Snacking, or eating frequently, can be part of a healthy diet, provided we don't consume too many calories over the day and that we choose a healthy balance of foods and drinks. The government suggests that snacks can make up around 20% of our total daily calorie intake, about the same allocated to breakfast, and the remaining 60% be split equally between lunch and dinner (30% of total intake at each of these meals).
For an average female, based on a 2000 kcal daily energy intake (8400 kJ), this is around 400 kcal each day (1700 kJ) and for males, 500 kcal per day (2100 kJ), based on a 2500 kcal daily energy intake. If having two snacks a day then this would be equivalent to around 200 kcal per snack (850 kcal) for females and 250 kcal per snack for males (1050 kJ). Snacks can be a great way to increase variety in the diet and contribute to your overall micronutrient intake. But it’s best not to include too many foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. Instead, opt for foods high in fibre, starchy carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, as the UK population needs to increase their intake of these foods.
For those who do a lot of physical activity, snacking can be important to provide extra energy and nutrients, and if taking part in sport, then a healthy diet, including snacks and drinks, can help to support training and performance. If you're particularly active, try to eat regularly and have a selection of healthy foods available, so you don't get tempted to have a less healthy snack. Oatcakes, crackers, fruits, smoothies, milkshakes made with semi-skimmed or skimmed milk and vegetable sticks are great snacks that you can enjoy at any time, even when on the go.
Eating healthy snacks at school or work may also help maintain energy levels. But if you are craving unhealthy snacks to overcome tiredness or boredom, review your eating habits. Eat meals and snacks at regular intervals to sustain energy levels. Try replacing chocolate bars or biscuits with low fat yogurt, frozen grapes or canned pineapple pieces, which have a naturally sweet taste, fewer calories and contain additional vitamins and minerals. Alternatively, opt for just a small portion of chocolate or another sweet treat and have a piece of fruit or some vegetable sticks as well.
The eatwell plate can be used as a quick, at-a-glance guide to help identify healthier snacks. The eatwell plate shows the types and proportions of foods that we need to eat to make up a varied and balanced diet. Foods from each of the four main groups make good choices for snacks. Try to make sure that snacks compliment other foods eaten during the day. For example, if you had toast and fruit juice for breakfast, a yogurt would make a good mid-morning snack to provide a food from the milk and dairy foods group. If you ate cereal and milk for breakfast, a banana (or any other fruit) would be a good morning snack choice from the fruit and vegetables group, providing one of your 5-A-DAY. If you feel hungry between meals, or you know it will be a while before you eat your next meal, go for snacks from the starchy foods group such as toast or rye crispbreads, which provide energy and some vitamins and minerals.
Treats such as desserts, sugar-containing drinks, fried snacks, biscuits and cakes can also be included as snacks, although these should be consumed much less frequently. Don’t forget to include any sugar-containing drinks (including fruit juices and smoothies) in your snack energy (calorie) allowance, otherwise you risk consuming more calories than you need, which may lead to weight gain.