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Dietitian Julia Zumpano joins the Butts & Guts podcast once again, this time to discuss snacking. Listen to learn more about the reasons for why people snack, how snacking effects our weight, and the benefits of having a healthy relationship with snacking. Listen to learn more.

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Podcast Transcript

Dr. Scott Steele: Butts & Guts, a Cleveland Clinic podcast, exploring your digestive and surgical health from end to end. Hi again everyone, and welcome to another episode of Butts & Guts. I'm your host, Dr. Scott Steele, the chair of colorectal surgery here at the Cleveland Clinic in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio. And today I am super excited to have on a five-time guest here to Butts & Guts, Julia Zumpano, who is a registered dietician here at the Cleveland Clinic. Julia, welcome back to Butts & Guts and thank you so much for joining us in again.

Julia Zumpano: It's my pleasure. Thanks again for having me.

Dr. Scott Steele: So we are obviously in the midst of winter and going through things and we're going to talk a little bit about snacking today. Something that I don't care if you're healthy, not healthy eater or whatever, still snacking is out there. But before we jump into it, give us a little bit of background, where you're from, where'd you train, and how did it come to the point that you here at the Cleveland Clinic?

Julia Zumpano: Sure. So I started my training at the University of Akron in nutrition dietetics, and I began my internship at the Cleveland Clinic and then never left since. So got hired on as an RD and I have been at the Cleveland Clinic for over 20 years now.

Dr. Scott Steele: Well, we are so excited to have you here at the Clinic and excited to have you here on Butts & Guts. And today we're going to talk a little bit about snacking. So can you first tell our listeners the various reasons for why we as humans, why we snack in the first place?

Julia Zumpano: Sure. So there's a ton of different reasons and everyone snacks for various reasons. One being you're hungry, you're actually physically hungry. That could be a reason for snacking. It could be emotional, so it could be boredom, sadness, happiness. It could be just routine or habitual that people snack. It could be just that the food's available that it's around, so you're just snacking mindlessly because it's in front of you. And it also could be culturally or the way you may have been raised to eat is snacking between meals or it may be evolved in cultural or family style of eating. So there's a lot of influences on why and when we eat.

Dr. Scott Steele: So Julia, there's a lot of different connotations that occur with even the word snack. So truth or myth, cutting out snacking alone can make you lose weight.

Julia Zumpano: I believe that that can be true in most cases. Now, if you're snacking on really healthy foods like vegetables and fruits, then that may not be the case. But for a traditional sense, to answer the question, most people snack on snack-based foods and by cutting those out, I do feel that most of the time you'll see a reduction in calories, which will then in turn lead to weight loss.

Dr. Scott Steele: So Julia, we kind of function on a lot of different rhythms, circadian rhythms, just kind of the way we function during the course of our day. So are there a certain time of day when we're more likely to snack?

Julia Zumpano: I think the most common time to snack would be a couple of hours after lunch and then again after dinner. I think we tend to snack too. So those couple hours after you've had a meal, I think may, some people may experience a drop in their blood sugar. Normally we're getting this boost of energy from our food or feeling more alert and aware and then that may dissipate a couple hours after the meal and you may be searching for something again for something to eat. So I'd say those are the two most common times that we tend to snack.

Dr. Scott Steele: So kind of along those same lines, what factors may cost somebody to snack more than they normally do?

Julia Zumpano: So not eating enough throughout the day can definitely lead to increased snacking, inadequate fiber or protein intake. When you're feeling tired. So when you're fatigued, we know that you're more likely to snack when you're feeling a little more lethargic or fatigued. If you're thirsty, that can also be misconstrued for being hungry. So not getting enough fluid can actually cause too much snacking. And then if you've changed your activity or routine. So if you're exercising more, you may have more of a robust appetite and may lead to more snacking.

Dr. Scott Steele: I was certain you were going to say bags of potato chips lying around. That may be the answer to that question, but I'll let that one go. And can certain snacks actually make you hungrier?

