If there is one area of nutrition in which the thinking has changed significantly in recent years it is in relation to snacking. Once considered extremely important to keep the metabolism pumping, what was once a small snack of a piece of fruit or a coffee is more likely now a small meals worth of calories as we overdo the muffins, snack bars and smoothies. The issue with this is that we tend to eat far too much, too often which inevitably leads to weight gain. So do you need to snack and if so, what are your best choices?
A snack should be thought of as a ‘mini meal’ – a mix of food that is substantial enough to keep you full and satisfied for at least a couple of hours. Common snacks we grab such as muffins, biscuits, packets of crackers and chips are highly processed and packed full of carbohydrates that are digested relatively quickly. Here we are left unsatisfied, craving more sweet food and more likely to overeat in general. Frequent snacking can also become habitual, so every time you boil the kettle, grab a coffee or even sit at the desk you are looking for something to eat.
Nutritionally a well-balanced snack should contain 100-200 calories along with some protein and or / dietary fibre to slow digestion and keep you fuller for longer after eating. Nutritious, filling options include a milk coffee, cheese and crackers, nuts and fruit, a protein based nut or snack bar or wholegrain crackers with topping.
Whether or not you need to snack is largely individual. For active people who eat their breakfast early in the day and who are genuinely hungry mid-morning, a snack may be warranted. For many others though, who do not eat breakfast until 8 or 9am, it is unlikely a snack is required prior to lunchtime. For most people, the longest period of time in between meals is that between lunch and dinner, and as such a 3-4 pm top up, if hunger is experienced, will help prevent late afternoon binge eating. Very few of us genuinely need to snack after dinner, and as such if you must eat extra food throughout the evening, low calorie foods are the best options.
Most importantly, if your goal is to reduce snacking the key is to avoid keeping tempting foods in the home. It has been shown that one of the strongest predictors of discretionary or ‘extra’ food consumption is availability. This means that if you keep biscuits, chocolates, lollies and other treat style foods at home, you will eat them. So basically if you do not buy it, it is pretty difficult to eat it and one of the easiest ways to control high calorie snacking at home.