We're only a couple of weeks into 2024 and already some unusual food trends are beginning to emerge.
Following the 'girl dinner' craze last year and the more recent #cucumbersalad, another new foodie craze, known as 'rat snacking' is also causing quite the buzz online thanks to its unique and unconventional approach to grazing.
Let's start off by clarifying that rat snacking has nothing to do with actual rats. Instead, it involves scavenging through your kitchen cupboards and using what you have to put together some unusual flavour pairings.
Rat snacking connoisseurs have been heading online to share their bite-sized creations under the #ratsnack hashtag on TikTok, which has clocked up more than 12.6 million views.
Examples making the rounds on the video sharing platform include rice cakes dipped in peanut butter, cauliflower drizzled with chilli sauce, and chocolate eaten alongside ready salted crisps.
This approach to eating also aligns with Pinterest's prediction of ‘melty mashups’ as a major food trend for 2024, and with ‘rat snacking’ searches on Google soaring by 296% in the past month, it’s clear this snacking style could continue to grow.
"The ‘rat snacking’ TikTok trend is all about eating the foods that taste good to you," explains Kyle Crowley, nutrition expert at Protein Works.
"The main message with the trend is eating intuitively, listening to your body and giving it what it needs and wants."
While there are certain benefits to the trend including using up what you have in your kitchen, Crowley says it also shows people are embracing a non-diet approach to food that is based on listening to your body's natural hunger and fullness cues.
"This is a positive development, as it moves people away from restrictive - and prescriptive - eating and towards a more flexible, creative, individual, and sustainable way of eating."
In the TikTok videos, though a lot of unusual combinations are being shared online, Crowley says many have the same thing in common.
"The snacks include different flavours which our bodies often crave, for example the combination of sweet and salty foods," he explains. "These flavours work well together as salt is a flavour enhancer, which can create an even more positive response to tastes."
Gut health benefits of 'rat snacking'
While there are certain health benefits of snacking in general including providing a boost of energy and stopping a blood glucose drop, perhaps the most important plus point of the craze can be found in the gut.
"Rat snacking has brought to light a variety of unusual snack combinations, some of which can aid in increasing fibre intake and in turn have a positive impact on gut health," explains Crowley.
"Combinations including fruits and vegetables are particularly good for this."
Crowley says bananas are a great example included in many of the weird and wonderful flavour combinations filling up our feed, for example banana with peanut butter.
"Bananas are beneficial to gut health as they contain natural fibre which helps to increase good bacteria," Crowley explains. "Other examples might include garlic - a food rich in prebiotic fibre - and honey, which has microbial properties."
Combining sweet and savoury flavours is a popular choice in many of the rat snacks.
"Blue cheese and grapes are one example of this, black grapes are rich in antioxidants, which help in preventing many illnesses as well as assisting in weight management," Crowley explains. "While blue cheese is rich in calcium and contains beneficial bacteria for the gut."
Another perfect example of a healthy ‘rat’ snack which is high in nutrients is ‘ants on a log’, made by adding peanut butter or cream cheese onto celery and topping with raisins.
"This can help with gut health as celery contains natural fibre, which helps the digestive system, as well as both peanut butter and raisins, adding protein and aiding in digestion," Crowley adds.
While there are some benefits to gut health, nutritionists also have a word of warning if wanting to give the trend a try.
"It is worth noting that not all food combinations people turn to in the viral rat snacking trend are healthy or conducive to gut health," Crowley explains.
"Some combinations contain a large amount of sugary, fatty, or other foods devoid of nutrients. These food choices might be harmful to the gut, especially when eaten in excess."
Of course, in moderation and in the context of an otherwise balanced and healthy snack, some of these combinations can still be enjoyed, for example, chocolate with bacon.
"If you are keen to improve gut health and still want to jump on the trend, focus on making sure the snacks you are choosing are healthy," Crowley advises.
"Eating sugary, fatty or high sodium foods on top of each other can impact inflammation, bloating, and weight gain as well as leading to being overfed but undernourished!
"As the ‘rat snacking’ trend is all about eating the foods that taste good to you. The main message with the trend is eating intuitively, listening to your body and giving it what it needs and wants," he adds.
Read more on gut health:
Gut health: Foods to eat and avoid to improve your wellbeing (Yahoo Life UK, 8-min read)
Scientists can predict the onset of colon cancer by looking at your gut bacteria (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
3 yoga poses that can aid digestion and improve gut health (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)