Julia Zumpano: Snack foods are designed to make you more hungry. So those are those traditional box and bag prepared snacks in the snack aisle, those are really designed to increase your appetite and you're craving towards those foods. So anything we know that is full of salt or sugar or unhealthy fats or worse combination, the combination of salt and fat or combination of sugar and fat, those definitely tend to promote that appetite and stimulate you to eat those foods and then again, cause cravings towards those foods and oftentimes leads to overconsumption of them.

Dr. Scott Steele: Wow, that's very interesting. So on the other side, any benefits to snacking?

Julia Zumpano: So I do think you can get benefits to snacking if you do it properly. So if you are someone who does benefit from smaller meals, you digest them better, you feel better, and you tend to eat smaller meals and then like to have some healthy snacks in between, that can really help meet nutrient needs if you're not eating enough at meal time, especially when you're snacking on whole foods. In those cases, I like to look at snacking as an extension of your meal almost like you have a good portion or a small portion of your meal and then you finish the rest that you couldn't finish as a snack. So not necessarily focused on snack foods, but just means to meet all your nutrient needs.

Dr. Scott Steele: Now you mentioned a little bit earlier about maybe inadvertent weight gain to snacking, but are there other downsides to snacking?

Julia Zumpano: Of course it's going to lead to excess calories, which is why the weight gain. But when you're looking at the health risks, a lot of snack foods tend to be high in salt, so that can lead to higher blood pressure values. And snack foods can also be very high in sugar depending on the kind of snack you're consuming, which again, can lead to elevated blood sugar values, which over time can put you at risk for diabetes. And then fat, high amounts of fat can cause increased lipid values or cholesterol values, which can also create an increased risk for heart disease. So depending on how much you snack, how often, and what you're snacking on over time, that can certainly impact your overall health.

Dr. Scott Steele: So two things. Are there snacks that are best for curbing hunger? And are those low-calorie snacks or are there other examples of low calorie snacks? Are they one in the same?

Julia Zumpano: Well, the snacks that are best for curbing hunger would be high protein and high fiber snacks. So they're not necessarily classified to be low-calorie, but they're extremely nutrient-dense. So I'm focusing on fiber and protein with all snacks. Low-calorie snacks tend to be things like a lot of vegetables, non-starchy vegetables like celery and carrots, maybe half of an apple, a cheese stick, a boiled egg, a piece of turkey. Those would be all, low-calorie snacks. Cottage cheese, good thing is those are also high-end protein. And then the vegetable-based ones are high in fiber, but you can also get extra fiber from things like hummus or even some edamame beans as a snack and apple with some peanut butter berries with some Greek yogurt. So looking at whole foods that provide protein and fiber and eating them together will really cause the best outcome when it comes to curbing hunger and controlling appetite and feeling more satiated after you're eating.

Dr. Scott Steele: Julia, I've had people tell me, and this could have been a truth or myth, that when you eat things like a small salad for a snack or fruits and vegetables that actually it makes you hungry and just a little bit more and you're more apt to eat maybe some snacks that you should try to avoid. Is there any truth to that?

Julia Zumpano: I mean, it could be true for that specific person because everyone reacts to foods individually. But what would cause that to happen would be if you're eating a salad without any protein, then that's pretty easy to leave you feeling hungry because there's not many calories in a salad. That may just be minimally effective when it comes to controlling your appetite or hunger. So that's where the key is, adding some protein to that salad, like a boiled egg or a couple pieces of Turkey or having some cottage cheese with it, adding some beans to it. So adding whatever you can in regards to adding some more protein will probably help overcome that outcome.

Dr. Scott Steele: I know we talked about snacks that are best for curbing hunger or low-calorie snacks. So on the other end of the spectrum, are there any snacks that people should really try to avoid?

Julia Zumpano: Yeah, of course. We want to avoid packaged snack foods. So anything box prepared, packaged foods like potato chips or any snacky type food, bakery items, baked goods, desserts, chocolates, candy, anything of the packaged junk food per se is what you want to avoid.

