Should I Snack?
This article takes a look at the pros and cons of snacking in between meals and helps you to understand why we get cravings and mid-morning or mid-afternoon crashes. It also gives some helpful tips on the healthiest ways to snack.
Who should snack?
As a Nutritional Therapist, I often get asked the question whether we need to be snacking in between meals. To answer this question, it is important to first understand that we are all unique, both genetically and as a result of emotional, mental, physical and biochemical stressors that we are exposed to throughout our lives. This means that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach that will work for everyone. It is more appropriate to ask whether snacking is good for you personally, taking into account your physiology and lifestyle. Some people for whom snacking is beneficial, or even essential, include: athletes, people who need to put on weight, diabetics, people with hypoglycaemia, children with long school days, people who eat small meals at meal times and anyone who finds it difficult to eat breakfast in the morning.
While there are many categories of people who benefit from snacking between meals, for the majority, eating well-balanced meals at mealtimes should mean that snacking is unnecessary. In modern society, there is an alarming increase in the number of people suffering from digestive disorders. Every time we put food in our mouth, we engage our digestive tract, putting stress on the body as a whole and diverting energy away from other essential functions. By limiting eating to three regular meals per day, the gut is ‘de-loaded’ and given four or five hours to relax and in some instances, even repair. If you suffer from cravings between meals, it may be a case of taking a closer look at what is going into (or not going into) your main meals, rather than reaching for a snack.
Riding the blood sugar roller coaster day in and day out robs you of energy and leaves you feeling exhausted and unsatisfied.
How to avoid snacking
One of the main reasons people snack is that their cravings and hunger are simply a sugar crash. Foods that convert into glucose quickly result in blood sugar levels rising quickly and then crashing. This crash then takes the form of low energy, bad moods and hunger pangs. Snack foods such as biscuits, chocolate bars and fizzy drinks all create the blood sugar roller coaster of energy spikes followed by energy crashes.. The body’s response is to crave more of these very foods that will give energy quickly. This demand takes the form of cravings. Riding the blood sugar roller coaster day in and day out robs you of energy and leaves you feeling exhausted and unsatisfied. When you take care to stabilise blood sugar levels, the cravings tend to evaporate and it is possible to go from meal to meal without ever having to battle hunger or low energy. The best way to stabilise blood sugar levels and ensure a steady flow of energy throughout the day is to avoid sugar and foods that contain fast releasing carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, sweets, cakes, rice, fizzy drinks, fruit). You should also include protein and healthy fats with each meal.
The most important meal of the day is breakfast and how you start the day will set the tone for how much energy you have and your ability to concentrate and stay focused throughout the day. To achieve this you need to start the day with a slow release, blood sugar balancing breakfast. The following breakfast examples will satisfy you longer, ensuring you do not have the mid-morning energy crash which typically follows a breakfast of croissants, high sugar cereals, fruit juices, toast and jam. For a full guide to healthy breakfast recipes, please download my free ‘Healthy Breakfast Ideas’ recipe guide by clicking on the image.
Cereal: jumbo porridge oats (not the instant kind), low carb granola, low carb muesli.
Fruit: The best fruits are those lowest in sugar such as strawberries, raspberries, cherries and blueberries. Yoghurt and fruit with ground seeds or a few almonds, walnuts or Brazil nuts added increase the protein and healthy fat content of the meal making a delicious filling breakfast.
Cooked: Choose from eggs (poached, boiled, omelette) bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, or eggs with smoked salmon and avocado on the side.
Bread: If you enjoy a piece of bread or toast in the mornings opt for a slice of wholegrain, whole wheat or rye bread and add protein and healthy fats such as egg, smoked salmon, nut butter, cream cheese, mashed avocado.
In a hurry: Whip up a smoothie to take with you. Use a cupful of almond, coconut or oat milk. Add a tablespoon of either ground flax seeds, chia seeds, or almonds, a generous handful of berries, half an avocado, or a handful of spinach leaves and 1/3 of a banana. Whiz until smooth and take with you.
Likewise, good lunch choices that stabilise your blood sugar levels and are nutritious will keep you satisfied longer, ensuring you avoid the dreaded mid-afternoon energy slump. Take a look at my recipes page to find some easy and healthy lunch recipes for every taste. Examples of good lunch choices include:
Salads: Any combination of salad vegetables with a source of protein works well. Adding cooked chickpeas, lentils, quinoa or beans will help with satiety. Watch out for sugars in salad dressings. A simple dressing using apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice and olive oil is better than shop bought dressings.
Carbohydrates: Increase the amount of non-starchy veg such as broccoli, cauliflower, salads, courgettes, spinach, kale, asparagus, etc
Add protein rich foods: Chicken, fish, eggs, beans, ham, turkey breast, prawns, smoked salmon, hummus, trout fillet.
Soups: Non potato based soups are a great choice in the cold winter months. Choose with added protein such as chicken, beans, lentils etc.
Vegetarians: Will need to eat more tofu, beans, lentils, and quinoa for protein intake.
Avocado: is a great source of healthy fats to add to meals to help stabilise blood sugar levels during the day.
How to snack Healthily
These days, many people are just too busy to take the time to sit down and eat a well-balanced meal and are therefore constantly eating ‘on the go.’ While I certainly don’t recommend this, it is an unfortunate reality of many people’s lives. In these cases, the nutritional value of snacks becomes even more important as they are acting as a primary source of energy. Choosing snacks that include protein and healthy fats will provide you with a steady release of energy throughout the day. This requires planning and knowledge as many people, when facing a food emergency tend to eat all the wrong, quick and easy, fast food options. Be especially vigilant of borderline healthy snacks such as dried fruits, energy/protein bars that can contain as much sugar as a Mars Bar, low fat foods that have added sugar etc. If you are snacking on these types of food you are very likely feeding the very sugar cravings that you are struggling with, therefore staying on the blood sugar roller coaster throughout the day. Below are some examples of healthy snacks. For those who are struggling with sugar cravings, i have prepared a guide which includes recipes that are healthier options while still satisfying a need for something sweet. Please download my free guide by clicking on the image:
Low sugar fruits with any variety of nuts and seeds.
Natural yoghurt with berries and seeds.
Oatcakes with toppings such as hummus, guacamole, smoked salmon, cream cheese, any sugar free nut butter, mackerel pate.
Boiled egg with oatcakes or celery.
Good quality dark chocolate.
Hummus or cottage cheese with crudités such as peppers, tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower.
Slice of ham with tomatoes.
Half an avocado with mixed and toasted seeds.
Cup of instant miso soup with oatcakes.
Feta cheese with a few olives and some cherry tomatoes.
Tuna, celery, cucumber, spring onions with oil and vinegar dressing.
Half an avocado with oil and vinegar dressing and a few toasted pine nuts.
Handful of nuts such as almonds, cashews, Brazil.
Mixed seed trail.