Snacking is only bad if the foods you're snacking on are junk. Many of us have that co-worker (or we are that co-worker) who just grazes non-stop on crisps, cake and sweets... and then probably complains they're not losing weight. It's easy to see that this kind of snacking is a rubbish idea and will undo any benefit that eating healthy main meals will have had. When snacking is done right, (think natural foods), it can have many health benefits...
How often should I eat?
Depending on whether or not you've investigated nutrition books/websites etc. or had a chat to the trainer that the gym who seems to have a never ending supply of energy, you may have heard mutterings of eating 5-6 small meals a day, or a similar variation. My personal variation of this (based purely on my daily routines) is to eat 3 main meals, perhaps 1 dessert and 2 small snacks in between meals to prevent 11am or 3pm crashes.
Nutrition & the benefits of snacking
When snacking on natural, high quality foods, eating throughout the day has the benefit of keeping your metabolism burning away, your energy levels up and lifting your mood. Your main meals and snacks need to ideally be lower in (but not devoid of!) carbohydrates and high in protein and fibre as these will fill you up and gradually release energy throughout the day. The good fats, Mono & polyunsaturates, found in nuts and seeds are also essential to ensure the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
The 80/20 rule
For our meals, including snacks, this leaves us with a very wide selection of lean red meat, poultry, fish, nuts, fruits, salads and vegetables. Of course, a few 'treats' (chocolate cake!) can be slipped in now and again providing you generally stick to nutritious foods 80% of the time. The 80/20 rule will help you stay on track and if applied to particularly settings ("I'll eat healthy at work and home and then allow treats when I eat out with friends") it begins to feel more like a lifestyle - but it will leave your friends baffled as to why you're still a size 10 when you've a mouth full of fudge cake!
Don't fear the calories!
It should be noted that these foods can be 'calorie dense' (with the exception of salads, veg and some fruits). This means that they appear to the less nutritionally minded to be 'full of calories'. The nutritionally minded however, will realise that as these foods are full of good stuff they'll fill you up far quicker than your body weight in crisps ever will, so simple portion control is the solution to this!
It's fine with taking a plain old piece of fruit to work or some chopped veggies to snack on, but some people (including me!) may not find this particularly exciting. Luckily there are now entire businesses dedicated to snacking (I know - I wish I'd have thought of it first!), like Graze and Saviour Snacks. You'll also be able to pop into your local supermarket or health store and find little packets of portion controlled fresh fruit or dried fruits with nuts and things to keep your taste buds amused.
In the above picture, there's a Trek bar, a Nakd bar,a bounce ball and a tiny bar of organic white chocolate. These were all available from Holland and Barrett (it happens to be around the corner from my office!) and you'll also come across them in the subscription service, Saviour Snacks which you can read more about here. These sorts of bars are generally comprised of dried fruit, ground nuts and cocoa, sometimes with various fruit juices added in to sweeten them. They're not a whole world apart from my favourite USA imported protein bars, Quest (see bottom of post for a UK purchase link).
Graze boxes are another solution, often it's possible to get a free one using a code (see bottom of post for a code) to try. These will contain anything you like as you can rate your preference of snacks on the website. It's kinda like a food catalogue! I've gone for a whole array of things from pretzel dips, to nuts and fruit & from fresh popcorn to nutritious flapjacks. You can get these boxes delivered however often you like (I've gone for once a week) and they typically cost £3.89. These boxes are a great way to get you to try a wide variety of new foods and pack in an array of vitamins and minerals.
Try some of these snacks:
Graze box code: JM9YDFYRP
Quest nutrition bars: