Happy Nutrition Month! I thought this would be a good time to shed some light on a nutrition topic that I see a lot of confusion around when I’m talking to my friends and clients… snacking!
It always surprises me how frequently I speak to people who perceive snacking as something negative. At the same time, snacking is on the rise – according to the Hartman Group, around 50% of eating occasions are now snacks, which account for about one-third of adult calorie consumption in the US.
So let’s reframe things where snacks are concerned.
A snack is a small amount of food eaten between meals. Its purpose is to bridge the gap between full meals, fuel activities, and provide small bursts of energy. A snack is not intended to satisfy cravings or the munchies – those are treat occasions, and I think it can be helpful to separate them from snacking occasions, if only in your head.
When people ask me about healthy snacking, produce + protein is always the first thing I tell them, and I think it’s a great goal to have in mind when planning out healthy snacks. The combination of produce and protein tends to be satiating due to the combination of dietary fiber from the produce together with the protein, which means that the food will move through your digestive system at a moderate pace while keeping blood sugar levels stable. Reaching for a bunch of crackers, on the other hand, can cause your blood sugar to spike then crash, which will wreak havoc on both your appetite and your energy levels.
Examples of produce + protein snacks:
- Hummus and carrot sticks
- Apple slices with peanut butter
- Greek yoghurt with a handful of grapes
When reaching for a snack, be mindful that the purpose of the snack is to bridge to your next meal, not become a meal in of its self. While our bodies need fuel, we also benefit from giving ourselves a break from constant digestion. With this in mind, when you’re choosing snacks go for portions that will leave you satisfied yet ensure you’ll still be hungry when the time comes for your next meal.
Examples of snack-sized portions
- 2 Tbsp hummus and 1 cup of carrot sticks
- 1 sliced apple with 1 Tbsp peanut butter
- 1/2 cup Greek yoghurt with 1/2 cup of grapes
If your snack is intended to either fuel or recover from a workout, it should follow a different set of parameters. For example, to fuel my lunch hour swim and get me through to my late lunch, I often choose an oat bar or a portion of overnight oats to bridge between a very light breakfast (typically a green smoothie) and a hearty late lunch. Any snacking between lunch and dinner follows the above guidelines because I’m not fuelling an activity.
Mindfulness is an important component of smart snacking. Many of the people I work with who perceive snacking as a negative habit are snacking in a way that leaves them feeling badly about themselves. Y’all know I don’t believe in food guilt, and this situation can often be alleviated with some simple mindfulness exercises.
For example, ask yourself why you’re reaching for a snack. Are you tired? Bored? Lonely? Sad? Having a craving? Or are you legit hungry? If the answer is anything other than true hunger, try replacing the snack with something else, like a quick walk around the block, some simple stretches, or a nice cup of tea. If you’ve done those things and you still want a snack, then have one.
Ask yourself what kind of snack you really want. Is it salty? Crunchy? Sweet? If you’re in the mood for something crunchy and you bully yourself into having a cup of yoghurt instead, it’s likely not going to fit the bill. But if you’re after crunchy does it have to be potato chips? Or can it be celery instead?
For many of us, if snacking occasions happen when we’re tired and hungry, we have a difficult time controlling both the type of snack and the portion. One of the ways I work around this is to pre-portion those trigger foods into individual servings. For example, if you buy a big bag of nuts, take some time to pre-portion them into single servings in small jars or baggies. Sure you can always reach for another, but the fact that they’re pre-portioned demands a moment of pause that creates a moment for mindfulness. Are you actually still hungry, or has that message not yet reached your brain? Would a cup of tea satisfy you now? Just take a moment and think about it.
Another thing I often recommend for people who are trying to get their snacking under control is to keep a snacking journal. Take note of how you were feeling when you reached for a snack, what the snack was, how you felt after you ate it. Even if you reach for a snack and then have a mindful moment and decide not to eat it, or to swap it out for a healthier or portion controlled alternative, make a note of that.
I’ve got loads of healthy snack ideas, I so thought I’d start sharing them here. Starting tomorrow I’m going be sharing a healthy snack idea each week, so be sure to check back, and continue to check the Snack Attack category for weekly snack suggestions.