You may grab something quickly with your coffee at 10 or 11am, or hang out for a sweet hit after lunch but chances are you have some sort of snack throughout the day. The question of whether we need snacks at all is highly debated with some health professionals arguing the benefits of limiting ourselves to three square meals per day, while others will support the consumption of small frequent meals to optimise metabolism and help to control appetite throughout the day. The key thing to remember when it comes to snacks is that they need to be thought of as ‘mini meals’ and as such any snack we choose should ideally keep us full for at least 2-3 hours. Immediately this eliminates a number of highly processed snacks that offer little nutritionally. So if you are in need of some snacking inspiration, here are some of the better and not so good options to choose when the munchies do hit in between meals.
The best snacks
Greek yoghurt and berries
Teaming protein and calcium rich Greek yoghurt with antioxidant rich berries is a nutritional match made in heaven. Not only does the yoghurt have minimal sugars compared to many fruit yoghurts but it is also low GI which means it will help to keep blood glucose levels controlled for several hours after eating it. When it comes to fruit, any type of berries, fresh or frozen are relatively low in calories and packed full of fibre making them a perfect light snack choice in between meals.
Roasted broadbeans or chickpeas
Forget potato chips, rice crackers and other salty snacks, not only are roasted broadbeans and chickpeas as tasty and crunchy as many other popular snacks but they are relatively low in calories, a good source of protein and fibre and can be purchased in portion controlled packs for a perfectly sized snack to take you through to the next meal.
Nut based snack bars
It may surprise you to see nut bars referred to as opposed to plain nuts but one of the issues with snacking on nuts is that is can be exceptionally easy to overeat nuts, and consuming nuts in isolation means that your snack lacks carbohydrates some of which will be needed to help satisfy your appetite and restore blood glucose levels when you are hungry. All nuts are great choices nutritionally so you can either team 20 mixed nuts with a piece of fresh fruit to achieve nutritional balance with your snack or opt for one of the many nut bars on the market. There are many options available, many of which contain fewer than 10g of sugars per serve which is relatively low for a snack bar and offers a portion controlled way to enjoy your nuts with a little carbohydrate in a tasty, appealing snack.
Cheese and crackers
Often considered a treat type food, cheese is a nutrient dense food packed with protein, calcium and magnesium and when teamed with a wholegrain or corn based cracker offers a perfect balance of protein and carbohydrate as a filling snack option.
And the snacks to avoid
Nutritionally, rice crackers have very little to offer. They are a concentrated source processed carbohydrate and just 10 rice crackers (or a single row) is the carbohydrate equivalent of 2 slices of lower carb bread. So if you eat the entire packet you are looking at 100 plus grams of carbs, or almost your entire daily fuel requirement in a simple packet of crackers. The carbohydrate in rice crackers is also high GI carbs, meaning that they significantly increase blood glucose levels and a number of flavoured varieties also contain added MSG (621).
It may sound healthier than a muffin or cake, but the truth is that banana bread is still basically made from sugar, butter and white flour, which really equates to cake. If you consider that the average muffin or slice of banana bread contains more than 60g of total carbohydrate, or the equivalent of 4 slices of bread, 20-30g of fat and at least 4 teaspoons of sugar, it is safe to say that there is nothing healthy about this popular snack choice.
Many an office kitchen has one, the biscuit tin and if you consider yourself lucky enough to have an employer who does not skimp on the quality of biscuits in your office biscuit jar chances are you down a couple of your favourites at least a couple of times each week. The issue with biscuits is that they offer little nutritionally; are a potent mix of fat sugar and white flour and are so easy to eat mindlessly and add a couple of hundred calories into your day. When it comes to smart snacking try and avoid the biscuits entirely and think of them as special occasion treats rather than daily food habits.
It is easy to get confused with this one – how could something that comes from fruit, ones of nature’s wonderfoods not be healthy? The issue with fruit juice is that it is an extremely concentrated source of calories, calories that come from simple sugars. When you consider that it can take up to 3 or 4 whole pieces of fruit to make a single glass of fruit juice, and that means the sugar and calories of each of those pieces of fruit, it starts to become clearer as to why fruit juice can quickly equate to a calorie overload. Unlike fruit itself, fruit juice does not offer the fibre or ‘full’ factor that real fruit offers. If you do love your juice, try vegetable varieties instead which have far fewer calories and make sure any juice you do have is made using a single piece of fruit.