Myths About Snacking

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 15, 2021
4 min read

Snacking has received a bad image over the last few years. There are some misconceptions about snacks and health. Here’s what you need to know.

You might have heard that if you eat snacks, you’re eating too often during the day. The advice given is to eat less snacks or get rid of them all together.

Cutting out all snacks doesn’t help you lose weight because snacking is not the problem. You might need to eat snacks between meals to keep your energy levels up. This can be especially important if you have a physical labor or high-activity job or an active lifestyle. 

Eating the right type of snack is key, though. If you’re trying to lose weight, choose healthy snacks instead of junk food.

Treats are the cookies, cakes, candies, and other desserts you enjoy. These are high in sugar and calories. It’s true that you should limit how much added sugar and sweet treats you eat. Too much sugar can make you gain weight, which can lead to other health problems like heart disease.

Cutting all treats out of your diet doesn’t work, though. This kind of change is too restrictive and too hard to maintain, and you’re more likely to overindulge. It could also lead to harmful dieting practices.

Instead, focus on eating more healthy snacks than treats, but allow yourself to eat treats once in a while. 

Some studies show that eating large meals or most of your daily calories late at night might raise your risk for obesity and other metabolic problems. This research was done with people who have irregular sleep patterns, night eating syndrome, or are night shift workers. This research supported old advice that you shouldn’t eat before bed or past certain times. 

Newer research shows this isn’t true for small meals. Recent studies show that eating small, nutrient-dense snacks of less than 200 calories at night has no effect on weight. 

Other early research suggests that a small, nutrient- and protein-dense drink before bed might improve recovery for people with active lifestyles. More research is needed to understand how this could affect metabolic health.

In general, the time you eat doesn’t matter as much as what and how much you’re eating. You can eat a healthy snack before bed, if you need it. Instead of treats and chips, have a small, nutrient-dense snack before bed. 

You probably heard this from your parents as a child, but it’s an old myth that isn’t true. Grazing on snacks all day long, especially when you’re not hungry, can keep you full, but well-timed snacks won’t ruin your appetite.

When it comes to children, scheduled and nutritious snacks help manage nutrition and hunger. Snacks also help curb crankiness and overeating. This is true for adults, too. If you’re hungry between meals and don’t allow yourself to snack, you are more likely to overeat during meals. 

This doesn’t mean eating cake just before dinner, but a handful of nuts can tide you over while you wait for food to cook. Planning a snack of hummus and veggies between lunch and dinner can also keep you from feeling famished at dinner.

Eating too much and the wrong kinds of snacks can lead to weight gain and health problems. There are some better ways to manage your snacks. 

Only snack when you’re hungry. Eating because you’re bored or stressed can cause overeating and weight gain. Pay attention to the times of day you’re normally hungry and plan accordingly. Rate your hunger before eating. 

If you’re stressed or emotional, take time to notice and name your feelings and find another way to manage them. 

Plan healthy snacks. Chips and cookies are okay once in a while, but the best way to snack is by eating nutrient-dense foods. Plan and prepare your snacks ahead of time and choose whole foods like:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Raw vegetables
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grain crackers or pita bread

Limit snacks with empty calories and added sugar.

Limit calories. If you’re less active, plan a nutritious snack of up to 200 calories. If you’re more active, or if you have active teens, plan snacks between 200 to 300 calories. Choose a variety of foods from the MyPlate food groups.

Drink water. Water is essential for good health. It's common to mistake thirst for hunger, which means you might snack more when you’re thirsty. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

For some people, eating snacks helps maintain energy and can be an important part of a healthy diet. Pay attention to what and how much you’re eating and focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods. If you need help with your diet, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.