Do you snack? Are you one of those people that are always nibbling on something – grazing? Or do you just have three meals a day? There isn’t really a right or wrong but whether you need a snack might depend on a few factors.
Firstly, it depends on your activity levels. If you have just been to the gym or finished a 10K run you are likely to need an energy boost. You might have an active job or cycle to work every day. Your activity levels will contribute towards determining your energy needs.
Secondly, it might be that you haven’t eaten enough at breakfast or lunch. This is a common reason for snacking. Often the need to snack midmorning is due to eating the wrong type of food at breakfast. A piece of toast is unlikely to keep you full until lunch. Then it is tempting to eat a less healthy snack like a biscuit or pastry leading to more feelings of hunger not long after. If this is you, try to add in some fat and protein (as well as some vegetables or fruit) at every meal to keep you full until your next meal. Fat and protein are also essential sources of nutrients. At breakfast, you could add eggs to your piece of toast or nuts and seeds to your porridge.
Thirdly, we are very individual in our body types. Some people do much better eating little and often and others benefit from having long periods without food. Listen to your body to see what is best for you. Skipping breakfast in the morning (a long overnight fast) might be perfect for some people but for others it will worsen stress and drive up cortisol – contributing to weight-gain around the middle. Don’t compare yourself to others. What works for one person might not work for you.
Lastly, being tired or hung-over can also influence our eating habits. When we are tired we often eat more often to give us energy. And we are more likely to choose something made of refined carbohydrates such as chocolate, crisps or cakes. If your snacking habit is due to poor sleep, try to work on how to improve the amount of and quality of sleep you are getting.
Are there any downsides to snacking? Yes, frequent snacking, particularly of more refined carbohydrates (like biscuits, cakes, pastries and sweet drinks) may increase your chances of developing tooth decay. The mouth needs time between meals to neutralise the acid that is formed when eating food. Also, eating refined carbohydrates regularly can cause blood sugar imbalance. In the short term this can cause mood and energy issues but in the long term this can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. And lastly, the body needs fasting time for the digestive system (and other systems in the body) to recover.
So what does a healthy snack look like? Again, like your meals, a snack should have some protein and fat. Healthy snacks should be whole foods like natural nuts and natural pieces of fruit, which are digested more slowly than refined foods. Refined or processed foods like fruit juice, snack bars, baked goods, etc. are so easily absorbed due to their lack of fibre and high sugar content that they cause spikes in our blood sugar levels. Imbalanced blood sugar levels affect mood, hunger, energy, weight-management and hormone balance as well as predisposing us for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Imbalanced blood sugar levels also make us more inclined to reach for more snacks!
So here are some suggested healthy snacks for you.
- Natural nuts and seeds with a little dried fruit (optional)
- Avocado seasoned with sea salt and lime juice
- Grated courgette with pine nuts and apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing
- Boiled eggs
- Cheese (if you eat dairy)
- A piece of whole fruit with nut butter
- Raw vegetables with some hummus
- Homemade granola bar
- Homemade energy ball
My top tip for eating healthy snacks is to prepare in advance then you won’t be tempted to buy something like a chocolate bar from the shop or a Café. Chop up some fruit or vegetables, boil some eggs, keep them all in the fridge and carry some nuts and seeds in your in your bag when you’re out. Make sure you carry some water with you and stay hydrated because often we mistake hunger for thirst. That way when you do need a snack, you have got something healthy that you can have instead of reaching for something that might make you crave more snacks later on.