The wide range of diets available these days and the increasing popularity of a variety of dieting plans has led to confusion over snacking.
Should we outlaw snacking altogether? Should we only do it every now and again? Is it good for us?
These are some of the dilemmas people face when undertaking a diet or healthy eating plan. However, it is fine to snack. What we need to be mindful of is the kind of snacks we eat.
This guide to healthy snacking can help you to decide what to snack on, how to prepare healthier snacks and make sure you aren’t tempted by the convenient foods that so often prove to be our downfall.
Benefits of healthy snacking
There are a number of health benefits which come with mindful, healthy snacking. These include:
- Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Assisting with weight loss
- Benefitting mental health
- Positively impacting athletic performance
When to snack
Just because you might always have a flapjack with a coffee at 11am every day, it doesn’t mean you should.
Don’t feel compelled to snack because it is part of your daily routine; do it when you’re feeling a little bit hungry.
Think of a scale from one to five, where one is starving and five is feeling stuffed. You need a snack when you’re at two or three. Many people won’t reach that mark until a few hours after a meal, for others it may be much sooner.
If you are trying to lose a few pounds are not feeling truly hungry, try holding out until lunch and have your first snack in the afternoon.
A study conducted in 2011 by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle found that subjects who skipped mid-morning snacks lost more weight that those who didn’t.
What to snack on
A good rule of thumb when choosing your snacks is to opt for something that’s roughly between 150 and 250 calories, with three grams of fibre, five grams of protein and no more than 12 grams of fat.
Protein helps to keep you feeling satisfied and fuller for longer after eating, as too does fat, so you shouldn’t feel the need to grab another snack soon after.
You’ll also be more likely to eat less at your next meal - a bonus if you are being particularly mindful over the amount of food you eat.
In reality, it is difficult to hit all these targets with every snack. Instead, aim for an overall balance.
If one snack is short on protein, for example, make sure your next one has a bit extra.
How to snack
Careful, planned snacking is the best way to go. Treat each snack as a mini meal by sticking to one serving and, if you can, put it on a plate.
Experts believe that we tend to associate a clean plate with feelings of satisfaction and fullness, which might not come from an empty wrapper or packet.
Keep a small plate in your desk drawer at the office and place your foods on this before eating them. Seeing the clean plate after may trigger increased feelings of satiety.
Also, try to not distract yourself as you snack and carry this through to your regular meals too.
Studies have shown that when you’re distracted at mealtimes (through watching box sets, for example) you may be more likely to over snack later on. When we eat, we take in information about the meal, from smells to flavours, how satisfied we feel and the feeling of eating it.
If we fail to create these ‘meal memories’ we risk tricking our brains into feeling like we haven’t eaten enough, which leads to snacking later on.
Ditch the processed foods
This is where many of us go wrong. Many packaged foods such as bars, cookies, crisps and bakery goods are packed with additives and preservatives that make losing weight that bit much harder.
Even packaged options which are labelled as ‘diet’, ‘low fat’ or ‘reduced sugar’ are still packed with additives and other nasty surprises to compensate for the reduction in fats, sugars and so on.
Always read the labels before choosing a pre-packaged snack, you might be surprised what’s lurking inside.
Make your own
Preparing your own fresh, healthy snacks can go a long way to ensuring you eat mindfully and healthily.
If you like meal prep, you can take a bit of extra time to put together snacks. Here are a few suggestions you can try.
- Energy bites – Coconut fat balls, cookie dough balls, peanut butter balls
- Granola – simple homemade granola
- Granola bars – take a handful of ingredients and turn them into delicious bars
- Homemade crisps – parsnips, carrot, sweet potato, beetroot
- Snack combinations – celery sticks and hummus, crackers and cheese, crackers and avocado, apple slices and peanut butter, small fruit smoothie
How to control cravings
No matter how well your healthy eating plan is going, you will have those moments where you are tempted to treat yourself.
You might think one bar of chocolate or a bag or crisps won’t hurt, but you’ll be surprised how easily that can derail the progress you’re making.
If, despite your best dieting plans, sweet treats still call out to you, there could be other factors at play – such as stress or fatigue. However, there are a few tactics you can use to stave off a junk food binge.
Walking can help to prevent mindless snacking. Researchers at the University of Exeter have discovered that going for a walk can reduce the temptation to binge on junk food.
Stress, boredom and tiredness are all factors that can cause us to snack when we’re not hungry and exercise can be a way of combating this.
A lack of sleep has long been shown to be associated with overeating in general, but it has also been linked to oversnacking.
Inadequate sleep can change your body’s levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness.
Getting a regular seven to nine hours of sleep each night can help to put these hormones back into balance.
If you’re tempted to snack in the same place or at the same time every day (when at your desk or on the sofa after dinner, for example) other cues could be to blame.
Research from the Annual Journal of Nutrition in 2004 suggested that lighting and temperature have an effect on how much you eat.
Keep the temperature in your home warmer or throw on a sweater if you can’t turn down the air conditioning since you’re are more likely to eat a greater amount of food in colder temperatures.
Also, switch on brighter lights. Research suggests that dim or soft lighting can lead people to eat more food.
There’s nothing wrong with snacking, provided you’re doing it mindfully. As we’ve seen, there are many factors which lead to us making poor snacking choices.
If you can take control of how you snack, through the preparation of healthier options or by using exercises to change your habits, you will ensure that you don’t let snacks become your downfall.