What’s your relationship with snacking like? Do you feel a pang of guilt every time you eat something between meals? Is it your dieting downfall?
For something that so many of us do – and is an incredibly basic thing – snacking is somewhat of a minefield.
So many times, I see clients – or even friends – tucking into something that will inevitably make them even hungrier in a few hours’ time – or reverse the good work of the healthy eating regime they are on.
Nailing the art of smart snacking is something that could really change your life. You’ll have better energy, a smaller waistline (if that’s your goal) and fewer mood swings.
Given the fact we’ve become a nation of snackers, partly due to our busy work schedules and social lives, now’s a really good time to familiarize yourself with the golden rules of snacking…
Snacking may seem simple, but it can be a minefield, nutritionist Rob Hobson warns
THE TRUTH ABOUT SNACKING
Despite many people feeling guilty about it, there’s actually nothing wrong with snacking – providing you choose wisely.
There’s no doubt that unhealthy snacking has always been a public health problem and the huge amounts of sugar and fat that these foods provide is certainly contributing to the issue of more people becoming overweight or obese.
The problem is that for many of us, snacking is about getting that ‘sweet hit’, which often ramps up the calories and sugar we consume.
DO YOU NEED A SNACK? TRY THE BROCCOLI TEST
When your mind starts to wander and nudges you to grab that packet of biscuits in the cupboard, try this quick and simple mind hack.
Imagine the biscuits are a plate of broccoli.
Now, do you still feel the urge to munch?
If so, you may well be physiologically hungry.
If the image of a pile of broccoli stops you in your tracks, check-in with yourself to see if you’re a bit stressed, bored or trying to escaping another emotion (e.g. frustration, sadness, longing or even positive emotions such as excitement).
This might be because we want some energy, or because we’re bored or want comfort food.
But among people who choose their snacks carefully, it can be a useful way to keep energy levels up between meals or to refuel and repair the body after working out.
They key is to remember – as obvious as it sounds – that you’ve got to include the calories you eat from snacks in your overall food intake for the day.
It’s not just about calories, though; choosing highly nutritious snacks can be a good way to top up on micronutrients or boost your fiber or protein intake.
One thing that’s key to remember: many people forget to include drinks such as lattes, mochas and sugary fizzy beverages into their snack intake. These can add quite significantly (sometimes hundreds of calories) to your intake without you realizing. So be aware of what you’re putting in your mouth!
IS IT REALLY HUNGER – OR BOREDOM?
All too often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually just bored.
Another snacking faux-pas is becoming a habitual ‘picker’ – someone that flits back and forth the fridge and food cupboards all day.
This unsatisfying way of eating is often a result of simply not knowing what to eat – as well as boredom.
The best way round this is to plan your shopping list to include quick healthy snacks and meal options that actually appeal to your tastes – they’ll be a lot more satisfying!
STILL HUNGRY? AIM FOR A 200-CALORIE ‘SMART SNACK’ THAT WON’T DERAIL YOUR DIET
While the size and calorie content of your snacks really depends on how much food you have eaten across the day, a good benchmark is around 200 calories.
There are obviously limitless food combinations to create a healthy snack, but below are 10 of my favorites.
As a rule of thumb, try and make snacks more protein or healthy fat based over quickly digested carbohydrates.
Protein and good fats promote a feeling of fullness and prevent blood sugar spikes that can actually increase hunger shortly after eating or cause energy slumps.
- 1 sliced apple with 2 tablespoons of nut butter
Snacking on fruit and vegetables is not only a great way to increase your five-a-day, but these foods are also a rich source of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help to protect the body from disease. The nut butter – such as peanut or almond – adds a dose of ‘good’ fat that will keep you fuller for longer than just a plain apple.
Apple and nut butter give you a refreshing and creamy combination of ‘good fat’ and vitamins
- 2 heaped tablespoons of low fat Greek yogurt with a handful of berries
Yogurts are often fortified with vitamin D to help assist with calcium absorption and promote healthy bones. Many also contain probiotics, which can provide the gut with ‘good’ bacteria to promote good digestion.
- Dried fruit and nut bar
Check the calorie content on the nutrition label and try and try choosing a bar that is labelled amber or green for fats, salt and sugar. Dried fruit contains filling fiber, while nuts and seeds contain ‘good’ filling fats.
- 2 tablespoons of hummus with a wholemeal pitta
Snacks such as this that include fiber are a great way to help keep you feeling full between meals as this nutrient is broken down slowly in the body providing a ‘drip feed’ of energy. Fiber also helps promote good digestion and can help gut bacteria to flourish.
- 2 tablespoons of nut butter and chopped banana on rye crisp bread
Wholemeal breads and crackers can be topped with anything from canned tuna to fruit spread and are a great source of fiber. Bananas are good because they help add natural sweetness and are a rich source of B6 that is required to convert food into energy within the body.
- 1 small bowl (30g serving) of high-fiber fortified breakfast cereal (bran flakes) served with skimmed milk
A snack good option if you have eaten your evening meal quite early. Trying to sleep on an empty stomach can be difficult – but at less than 200 calories, as well as being high in fiber and protein, makes this the perfect option. Combining the carbohydrate with tryptophan in milk can help raise serotonin levels, which it’s been suggested may help with sleep.
