I want to ask you something a bit personal: are you a snacker? The reason I’m asking is that I am, and I want to know if I am talking to likeminded people. I want reassurance that you are not part of a super breed of disciplined, shiny-haired, perfect, and frankly annoying people who are never hungry between meals. Or worse still (for me), get hungry but ignore and override the tummy rumbles that have lesser folk (that’ll be me) either grabbing whatever’s handy and not actually toxic, or fantasising about inhaling a family-sized packet of crisps/chocolate/yogurt-covered nuts/apples (okay, that last one is not realistic). If you are one of these perfect folk, I envy you. Now go and read my tofu recipes and come back later when I post a main meal. The rest of you Norma(n) Normals, I want to have a brief chat about snacking. Just brief, mind you. I get hungry after a few paragraphs and need to go for a forage in the cupboards.
Perversely we, in our Western, all-you-can-eat society, see snacking as a bad thing, a sign of weakness, a one-way ticket to Obesity Central. We are surrounded by and saturated with messages to eat this snack bar, those chips, that preservative-pumped whatnot, but also told to be slim, have control and take such-and-such drugs to achieve a celebrity body. How bizarre is that?
But snacking is not inherently bad. Sure it has its down sides – as we are all too aware – but really there are more benefits to snacking than detractions. It’s all in the detail. It always is. And rarely does benefit come in a plastic wrapper with a 2014 use-by date attached.
In the interests of balance, there are a few reasons why snacking can be mad, bad and dangerous to do. Snacking can mean extra, unaccounted for calories. This even goes for hummous dip, organic dark chocolate and apple crisps, things we think of as having haloes. These are good foods to have in a healthy diet but we need to factor them into our daily calorie/energy needs. It is all too easy to see snacks as not really counting: it’s only one biscuit, it’s just a piece of toast.
Closely linked to the above, eating unhealthy snacks on a regular basis– things from wrappers mainly – inevitably causes weight gain. If we aren’t careful, that innocuous daily packet of ‘lite’ crisps can lead to a waist-spreading 15 lbs in weight-gain over a year, and new wardrobe. Ouch.
Snacking when you are so hungry that others think they hear thunder in the distance is not good. Your body is programmed in this situation to grab and eat anything that is high in energy (calories) to get it back on track. Okay in the short term – just – but as a long-term coping strategy, no way. Think and plan ahead: don’t let yourself get that hungry (how miserable for you and your friends/colleagues), but also keep healthy snacks to hand for when you start to get peckish (more later). We cannot make reasoned, healthy choices when super hungry. Fact.
Distracted eating makes for weight gain Watching television is the big culprit here. We all know it is easy to miss the cues of over-eating when you are distracted by who’s doing what to whom on your soap. If you want to snack in front of the gogglebox keep things like cherry tomatoes, apples, air-popped popcorn in your graze-line, and stuff like Quality Street out. But really it’s better to be a ‘conscious eater’, aware of every bite that goes in to your mouth, how it feels and tastes. This is a much more satisfying way to eat, and because it automatically slows us down, we are less likely to overeat. In a future post I will talk a bit more about mindful eating. Right now I need to practise more of what I preach…
So, to the benefits of eating healthy, blood sugar-balancing snacks.
It can help get you closer to your five-a-day. Apples, bananas, plums, grapes, baby carrots, pepper strips – all are great snacks and very portable with little if any prep, as good snacks should be.
Being hungry is a real mood downer, but having something in your tum, especially something long-lasting with fibre, a little protein and fat, positively boosts mood. This is because it helps keep the all-important blood sugar levels on an even keel. Low blood sugar equals bad mood and poor food choices.
Healthy snacks, again long-lasting, sugar-balancing ones, really can help with appetite and weight control in the long run. Most sensible diet plans actively encourage modest snacking to keep blood sugar levels balanced and lessen the risk of ‘cheating’.
Healthy snacks can help us keep more mentally alert, especially during the near-universal afternoon slump. Although we often reach for a coffee and a biscuit for a quick lift, something like a glass of skimmed milk and a pot of grapes and an oatcake or whole-wheat cracker might be better in the long run – caffeine and sugar vs a bit of protein and complex carbohydrates. It’s really no contest. The biscuit and coffee option is okay occasionally but I bet you’ll find (or already know) that having protein and starchy carbohydrates is a winning combination for energy and weight management.
What are your favourite healthy snacks? What are your best ways of beating the afternoon slump? We all have little strategies sto get us from one meal to the next without demolishing the cookie jar, and I would love it if you shared them. Please feel free to comment, and maybe share your own ideas and stories. I would really love to hear about great snack ideas for children. I post blood-balancing, healthy and tasty snacks in amongst the usual meal ideas, so please check back. Or, better yet, subscribe and not miss a thing.