To snack or not to snack, that is the question. This quandary has intrigued and divided the nutritional world for ages. On the one hand, there are those that believe small, intermittent meals fuel the body more consistently, helping people control their weight. Then there are those that steer clients away from snacking for fear that it keeps them in constant eating mode, causing increased calorie consumption.
To be honest, I’m not really interested in taking sides with either argument. I’m a realist when it comes to nutrition and the truth is that we do snack! We want to snack, we need to snack and we like to snack. So instead of being told what we can’t and shouldn’t do, depriving ourselves against our better judgment, I believe we should instead work on making the habits we do have, better.
Let’s assume for the moment that the act of snacking itself is nutritionally sound, which I wholeheartedly believe it is. Snacking should work to enhance our health and well-being, rather than hinder it, and so we need to examine what we are eating (and how much of it) in order to improve the choices we make.
I’m a realist when it comes to nutrition and the truth is that we do snack! We want to snack, we need to snack and we like to snack.
It’s understandable that people often reach for simple carbohydrates such as breads, crisps, pretzels, cookies, etc. when they’re feeling sluggish; they help lift our mood by boosting serotonin, but the effect is only temporary. Soon after, you are left with a sharp low and quickly find yourself searching for another sugary fix to put you back on the blood sugar rollercoaster, which will inevitably leave you feeling lethargic and dopey.
Snacking at its best can – and should – be a tool to increase energy, concentration and efficiency, but to achieve that we need to re-train our palates: away from empty food choices towards savoury snacks with substance. There is a better way to snack – we just need to learn that and act on it.
Without exception, the believers among us define ‘good snacks’ as those offering a balanced portion of protein, fat and fibre. Nutritional therapist, Ian Marber, says, ‘whilst eating three good meals a day might be more disciplined, eating something small between meals is more practical and is better for managing appetite. This only works, though, if you eat a combination of protein, fibre and essential fats, as that combination is digested slowly, resulting in consistent energy levels. For example, an apple and a palmful of Brazil nuts or almonds is ideal, as is a carrot with hummus or plain yoghurt, berries and pumpkin seeds.’
‘Good snacks’ are defined as those offering a balanced portion of protein, fat and fibre.
Trainer Russell Bateman, who keeps many models in top form, offered me his go–to snack list: ‘for any client aiming to get or stay lean: seeds and nuts, almond butter with apple, hard-boiled eggs, sashimi, smoked salmon, avocados, olives, coconut, chopped veggies, pickles, salsa, dried seaweed or chia seed pudding’.
Lastly, a few essential snacking tips to remember. Firstly, size matters! We are increasingly accustomed to extra-large meal portions and this amplification is often carried over into our snacks. Snacks aren’t meals, so they should be kept small and compact. Secondly, always remember that the healthiest option always comes in its most pure, unadulterated form. For example, eating almonds, coconut flakes and apricots is terrific; however, many snack bars containing those same ingredients in fact contain more sugar than a candy bar.
The third key tip is planning ahead. When you are doing your weekly shop stock up on healthy snack staples, then portion them out into clear plastic bags or Tupperware boxes and keep them available in your car, desk, and bag. It makes a big difference mentally to know that you have a quality option nearby when hunger strikes.
Fourth, if there is one time not to snack, it’s in the evening. Bedtime snacking will sabotage your diet goals and, as nutritional therapist Emma Cannon notes, ‘I think we generally eat too late and too much of our food towards the end of the day. It is very important to let our digestive systems rest and our body repair. So avoiding food from 7pm–7am can bring great health benefits.’
Let’s be honest with ourselves, we are going to snack, so the success is in how well we do it!
Lastly, thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so Norton encourages clients, ‘always to keep hydrated. If in doubt have a large glass of water and if still hungry 20 minutes later, then have a healthy snack.’
Let’s be honest with ourselves, we are going to snack, so the success is in how well we do it! The more we train our minds to make healthier food choices at all times, the greater our sense of well-being will become.