Snacks: Are They Your Fourth Meal?

Why can a day’s worth of snacks be considered a fourth meal?  Because, according to research, snacking accounts for more than 25% of Americans’ calorie intake everyday.

How Many Calories Do We Snack On A Day?

Between 1977 and 2006 Americans averaged about 580 calories each day for their snacks — which basically turned those snacks into “a full eating event,” or a fourth meal.

Maybe we snack on so many calories because eating and drinking while we’re doing something else has also increased.  Between 2006 and 2008, the amount of time we spent eating our main meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – was about 70 minutes.  Secondary eating, the kind you do when you’re doing things like working on the computer, driving, or walking down the street, doubled from 15 minutes in 2006 to nearly 30 minutes a day in 2008.  There was nearly a 90% jump in the time we spent on secondary drinking:  from 45 to 85 minutes. (Ever wonder why Starbuck’s is so crowded?)

Come On, Be Honest

Haven’t you ever chowed down on a whole bunch of food — maybe the equivalent of a meal — around 5PM and then tried to convince yourself that it’s just a snack?

Although nearly 100% of Americans of all ages snack every day, there isn’t a standard definition  of what a snack is or what motivates us to snack. So, what happens is that it’s left up to each one of us to “self-define” what snacks and snacking mean, leaving plenty of room for us to blur the line between snacks and meals.

How Much Do We Spend On Packaged Snacks?

We spend about 12% of our total food money at the supermarket on packaged snacks. Kids are learning to replace meals with snacks – a lifestyle that is likely to continue when those kids grow up and have their own families.  And food companies are smart – they’re making health claims and highlighting things like fiber and nutrients on the snack packages which often make them sound more appealing and even healthy.  That packaging, with the illusion of health, could even ease the guilt people might have when they reach for a caloric prepackaged snack that may or may not be made of real food.

So, What’s A Snack?

There’s an increase in snacking across the board, but beverages make up 50% of snack calories. those calories in drinks — including the sugar and cream in coffee — can add up to a pretty significant number.

A snack shouldn’t be a fourth meal.  Most recommendations are that an individual snack, like the one so many of us have mid-morning or mid-afternoon, be between 150 and 200 calories and have some protein in it for satiety and to help keep your  blood sugar level stable.

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