The Science of Snacking: Why We Love to Snack

The Science of Snacking: Why We Love to Snack

Snacking offers the perfect solution to satisfying hunger pangs that spring up between meals. Snacks are quick, easy and instantly give us a pick-me-up without being as time-consuming as preparing a full meal. From college students on campus to adults in offices and workplaces, snacking is almost everywhere. 

But why do we love snacking so much? Snacks are tasty, but beyond that, they have many benefits. The science behind snacking shows that using healthy eating habits can provide a physical and mental boost and help you lead a better, more mindful lifestyle. 

How Do We Snack? 

Snacking is a regular part of our lives. It boosts us when we’re feeling down and offers ways to engage in communal rituals with others. As a go-to for mini-meals, snacking is now more popular with Americans than ever. Between 2015 and 2020, Americans’ between-meal snacking per capita increased from 505 to 530 occasions. The Food and Health Survey found that 57% of respondents snacked at least once per day, while 97% reported snacking at least once a week.

Grazing while performing another activity, getting a spike in energy after a workout or just grabbing something tasty to satisfy a craving — snacking is ingrained in our daily lives. 

Often, snack foods are salty and sweet treats that provide instant gratification over healthy habits. In 2021, Statista valued the global savory snacks market at $95.8 billion. It’s easy to grab processed and unhealthy food when looking for a quick fix, but snacking because of emotion or boredom can lead to eating excess calories and foods high in sugar and fat. Understanding why we snack and how we can incorporate healthier snacking into our routines can help energize us while building better habits into our lives. 

Why Do We Snack?

Why Do We Snack? 

Emotions are a natural part of life. They help us connect with other people and allow us to experience the world around us. There are many reasons to munch on something quick, and eating because of your emotions can be OK in moderation. However, frequently going to the pantry can lead to poor health and lowered energy levels. When you find yourself looking for snacks due to your emotional state, consider your feelings and find ways to respond to them outside of unhealthy foods. 

Stress

Stress is, well, stressful. When confronted with it, we want to soothe those anxious feelings, and so people often turn to snacks to cope. Food is familiar, making it a comforting option when faced with stressors and uncomfortable situations. 

The first step to forming healthier habits is being aware of your stress response — instead of snacking, practice pausing when you go to the cabinets for food and ask yourself why you need this bite. Try leaving notes and positive reminders on your cabinets and food to help encourage you to avoid snacks when you’re stressed. 

If you’re feeling stressed, avoid stimulants like caffeine and drink a full glass of water or an herbal tea to calm your nerves. Eat foods high in vitamin B and omega-3 fatty acids like beans, avocados and walnuts for a leveling, filling solution to deal with stress.

Sadness

When we’re feeling down, we often look to food to pick us back up. The instant gratification of food offers a distraction from our upset emotions. Rather than using food as an outlet for sadness, try taking stock of your emotions and hunger. Learn to recognize when you’re actually hungry and when you’re just looking for a diversion. Start a journal to keep track of your feelings and use that to work through them — letting emotions out on paper helps with healing and self-understanding.

Try carbohydrates and whole grains for a healthy pick-me-up. These can include roasted chickpeas, air-popped popcorn, pretzels and cheese. 

Celebration

Food is a common reward for outstanding achievements and excellent news, but over-indulging when something good happens can lead to poor eating habits. Instead, treat yourself with inedible prizes. See a movie with friends, buy a new game, snag that clothing item you’ve been dying to have or even take a relaxing spa trip. Enjoy all life has to offer when you’ve experienced something good and get the same positive feelings you would while snacking. 

If you do snack to celebrate, replace sweet treats with fruits and dark chocolate — pair chocolate with strawberries, dates and oranges. Eat apples with peanut butter, or make yourself a delicious smoothie bowl.

Boredom

Food provides stimulation when we feel like there’s nothing else to occupy our brains. The textures, smells and tastes provide the sensory input we crave. Instead of constantly snacking when you’re bored, give your brain something else to focus on. Change up what you’re doing — try a different activity, talk to a friend, pick up a craft hobby or go for a walk. Try anything to get your mind moving and thinking. 