Dr. Scott Steele: So is it important to bring up snacking habits to a nutritionist or healthcare provider or is it best leave that alone?

Julia Zumpano: I think it would be a great idea if you think it may lead to negative health outcomes. So if you feel like your snacking may be causing weight gain or increases in your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, if you may feel like it's causing more inflammation or fatigue, well then that's certainly something to address. A nutritionist can certainly help give you better snack choices or maybe structure your meals better so you don't feel the need to snack and create more control over your eating, which can in turn really lead to a lot of positive health outcomes.

Dr. Scott Steele: So what's a good approach to have regarding snacking?

Julia Zumpano: I think it's just really looking at why you're snacking, so understanding what's the cause of the snacking. If it's that you're truly hungry and you're actually feeling those hunger pains, then it's not a bad idea to have something to eat because you haven't had enough. And that's your body's natural way of telling you that it's hungry. But if you're snacking out of boredom emotionally just habitually, then we really want to look at why are we snacking and is it necessary and create different ways around preventing snacking or increasing the meal volume to be able to provide more nutrition so you're less up to snack. So it's really just looking at why of why it's happening.

Dr. Scott Steele: Well now it's time for our quick hitters. It's time to get to know our guests a little bit better. And since Julia, you're a five-time guest here on Butts & Guts, I'm going to give you a few additional ones. So first of all, in light of this conversation today, what's your favorite snack?

Julia Zumpano: My favorite snack would be a banana with peanut butter, probably one of my all-time favorites. And if it's something a little more indulgent, it would be some dark chocolate. And I like to choose pretty dark, so it's about 85% dark chocolate.

Dr. Scott Steele: Wow. Out of the blue. Didn't realize that one. What's your favorite movie?

Julia Zumpano: My favorite movie? Ooh, that's a tough one. I have several, but the Sound of Music was probably one of my old classic ones as a child that I loved.

Dr. Scott Steele: Okay, it's coming off the holiday season. If you got one wish, what would it be?

Julia Zumpano: For my family to remain and stay healthy.

Dr. Scott Steele: And finally, of all of the holidays out there, which one is your favorite?

Julia Zumpano: My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving actually, because we start off Thanksgiving with doing a run for the homeless. So I think it's a great way to start off a holiday and we do it as a family. So it's definitely my favorite one and I tend to see most amount of my family and friends during that holiday weekend, so that would be my favorite.

Dr. Scott Steele: That's fantastic. So give us a final take-home message for our listeners regarding snacking.

Julia Zumpano: So I think snacking is given a bad rep. Again, if you are going to snack or really enjoy snacking, make sure you do it mindfully. Try to choose whole foods as often as you can, avoiding snack foods, avoiding foods you have difficulty controlling. I think that's a common issue with snacking is we're constantly snacking on foods that we have no stopping point with and just really recognizing what those foods may be for you and trying to avoid those foods and making them only limited to special occasions or once in a while, and really heavily focusing on whole food-based snacks if you choose to do so. And again, if you're really asking yourself the why and it's not really to feed your body good nutrition or to feed your body because you're hungry, then we may want to reconsider snacking and try to come up with an alternate thing to do to distract yourself away from the snacking.

Dr. Scott Steele: Well, that's great advice. And so to learn more about nutrition therapy here at the Cleveland Clinic, please visit clevelandclinic.org/nutrition. That's clevelandclinic.org/nutrition. You can also call 216-444-3046. That's 216-444-3046. Julia, thanks so much again for joining us on Butts & Guts.

Julia Zumpano: Thanks again for having me.

Dr. Scott Steele: That wraps things up here at Cleveland Clinic. Until next time, thanks for listening to Butts & Guts.

Butts & Guts

Butts & Guts

A Cleveland Clinic podcast exploring your digestive and surgical health from end to end. You’ll learn how to have the best digestive health possible from your gall bladder to your liver and more from our host, Colorectal Surgery Chairman Scott Steele, MD.
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