Snack Your Way to a Healthier You: Get to Know the Benefits of Snacking
Snacking is becoming more and more popular in the last 30 years. A recent study has shown that 90% of men and 91% of women eat at least one snack daily. It was also discovered that while a greater number of women eat snacks each day than men, their eating patterns are very similar. In some cases, adults eat more snacks than complete meals . Let’s take a closer look at this change in eating habits, the benefits of snacking and dietary supplementation.
Why are American Adults Consuming More Snacks?
Many factors contribute to our nation’s weight challenges. For example, an online survey suggests that stress is a major influencer for our eating behaviors and habits. The Stress in America survey was conducted on a sample of 1,950 adults (18 and older) and 1,018 teens (13-17). Some of the findings are listed below:
- Many adults report engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors as a result of stress leading to undesirable consequences, such as feeling lazy, sluggish, or feeling bad about their bodies.
- Thirty-eight percent of adults reported having overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods in the past month because of stress. Half of these adults (49 percent) report engaging in these behaviors weekly or more.
- Thirty-three percent of adults who report overeating or eating unhealthy foods do so because it helps distract them from stress while twenty-seven percent of adults say they eat to manage stress.
With the high stress life as well as the plethora of unhealthy snacking options available, it is no wonder that America’s health is declining. There are many benefits of snacking as an activity. However, healthy foods should be chosen over unhealthy ones to ensure the greatest benefits of snacking.
The snacks should be “healthy” ones. In other words, the food or drink should be organic, natural, or raw. This is because studies show that healthy snacks consumed between meals and before bedtime provide optimal benefits of snacks to help to balance our blood sugar throughout the day.
How Does The Body React To Stress?
It is well accepted that stress is a part of everyday life and largely unavoidable. It is associated with many symptoms. Such as generalized anxiety and sleep disorders, it can also result in significant physiological problems, including cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and immunological symptoms and issues. One model, NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response, specifically describes the body’s reaction to stressful situations.
The NEM model helps our bodies protect us from excessive stress through the following six stress responses: “inflammation, neuro-affective, cardionomic, metabolic, detoxification, and hormonal.” These stress responses work through specific systems, which include our autonomic, gastrointestinal, immune, and central nervous systems.
The six responses to stress also utilize our liver, reproductive organs, thyroid gland, pancreas, and adrenals through an anti-stress response. All responses, systems, and organs work together as a team in order to bring our bodies back into harmony by reducing or stress levels. If any of them are compromised, the stress response is disrupted and our recovery from stressful situations becomes more difficult.
Any type of prolonged stress can take a toll on our bodies and will be manifested through diseases and other debilitating conditions. To clarify, let’s use the Hormonal pathway as one example to describe the body’s response to stress.
When the Hormonal pathway to stress is called into action, the thyroid gland, gonads (reproductive system) and adrenals join in. The hard-working adrenals are at the center of the anti-stress response. That is because they produce several hormones, which include “cortisone, testosterone, estrogen, 7-hydroxyketosteroids, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), DHEA sulfate, pregnenolone, aldosterone, androstenedione, progesterone, and other intermediates to hormone production. Although most of these hormones are created in different parts of the body, aldosterone, and cortisone are produced only in the adrenal glands.”
The adrenals also produce epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol, some of the major hormones that help our bodies to respond to and fight stress. During stressful events, we fight, become frightened or run in response to the stimuli. The adrenals pump out needed hormones and divert blood to our brain, heart and muscles. If the anti-stress process is prolonged, the adrenals eventually become fatigued. This condition is called Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).
In AFS, the adrenals are unable to produce adequate amounts of cortisol. They produce more adrenaline instead, which causes an individual to become “irritable, shaky, lightheaded, and anxious.” As the process continues, “low blood pressure, allergies and extreme exhaustion” occur.
Health Benefits of Snacking for People Living with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome
Stress is a major cause for AFS; however, good nutrition and well-timed meals and snacks can significantly relieve the fatigue by helping to regulate blood sugar levels and providing good energy.
Snacks, when spread out over the day with the main meals, help to regulate glucose and cortisol, so eating at specific times during the day is important. Meal and snack times should be adjusted according to your circadian rhythm. According to research, that is because cortisol levels start to rise around 6am and peak at 8am. After this, cortisol levels gradually start to decline.
Snacks that should be avoided because they are not beneficial for adrenal fatigue include gluten based snacks, caffeine (as well as decaffeinated), snacks with sugar, alcohol and white flour products among others. Breads and pastas should not be eaten by themselves. Bananas, raisins, figs, oranges, and grapefruit should be avoided. Try and avoid alcohol, coffee, black tea and sodas. Fruit teas, and vegetable juice are okay.
We have discussed stress as a major cause of disease and other conditions as well as how a large sample of adults, Americans, reported that they respond to stressful situations by overeating, underrating or consuming unhealthy foods. Next, we defined and described stress through the lens of the NEM model using one of its six responses to stress. Through the Hormonal Response, we introduced AFS because the adrenals are the producers of the hormones needed to address stress. Finally, we explained the therapeutic benefits of snacking in the treatment of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, beneficial and non-beneficial snacks, as well as the best times to eat them.
(Bakker E., n.d.; Wilson, n.d.; Lam, M.L. n.d., Head KA and Kelly GS, 2009; Kelly GS., 1999; Meletis, C., Centrone, W., and Ronzio, R., 2002; and Ronzio RA, 1998),
MyPyramid Intakes and Snacking Patterns of U.S. Adults: What we eat in America (2011)
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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