If you still feel the urge to snack, satisfy your brain with healthy crunchy and salty foods, like vegetables and hummus, nuts, seeds or fruits. 

Procrastination

Almost everyone, regardless or their job or age, has dealt with procrastination. Avoiding that last big project by getting a quick bite is a convenient way to distract yourself from work. Minor breaks are healthy for your brain, but always getting food when procrastinating can form poor eating habits. Try to avoid procrastination and work fatigue by keeping your energy levels up. Stretch, jog in place, drink water or meditate when dealing with challenging tasks.

Promote brain power by avoiding unhealthy fats and excessive sugars. Trade processed food for snacks high in vitamins or proteins like broccoli, leafy greens, sweet potato, Greek yogurt or salmon.

The Appeal of Crunch

It’s not just the delicious taste of foods that gets us munching — it’s also the ever-so-satisfying crunch that accompanies our snacks that makes us want more. Foods with crunch just seem better, don’t they? Crunch is in snacks of all kinds, from chips and crackers to vegetables, candies, bread, nuts and even pastries. It seems as though every type of food has at least one crunchy iteration. When it comes to loud, snappy sounds, it seems we can’t get enough.

Why do we love crunch? What is it about loud, bold textures that make us want to keep snacking? One theory is that crunch correlates to the freshness of food. Ripe, crisp apples or bright, snappy vegetables and crumbly, firm bread — the freshest stages of food come with a satisfying crunch sound. When cuisine is made well and ready to be consumed, it has that extra layer of sound that lets you know it’s the perfect time to eat. The crunch of snacks alerts an association in our brains that good food has good sound, and it has us going back for seconds. 

Another way sounds appeal to the brain is by adding an extra sensory experience to eating. When you add the sounds and feelings of crunch to a snack, your brain receives that new, slightly different input every time. Your mind is already anticipating the sound experience and is activating in response to your previous encounters with it. So, you’re enjoying the feeling that’s already in your mouth, and you’re thinking about how enjoyable the next fresh crunch will be. 

Potato chips and crackers ping the same crunch spots as vegetables and other, healthier alternatives. The extra sugars and fats in processed food make them more addictive and easier to choose than more nutritious options. Train yourself to pick veggies or whole-grain crackers over-processed options, and you’ll satisfy your desire for crunch without sacrificing your health. 

Developing Healthy Snacking Habits

Developing Healthy Snacking Habits

In the world of supermarkets and cheap, quick food, it’s not easy to practice good routines. It’s not about being the perfect snacker all of the time but about slowly and thoroughly training your brain to want healthier options. 

To snack well, you first need to understand your hunger habits. Evaluate your food cravings and ask: 

  • What am I snacking on?
  • When during the day am I getting food? 
  • Why am I eating or craving this now? 

Identifying patterns in your routine and cravings can help you create a more favorable system and habits to help you kick those unhealthy cravings. Learn to recognize the feeling of hunger and differentiate it from mindless snack cravings. When you feel hungry, ask yourself: 

  • When did I last eat? 
  • Am I actually hungry or just snacking to snack? 
  • Am I experiencing any stressors or emotions that contribute to wanting to eat?
  • What could I do instead of unhealthy snacking? 

If you always eat when you’re bored or stressed, drink some water first and then see if you still want food. Snacking isn’t bad — it’s natural and helps keep your energy up. Understanding why and when you turn to processed foods gives you the power to change your direction and pivot to better, healthier choices. 

We choose unhealthy foods because they’re often simpler and more convenient than more nutritious options. Improve your healthy snack habits by making it easier to eat better. 

Meal prepping snacks will help you control portion sizes and makes it easy to eat well when you get hungry. Combine snacks to incorporate proteins, grains and beneficial nutrients to keep yourself satiated for longer. These smaller portions will also keep you from mindless munching. With ready-made amounts, there’s no infinite snacking. Try these snack packs for healthier options: 

  • Fresh veggie sticks and hummus
  • Apples and peanut butter
  • Whole-grain crackers and cheese cubes
  • Greek yogurt and berries
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts or cashews

Even pre-washing fruits and veggies to keep stocked up in the fridge makes it easier to grab a few grapes instead of reaching for candy.

