Snacking: the new fourth meal?


Call it a "snackwave" or "meals in flux," but we are eating between meals more than ever before, according to statistics from market research firms.

A Nielsen survey found that 91% of adults snack at least once a day. A quarter of those people say they snack 3-5 times a day, and women snack more than men.

We're also blurring the lines between "real" meals and snacks, according to Forbes. Snacks of choice often include foods previously reserved for dinner, such as mac and cheese.

More than a quarter of Americans (and more than 40 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds) said they snack on frozen entrées, according to a 2014 report from Mintel. Manufacturers have responded with frozen mac and cheese snack cups (Healthy Choice), flavored waffle bars (Kellogg), and smaller portions of microwaveable spaghetti and meatballs (ConAgra).

"The Nielsen survey polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, and found that the world’s favorite snack is — somewhat surprisingly — a piece of fruit," The Telegraph wrote. Not so surprisingly, that doesn't quite square with reality: chocolate is the most frequently eaten snack in the world.

So, what's the health impact of eating more than 25 percent of our calories from snacks?

The trend is most likely fueling our expanding waistlines. One of food author Michael Pollan's food rules is: “No snacks, no seconds, no sweets — except on days that begin with the letter S.”

If that's too hard to swallow, Dr. Mark Hyman, founder of The UltraWellness Center and the director of the new Center for Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, offers tips on healthy snacking:

"When your blood sugar starts to drop, you are hard-wired to eat anything (and everything) in sight," he wrote on The Huffington Post. (Statistics back this up: according to the Nielsen report, the No. 1 reason for snacking is hunger.)

Hyman recommends packing a "food safety net," including foods high in good-quality protein and fats that are also low in sugar.

Some of his favorites (many of which can be stashed in a drawer or a purse):

Canned wild salmon or sardines
Jerky (bison, grass-fed beef or turkey or salmon)
Nuts and seeds
Coconut butter packets
Artichoke hearts
Roasted red peppers
Garbanzo beans with olive oil, lemon, garlic and salt
Hard-boiled eggs
Cut-up carrots, cucumbers, peppers and celery
Dark chocolate

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