Are You Being Snacked to Death?

Highly processed, easy-to-find snacks can increase your chances of becoming overweight and set you up for lifelong health problems.

Photography by Romulo Yanes

Don’t let between-meal munching wreck your health. Here’s how to do it right!

Before you even figured out how to walk or talk, you learned how to snack. It started as a handful of Cheerios on your high-chair tray, then some Goldfish Crackers after school. By now it’s just a fact of life—who thinks twice about grabbing candy between classes or munching on chips while doing homework? In fact, if you’re anything like the average teen, you snack as often as four times a day.

But don’t worry—frequent nibbling isn’t all bad. Chances are you’re crazy-busy and genuinely need some fuel between meals. It’s what you’re likely snacking on that’s the problem. The top snack picks for teens are factory-made desserts, salty snacks, candy, and fruit drinks. While unprocessed stuff like strawberries or cheese would give you what your body is craving, those aren’t the foods that are easiest to get your hands on. Have you looked at your vending machine or local mini-mart recently? They’re not exactly filled with oranges or hard-boiled eggs.

One reason: There’s less profit to be made on real food, so companies have invented “snack foods” galore, which are cheaper to make and take years to spoil. But eating these highly processed, easy-to-find foods also increases your chance of becoming overweight and sets you up for lifelong health problems.

Still, you buy them anyway. It’s hard not to, thanks to billions of dollars spent on snack-food marketing. You see ads for these between-meal munchies everywhere you turn—whether it’s a TV commercial or ads on a phone app. “Everywhere you go, you’re bombarded with ads to snack on the wrong kinds of foods,” says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The reason is simple: “The more you eat, the more money food companies make.”

But don’t lose hope! We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about four hazardous snack traps, including how to avoid them.

Eating Fake Food

You love chips and cookies. But they’re full of artificial stuff and skimpy in nutrients you need (and that will actually keep you full) like iron, protein, and fiber.

Do it right: Junky snacks are OK occasionally, but day-to-day, always include a fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack.

Mindlessly Munching

Eating constantly wrecks your ability to feel hunger and fullness cues from your body—which means you’ll eat even when you don’t need to.

Do it right: Pause before you automatically reach for the cookies, and ask yourself if you’re hungry or just bored. If you don’t need to refuel, have a glass of water instead.

Skimping on Protein

Your grocery store’s snack aisle is filled with stuff that’s heavy on calories but light on protein, a nutrient that’s especially filling. So you end up eating more—but still feeling unsatisfied.

Do it right: Stay satisfied between meals by adding a healthy protein to your snacks, like a hard-boiled egg, hummus, or cheese.

Gobbling Mega Portions

That oversized box of candy at the movie theater has a meal’s worth of calories, plus 20 teaspoons of sugar. Even some small “grab and go” bags of chips pack two or three servings (and hundreds of calories) each.

Do it right: Choose the smallest size whenever possible, share with a friend, or eat half now and half later. Research shows you automatically eat more when snacking straight from the package, so pour snacks into a small bowl before you dig in.

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