The Benefits of Snacking

The Benefits of Snacking

When done mindfully, snacking can provide you with lots of benefits. It can be the boost you need to power through that work project or the bite that stops you from giving into more unhealthy cravings. Munching on something small and healthy keeps you focused, full between meals and feeling good! 

Snacking has been shown to have positive health benefits for nutritional snackers, like:

  • Giving your body essential nutrients: Munching on nuts or vegetables throughout the day can increase the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function. 
  • Maintaining overall health: Regular grazing can improve your dietary fiber, which helps reduce blood cholesterol and lower your chances of chronic disease. 
  • Helping you feel energized and full: Choosing whole grains, nuts, vegetables, fruits and lean protein for snacks maintains your energy levels and helps keep you full between meals, preventing you from overeating throughout the day. 
  • Satisfying cravings: Small, nutrient-rich snacks consumed periodically throughout the day keep blood sugar levels up and satisfy your food cravings.
  • Motivating you: Snacking keeps you focused and motivated throughout long days. Having healthy office snacks gives you the fuel to stay productive and alert at work. 
  • Giving you a break: Pausing to eat a portion of fruit or granola lets you take a break from activities to rest and reset your body and mind.
  • Helping you feel positive: When you aren’t hungry, you can focus on living life rather than getting your next meal. Feeling full keeps you positive, gives you the necessary nutrients to function and boosts you up to meet the challenges of each day. 

Of course, positive snacking habits take time to develop. Training your brain to want nutritious foods over processed foods takes effort and dedication. It’s not the end of the world if you eat a bag of potato chips, but making a conscious effort to reshape how you snack can leave you with more energy and a happier, healthier body. 

Defeating Cravings

Fast food, convenience stores, the pantry — there are convenient, less-healthy snack choices everywhere. Salty and sweet flavors trigger the reward centers of our brain and keep us coming back to the pantry for more. Beating back cravings takes effort, but you can reduce them with time. To combat unhealthy food cravings, you could:

  • Eat regularly: Getting too hungry will push you to quick, unhealthy foods.
  • Avoid processed foods: Unprocessed foods keep you fuller longer and are better for you.
  • Reduce environmental cues or triggers: Stressors send us to our comfort foods. Learn how to recognize them to cut cravings.
  • Practice mindfulness: Understanding real hunger versus cravings helps you be more aware of your body and needs.

You can cut cravings and train your brain to enjoy healthier snacks with practice and routine. Recognizing hunger and replacing it with a healthier alternative can satisfy your brain without sacrificing nutrients.

Boosting Brain Power

Downtime between meals has our energy levels dropping and demotivates us even further. Keeping healthy foods on hand and easily accessible provides the perfect solution to the midday slump and revs those mental engines up. Chips and other less healthy products spike your energy levels but leave you hungrier and tired soon after consumption. Instead of getting caught in a cycle of energy ups and downs with your food, turn to healthier options to keep you energized all day.

Foods with lots of nutrients and antioxidants can pump your brain and body up between meals so you don’t hit that energy slump. Fruits high in antioxidants like blueberries are full of vitamins that help fuel your body. Whole grains and foods with good protein and fats like nuts help you feel fuller for longer and provide your body with lots of energy. Your system can’t perform well on empty calories, so give it powerful nutrients to keep it running at top speed.

Looking for a Snack Solution?

Looking for a Snack Solution? 

Healthy food and snacks are an essential part of a happy, energized lifestyle. If you want to know more about incorporating nutritious, filling snacks into the routines of your students and employees, American Food & Vending can help. Our corporate dining experts have the knowledge and experience to craft a delicious and well-rounded refreshment program that can satisfy your organization’s dietary needs. We want to make energized, hearty eating easier for you and your staff or students so you can all focus on getting the best results out of your bodies and work. 

Contact us to schedule a consultation or free tasting and jump-start your journey into mouth-watering, healthy food today!