Using a food diary can help you keep track of how much you are actually snacking.
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  • You can stop snacking by taking steps like eating protein and fiber with every meal, keeping a food diary, and getting enough sleep.
  • Eating high-protein foods at meals -like lean meat, eggs, fish, and tofu - can help you feel more full and may stop you from reaching for the snack cabinet.
  • You should also make sure you are consistently getting 7-9 hours of sleep, since your body has a harder time regulating hormones that control hunger if you don't sleep enough.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Snacking has become a big part of the way we eat. In fact, 97% of Americans say they have a snack at some point each week and a majority snack every day.

But even if you stay away from the soda and junk food, some experts say that snacking may be hurting your health and leading to weight gain.

Here's what you need to know about snacking and how you can cut down your snack habit if it's causing issues.

Why you should stop snacking

Experts don't always agree about whether snacking is good or bad for you because the research is often conflicted. This may be because when participants are asked about what they eat, they tend to report eating less.

A 2011 review in the Journal of Nutrition found that when studies take under-reporting into account, results show that people who eat more often during the day consume more overall calories, which may lead to weight gain.

For people over 65, who often struggle to get enough calories, snacking on whole foods like nut butter and fruit can be good for health. But for people under 60 who may be snacking more than necessary, it may be adding extra, unnecessary calories and contributing to conditions like obesity.

Even if you're eating healthy snacks and keeping your calories in check, snacking may still have a negative effect on your health. This is because every time you eat, your immune system triggers an inflammatory response. This short-term response helps to fight off any bacteria you take in along with your food.

A brief inflammatory response can be good for your health because it can help you heal and fight off infection, but if you are snacking often in between meals, choosing less healthful snacks, or if you have an underlying condition you may be throwing your body into a chronic inflammatory state. This can cause health problems over time, as chronic inflammation is linked to dangerous conditions including diabetes and cancer.

How to stop snacking and be healthier

To avoid chronic inflammation, it's important to give your body a break in between meals, and this means avoiding snacking when possible. Here are a few ways you can break the snack habit:

Eat protein and fiber with every meal

Protein and fiber are important parts of your diet and they have the added benefit of making you feel more full, says Stacey Lockyer, PhD, a registered nutritionist and nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.

Eating a diet heavy in carbohydrates, with less protein and fiber, may cause spikes and then dips in your blood sugar, which can lead to feeling hungry sooner.

Some protein-containing foods you can add to daily meals include:

  • Lean meat
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Tofu
  • Nuts

Lockyer adds that some fiber-rich foods include:

  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Use a food diary app

Food diary apps can help you to keep track of how much you are really eating. "Often we don't realise when we are mindlessly snacking," says Rebecca Leech, PhD, a registered nutritionist and researcher at the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition in Australia.

Leech says that using a food diary or tracker can also help you look for patterns in your snacking, like if you eat more when you're feeling stressed or sad. This can help you stay aware of your snack habits and help you make more intentional decisions about when and what you eat.

Some food tracker apps can be pricey, like Noom and Rise. But others can be found for free, likeHealthyOut and MyFitnessPal.

Get enough sleep

When you don't get enough sleep, your body has a harder time regulating the hormones that cause feelings of hunger or fullness, and this can make it harder to resist a snack, says Leech.

Even a single late night may increase your snack cravings. For example, a small study, published in 2008 in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that when people went one night with only 4 hours of sleep, they felt significantly hungrier the next day.

Experts recommend getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night to avoid throwing off your body's natural hunger signals. If you think you're not getting enough sleep, check out Insider's guide on 25 tips to get better sleep.

The Bottom Line

Eating an occasional snack isn't likely to hurt your health. But if you find yourself constantly reaching for snacks between meals, it may make you gain weight and over time, which can cause more serious health problems.

When you're going a long stretch between meals and need a snack, swap out sugary drinks and baked goods for healthier options like fruit with yogurt, a handful of nuts, a banana, or carrots with hummus, Leech says.

"Changing ingrained patterns of behavior can be really hard," Leech says. If the methods mentioned here aren't working, you can always seek out professional support from a therapist or registered dietitian nutritionist to help you make a change.

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