Ask ten people you come across to define ‘snacks,’ nine of them will say it is the food that they eat in the evening. That is all about it they know. The single person remaining may also include breakfast, occasionally. However, no one will know the proper definition of snacks and what makes snacking healthy and useful.

Here is looking at snacks and snacking in a whole new perspective. This will help you to know:

  • What is snack?
  • Why you need to snack?
  • How can you choose better snacks?

Once you know these, you can further research for the motivations to snack as well as its contributions towards your health and dietary intake. You may also look for a few tips, advice and recommendations from the health experts and dieticians for making further improvements in your snacking habit for a healthy and more active life.

Defining snacks according to nutrition policy

Snacks are simply not the food that you eat. It is the nutrition that you need to have when you feel those hunger pangs that are often uncalled for. Even governments issue dietary guidelines so that you have a clear and consistent concept of snacking and know the exact definition of it.

According to the experts, ‘snacks’ and ‘snack foods’ though different, do not have any clear definition of the two that could distinguish one from the other. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, decrease in consumption of “snack foods” is discouraged by it provides a few suggestions for “snacks.” 

Ideally, if you define snacks in plain and simple terms, it can be said that snack is a specific food taken during different times and occasions such as office or as home snacks. It can influence different things such as:

  • Nutrient intake and 
  • Satiety.

However, the plethora of “snack” definitions available among the general public makes it difficult to discern between the two. In turn, the DGA guidelines fail to clarify the recommendations making things complicated for interpretation of it by the large sectors of the general public for whom these guidelines are actually intended. Unfortunately, there is no mention about the food quality.

Motivations to snack

Just as there are several different factors to the definitions of snacking, motivations to snack also depends on many different factors such as hungerpangs and locationand several others.


Often, when you are hungry, you ten to take foods that are healthy but the problem lies when you snack in absence of hunger. This leads to consumption of foods that are rich in unwanted elements such as:

  • Fat
  • Sugar
  • Sodium
  • Carbs and others.

Such ‘unnecessary snacking’ typically promotes poor nutrition and also weight gain. On the other hand, when you are hungry, research shows that there is a biological change such as decrease in insulin and glucose concentrations that prompts you to eat. When there are no such biological changes and still you eat, this results in unnecessary snacking. 

Studies have also found that people who snack regularly usually adjust their timing, size and type of food according to their next meal while snacking but the nonhabitual ones lack the biological motivation to eat snacks without hunger and therefore experiences increased energy consumption that leads to eventual weight gain.


Location typically affects the choice of food while snacking. Apart from that, it also affects the portion size which is well within limits when you snack at home or in your office but are usually large at other locations and settings along with wrong food choices. Such choices often include foods that are:

  • High on fat content and 
  • Low on fiber.

Different locations include not only eating at parties but also:

In all such situations you tend to eat more of wrong foods. 

The effects of location on food consumption has been shown in three cross-sectional studies. It showed that:

  • Snacking in the workplace involved favorable nutrient profile and the food choices were better with less energy and added sugars, more protein while home snacks or at home or while traveling did not have these.
  • Foods eaten outside the home usually consisted more of fat and less of fiber and micronutrients as compared to those foods eaten at home. 
  • The snacks children eat outside the home are often found to be larger in size as compared to the snacks eaten in the home. However, children tend to have the same type of food outside the home as they have in their home usually because the parents bringsnacks from the home for them to eat outside the home.

None of these three cross-sectional studies say anything specifically about the snacking items. This is because it largely depends on the choice of the individuals, their focus on the nutrient profile and the different eating occasions.

Choose the right snack items

No matter what, you should always choose healthy snacking items so that you maintain your weight and heart health at all times. This is irrespective of the fact that snacking is initiated due to:

  • Hunger 
  • Regular eating habits
  • Psychological issues or 
  • Physiologic cues.

All these maybe predictive but wrong food choice will seriously affect your weight, impact your health and eating frequency. 

Choice of food items will largely depend on different factors such as:

  • How you definean eating occasion
  • The gap between two meals
  • Motivation to eat
  • Your age
  • Sexand even 
  • The socioeconomic group.

However, food you choose should ensure your heart health. This includes cardiovascular health and your lipid profile that involves cholesterol and TG concentrations. It must also be in accordance to your blood pressure.

You must also be very careful about the portion and time of snacking. Research says that frequent eating improves lipid profiles and reduces the risks of cardiovascular disease compared to a large meal daily. However, all not need a lower total and LDL cholesterol concentration and blood pressure. Always take help of professional dietician or your doctor to make the right choice.