I have always admired those iron-willed individuals who never, ever eat between meals. I wish I could say that I am one of them, but the fine dusting of crumbs on my desk would betray me.
Snacking, grazing, noshing, whatever you call it, we Americans do a lot of it, and experts say it's a big reason why so many of us are so, well, big.
Some 30 years ago, Americans ate an average of 3.8 meals and snacks a day, but now it's closer to five, according to a study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition who was the lead author of that study, says the trend affects both adults and kids. He has found that snacking accounts for nearly a quarter of adults' daily calories, and an even greater share of children's intake.
And that intake is increasing. Studies show that the average American today consumes better than 500 calories a day more than we did back in the 1970s.
Does this mean that those of us who need to watch our weight should give up snacks? Maybe, provided we don't compensate with super-sized meals.
Or perhaps the real trouble is that we need to be smarter about the type and quantity of our snacks. That's our purpose with today's cover story, suggesting healthy, on-the-go treats for adults and kids. Especially with school starting up again, life gets hectic, and the nourishing nosh you can keep in a backpack, purse or desk drawer might save you from a calorically costly trip to the drive-through.
But no matter how nutritious your snacks are, they all have calories, and they all count.
My friend Steve learned this recently when he joined my boot camp class at the gym. Our trainer suggested that we eat a light breakfast before class, then have a high-protein snack.
So Steve, being a good student, started keeping protein bars in his desk. Sometimes he'd also grab one (or two) later in the day. Before long he discovered he was putting on a few pounds.
Now he has cleared out the protein bars, and keeps Greek yogurt in the office fridge. It has fewer calories and more protein than the bars, plus he can't just reach into the desk without much thought. That change — plus tracking his daily intake and increasing his exercise — has meant a 7-pound loss over the last couple of weeks.
So take it from Steve — enjoy your snacks, but think about how you'll make room for them before you dig in.
Charlotte can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8425.