A small bowl of cereal can be low in calories, while delivering a punch of fiber into your day
- 300ml vegetable soup
Vegetable soups can also make a quick and easy filling snack loaded with key nutrients such as vitamins C, A, B6, magnesium and potassium. Adding pulses and beans adds extra protein, fiber and minerals such as iron.
- Half a large avocado mashed with carrot and red pepper sticks
Snacking on fruit and vegetables is not only a great way to increase your five-a-day but these foods are also a rich source of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help to protect the body from disease, while being very low on calories. The avocado provides ‘good’ fat to keep you fuller for longer.
- 40g feta cheese and 2 oatcakes
Cheese is rich in protein and fats that help to keep you feeling full. Wholegrain oatcakes add fiber that helps slow down the release of sugar and B vitamins required for energy production in the body.
- Banana and almond butter smoothie
This is a great post-training snack as it’s high in protein to help repair muscle tissues and contains a little carbohydrate to replace glycogen stores in the muscle ready for your next session. It’s also loaded with B vitamins for energy production in the body as well as electrolytes such as magnesium, calcium and potassium that help hydrate and may help prevent cramping.
Take 1 small banana, 200ml unsweetened almond milk, 1 tbsp almond butter, 1 pinch of ground cinnamon, 1 tsp honey. Add all the ingredients to a blender and blitz until smooth.
DESPERATE FOR SOMETHING SWEET?
To a lot of people, snacking means eating something a little sweet. But this doesn’t need to be unhealthy.
There are plenty of healthy sweet foods that contain much less sugar than chocolate, puddings, cakes and biscuits.
Fruit breads are a good option and delicious toasted. Dried fruit bars are really popular and are also rich in fiber and nutrients such as iron and magnesium. Dried fruit on its own is also a nice way to get something sweet and there are many interesting varieties such as mango and pineapple.
Granola with nuts, seed, oats and dried fruit can also make a tasty nibble, but again watch out for brands that add lots of sugar and that includes agave, honey and other natural sweeteners.
When nothing will do but chocolate then opt for a dark variety with a high cocoa content – ideally 70 per cent or more – for an intense chocolate hit and stick to a small serving of 15g, which is a few squares. Good quality dark chocolate tends to have less sugar and cocoa is rich in minerals and antioxidant compounds that are beneficial to health.
Scores of studies show a myriad of benefits to chocolate with more than 70 percent cocoa
TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT? GO FOR PROTEIN
Losing weight is not easy and as part of many people’s programs they like to include a snack. Opting for something high in protein and low in carbs can help to promote satiety between meals, while having little impact on blood sugar levels that can stimulate appetite. If you’re going to include snacks then be sure to balance out other meals to fit in with a reduced calorie intake.
- Boiled egg (6g)
Eggs are nutritional nuggets that are not only rich in protein but a source of many essential vitamins and minerals essential for health. You can boil them in bulk and keep in the fridge. Try flavoring with spices such as smoked paprika, cayenne pepper or celery salt.
- Cottage cheese with sliced fruit and vegetables (10g per 100g of cheese)
Yes, it’s a little old school, but cottage cheese is low in calories and rich in protein, which is perfect as a weight loss snack. Serve with sliced fruits and vegetables such as apple, pear, nectarine, chicory, celery or red peppers to boost your micronutrient intake.
This combination of cottage cheese and fruit delivers both protein and vitamins
- High-protein snack bars (20g per bar)
These bars are a great option after training or when you leave the house in the morning and skip breakfast. Protein helps to keep you feeling full and assists with muscle repair and growth. Choose one that is low in sugar – look at the ‘traffic light’ nutrition labels in products – and some have the added bonus of being fortified with vitamins and minerals such as Healthspan Hilo bars (£8.99 for 5 bars). These are only 193 calories per 60g bar but contain 20g of protein – around the same as a chicken breast – and with flavors such as dark mint chocolate and caramel crunch, they will provide that sweet hit so many of us crave, too.
- Rye crispbread with tuna mix (15g per one crispbread with half a can of tuna)
This is a great high-protein snack when your work schedule or other commitments leave a long gap between meals. A more substantial snack, this is still relatively low in calories and the protein and fiber content will have less impact on blood sugar levels that can stimulate hunger and fat storage. Combine tuna with a little plain yogurt and chopped or canned vegetables.
- Wafer thin lean meats (16g per 4 slices)
High protein snacks are a great option mid afternoon, as anything rich in carbs can lead to blood sugar fluctuations that can stimulate hunger shortly after eating. Serve lean meats with sliced vegetables. You can really go to town on the veggies as they are low in calories and help to bulk out the diet and promote fullness.
- Roasted chickpeas (9g per half can)
Legumes such as chickpeas are high in both protein and fiber that help to promote fullness between meals. Legumes are also a rich source of minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium. Place the canned chickpeas in a bowl and toss with a little olive oil and a spice of choice (chili powder, curry powder, smoked paprika, ground cumin). Transfer to a baking sheet and cook in the oven for around 25 minutes at 180C.