunger until your next meal, Barker explained.

“We usually use a scale of zero to 10. At zero, you are starving and sick because you’re starving. At 10 you’re so full you’re sick, too,” Barker said. “We want to stay somewhere from three to six.” 

Three is you need a snack, and six is you can wait until your next meal.

Modeling good snacking

Barker explained that the “rule of three” is especially important for children.

“If we can start their habits earlier then they might not have so many problems going into adolescence and adulthood.”

Parent modeling is important with snacking as it is with all things.

“If you change your habits as a parent, your kids are going to see that,” Barker said. It’s one goal at a time.”

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The snacking diet and the 24/7 food culture