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Snacking for Better Health and Performance

by Joan Kent, PhD


I’ve never liked the word “snack.” People are casual with snacks, as if they don’t matter.


People also treat snacks as if they’re different from meals.


When I give nutrition presentations, I outline a simple method for creating meals with a good balance of nutrition. Inevitably, someone asks, “What can we have for snacks?”


The answer is:  Whatever you have for meals, just less.


Does Everyone Agree About Snacking?


Some say snacking keeps energy levels high throughout the day. That prevents low energy and excess hunger, which can lead to overeating later.


Others – particularly weight-loss programs – stress eating precisely three meals per day. Snacking, they say, encourages overeating. With too many chances to choose food, we have too many chances to give in to temptation.


Let’s assume here that Snacks Happen, so we might as well be wise about them.


The “Quick Energy” Question


Clients often ask me what to eat for “quick energy.” Maybe they’re hoping I’ll suggest something sugary. (Those who read my posts or my books won’t be surprised that I don’t.)


The need for “quick” energy implies that your energy has dropped. Instead, balance your meals by eating a good combination of foods. That will help you keep your energy more even and sustained throughout the day.


Prior to a workout, when many people seek “quick energy,” eat a tiny meal that follows the same nutrient balance.


What Does a Balanced Meal Look Like?


Whatever the size of your plate, fill half of it with vegetables. And eat them!


Divide the other half of the plate, so you have 2 quarters.


Fill one quarter with protein foods (fish, shrimp, chicken, grass-fed beef, unsweetened protein powder).


Fill the other quarter with complex starch (quinoa, yams, lentils, squash, turnips, and so on). Most people call these “carbs,” but vegetables are carbs, too, so it can be confusing.

The protein and starch foods should look more or less equal in size on the plate.


Add in healthful fats moderately wherever you’d like them (coconut oil, avocado or avocado oil, macadamia oil, olive oil, raw nuts).


Treat your snacks like small meals. If you treat a snack as if it’s different from a meal, it’s too easy to mess up the nutrient balance.

Images from Joan Kent