You may have got the message that snacking is bad for you from your childhood – ‘Don’t snack!’ our mothers told us, ‘you’ll spoil your appetite!’ But today we know that snacks don’t have to be junk food, and with the right choices, you can make snacking a healthy part of your diet.
• Blood sugar dips three to five hours after you eat. Hunger can throw your body into famine mode, which slows metabolism and makes it easier to pack on the kilos. Eating small, frequent snacks keeps your metabolism revved up and helps normalise blood sugar.
• Avoiding extreme hunger increases the likelihood that you’ll pick the healthy snack rather than raid the vending machine or overeat at meals.
• Many people suffer from heartburn after eating large meals, particularly if they have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux. Eating smaller meals and snacking on healthy foods can help prevent GERD flare-ups while ensuring you receive the proper amount of kilojoules and nutrients.
• Stay away from “empty kilojoule” foods that offer little or no nutritional value, such as chocolate (unless it’s dark), sweets, cake or greasy chips. Such nutrient-poor, sugary snacks have a low glycaemic index (GI). They give you a quick jolt of energy that is followed by a crash that can leave you hungry, cranky, sleepy and unable to concentrate. Not to mention hungry.
How to snack smart
The best way to avoid eating food that you shouldn’t is to not keep any around. Rather stock up on the right kinds of foods (see list, below) so you have them at hand when your stomach starts to grumble. On most days you would need a morning and an afternoon snack, so plan accordingly.
Make sure your smart snacks are close at hand: in your desk drawer, cubbyhole of your car, briefcase, gym bag, handbag, and so on.
What to snack on
The best snacks to help you curb cravings are high-fibre, low-fat, low-GI foods – they’re healthier, and will help you feel fuller for longer. A good rule of thumb is to eat no more than what can fit in the palm of your hand. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
• Fresh fruit: bananas, apples, fruit salad – anything you like, really. Dried fruit such as raisins are also a good option.
• Veggies: crunchy carrots make a great snack food, or try some crudités (veggies such as peppers, carrots and celery cut into sticks) with a little hummus or fat-free, smooth cottage cheese as a dip.
• Low-fat yoghurt
• Two or three whole-wheat crackers or Provitas with a little cottage cheese and cucumber. You could substitute the cottage cheese with about 100g lean meat or fish (turkey or chicken breast, or tinned tuna in brine).
• Dark chocolate. Having one or two small blocks will satisfy your cravings for sweets and give you a load of antioxidants (try not to have it as a snack more than twice a week though).
• Cheese: a small block of cheddar can help keep hunger at bay. Don’t eat cheese as a snack more than twice a week though, as it has a high fat content. Combine it with chopped tomato or fruit for a more filling effect.
• Nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts, make great snack foods as they are nutritious and low GI. Go for raw, unsalted nuts for maximum benefit.