Let’s face it, there are times when we feel like eating between our main meals. While some people are completely anti-snacking, the truth is there is nothing wrong with snacking at all... Well, with a caveat. Snacking once or twice a day consistently can actually be part of a healthy diet.
The key is to avoid constantly grabbing something full of sugar, fat, and/or sodium. Instead, opt for snacks that fit into your daily calorie limits. By making mindful choices and selecting nutritious options, snacking can be a beneficial addition to your overall diet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends the average diet be 2,000 calories.
So what snacks are best?
Whole foods first
Wherever possible look for whole foods first. This means things like dates, apples, oats, and bananas. Remember that the ingredients on the packaging of your snack are listed in descending order by weight, so check out the first two or three ingredients to get a feel of what the product consists mainly of. Sometimes this is sugar or oil for example, which is carbohydrates or fat.
Take Simply Dates' berries bar for example: it's made up of 97.20% nutritious dates. Freakin' Healthy's apple pie bar combines three wholesome ingredients - hazelnuts, dehydrated apples pieces, and naturally sweet dates. Similarly Nairn's Oat Biscuits are crafted with gluten-free wholegrain oats as their first ingredient for maximum nutritional value without sacrificing taste. These tasty snacks make indulging in goodness easier than ever before.
Less processing, more nutritious ingredients
Additionally, less processing generally means (but not always) the more nutritious the snack. Usually, if there are five or more ingredients in the snack that you wouldn’t find in your average home kitchen, then this means the food is highly processed, which usually equates to a less nutritious snack. General substances and ingredients that food manufacturers tend to use in highly processed foods can be found here.
“Nutritious” snacking is what is important here as part of a healthy diet, and by this, I mean high in fiber, minerals, protein and vitamins while generally low in fat, sodium and sugar. So, while avocadoes are high in fat, for example, they are also loaded with vital nutrients, which make them a healthy choice – in moderation.
In terms of caloric value, generally a healthy snack is below 250 calories, but make sure you have read the label correctly and are eating the correct portion size. Click here to learn how to read nutrition labels.
When to snack?
The most popular approach is snacking between breakfast and lunch and then again between lunch and dinner.
The 3pm to 4pm dreaded energy slump is common and many people reach for a pick me up snack around this time. A snack between lunch and dinner and then after dinner can also work.
In short, there is actually no hard or fast rule here. If snacking fits into your daily limits, you could even follow one snack up immediately with the other if you wanted to. There are no strict guidelines.
A final word
Watch the caloric value of your snacks. It can be easier than you think to eat more calories than you burn, simply by having a blueberry muffin with your medium vanilla latte (500-700 calories).
A healthy mindset equates to healthy decisions – so notice the words you are telling yourself about snacking and make changes if needs be.
Mix things up for variety and to confuse the metabolism. See how it feels to go without snacking one day, and then the next add a snack in. Make one day an apple and carrot day, and the next a sweeter snack day. Or have a low carb day, followed by a high carb day, and change the time you snack.
By confusing the body, you can keep it working at its optimum. Nobody likes eating the same thing at the same time, day in and day out. Find out what works best for your body, by having a bit of fun with your snacks.
In conclusion, incorporating snacking into a healthy diet is not only possible but also essential for maintaining overall well-being and reaching your wellness goals. Remember, it's all about making mindful choices and opting for nutritious snacks that satisfy both your cravings and your body's nutritional needs. Happy snacking!
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Natalie is a qualified functional nutritionist, having studied the relationship to food, health and the environment at Stanford University; the importance of healthy body, mind, weight and intuitive eating at the Mind, Body and Food Institute in Australia; as well as sports nutrition. She is a firm believer of a holistic approach to nutrition, incorporating elements of gut health, movement and lifestyle into complete wellness programs.