Snacking in between your three main meals can play an important role in your daily diet - fuelling your body in between them. Go longer than three or four hours without eating and your blood sugar will drop, your metabolism slow and by the time you get some food you are likely to want to eat for England. But essentially, how successfully you snack largely depends on how healthy your snacks are.
Tackling the tea break energy slump
A study on healthy women has shown that eating a high protein snack (in this case 24g of protein in the form of Greek yogurt) curbed their appetite and subsequently how much they went on to eat afterwards.1 Most of us, it is probably fair to say, do not indulge our tea-break cravings with plain yogurt. When we experience those mid-morning and afternoon slumps when energy levels plummet and our brain feels like cotton wool we just want fuel to help us focus - and we want it fast - so our likely go-to snacks are cake, biscuits or chocolate.
These will certainly give you an instant energy hit but sadly a short-lived one as your blood sugar levels spike and then come crashing down. Plus, a snack that is high in sugar and low in fibre and/or protein is unlikely to keep you feeling satisfied for long and can rack up hundreds of calories (a doughnut is around 350 calories,2 for example) that are often nutritionally of little value. You can still eat biscuits and chocolate but the key is to look for healthier snack bar alternatives that are high in protein and fibre but low in sugar. If you fancy chocolate choose an antioxidant rich dark chocolate one and/or ideally with added vitamins or minerals.
Mini meals for dieters
Think snacks are the first thing that need to go if you are trying to lose weight? As long as you are not snacking on battered cream cakes or chips this is really not true. In fact, eating regular small healthy snacks throughout the day can help fire up your metabolism and encourage your body to burn fat. Plus, snacking has other weight-loss advantages - making you less likely to overeat when you do sit down to your main meal.
Some experts also recommend you eat a small high protein snack before you eat out to stop you overindulging. What is important is to make those snacks really work for you - they need to be filling, not too high in calories and nutritionally dense so they plug any nutritional gaps in your diet as well as keeping you feeling full and stoking your metabolism. And eat them slowly: chewing food thoroughly will help your appetite-regulating hormones kick in.
Ideally plan ahead when it comes to your snacks. These are all healthy, filling and nutritious options:
- a hard-boiled egg (now available from sandwich shops if you haven't had time to boil your own) with watercress
- a handful sized portion of roasted chickpeas (these pulses take on a nutty flavour when roasted and contain filling fibre and some protein)
- a handful of nuts like almonds and pistachios
- peanut butter spread on oatcakes
- around four teaspoons of hummus with a selection of raw vegetables
- a nutritionally balanced granola-style bar containing dried fruit or nuts
- a smoothie or other vitamin-packed drink made with 0% Greek yoghurt
- Greek yoghurt with seasonal berries
For convenience, try to keep unsalted nuts or a snack bar in your bag or office drawer for those times when you haven't had the time for a main meal, have just finished exercising, are pushed for time and/or you simply need a quick energy fix - this will help you from being tempted to go for something more sugary and less healthy.