Snacking between meals - healthy or not so much?
There is a perception that snacking in between meals isn’t healthy for our general health or for our waistline. I’m sure many remember their mother saying that you shouldn’t eat between meals because it will spoil your appetite come meal time; but is this actually the case.
Going long periods of time without food can actually make it difficult for us to get on with the hobs of the day, as blood sugar levels fall between meals and it becomes more difficult to concentrate. Some people are very sensitive to their blood sugar becoming lower and find themselves getting light headed and irritable as they struggle to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.
Breaking the gaps between meals with a little snack can help to maintain good blood sugar levels and enable us to work better, without the distractions which come with hunger and low blood sugar.
Of course as with most things it is not as easy as just eating regularly, with some snack foods being more beneficial to us that others and frequently when we are out and about the snack foods that are the easiest to come by are those that are probably not the most nutritious and healthy options. By this I am referring to the chocolate, confectionary, crisps and fizzy drinks which will provide only temporary relief from hunger, but the sudden rush of sugar entering the bloodstream will only lead to a dramatic insulin response in order to bring the levels under control and our levels will fall as quickly as they rose. This dramatic shift can actually make us feel worse that we did before we ate the snack and can actually make us crave more sugar.
So what should snacks consist of?
A key part is to keep an eye on the sugar content of the food. As shown, foods with a high sugar content may reduce hunger pangs in the short term but their quick absorption will mean that it is short lived. So watch out for sugar in the ingredients list, it may not even be called “sugar”, with many manufacturers using names such as “glucose”, “dextrose”, “fructose”, “barley malt”, “agave syrup” or “honey” (to name a few) and you may find that several of these are listed – all of which are basically sugar! And the content will add up.
Also, look for foods that contain only natural ingredients, avoiding those that have chemical-sounding names, such as preservatives, sweeteners, colouring and artificial flavourings.
Finally, look for foods which contain a source of protein and/or healthy fats, as these macronutrients can help to slow down the absorption of sugar and carbohydrates and therefore aid the body in maintaining its blood sugar balance and our energy levels – nuts and seeds are a great option.
Some snack ideas
Putting all of that into practice can seem daunting, so here are some suggestions for you to try:
1. Half an avocado on crispbreads with a drizzle of lemon juice and black pepper.
2. A few nuts and/or seeds with a piece of fruit.
3. Plain yoghurt with mixed berries and a sprinkling of seeds.
4. Vegetable crudites with dips like low fat hummus.
5. Oatcakes with cottage cheese.
6. Vegetable smoothies with a tablespoon of unsweetened protein powder – also a great way to increase your vegetable intake!
People often say that they only have time to grab something from a vending machine when they get hungry between meals, but the trick is to be prepared and either prepare something in advance or make sure that you are carrying a bag of mixed nuts and seeds with you. Having something already there will make the temptation of the vending machine less irresistible.