Goodness Superfoods have just launched their new bars and it got me thinking about snacking. What exactly is a snack? Should we be snacking at all? And if we do how much and what should we eat?
The first point is that you don’t have to snack. There is no nutritional law that says in order to be healthy you need to be eating every couple of hours. In fact if you come to me for help to gain weight that is exactly what I’d get you doing. So for the rest of us who are at least trying to control our weight, if not actively lose it, eating all the time just doesn’t make sense. When I want to lose a little weight the first thing I do is stop eating between meals. The only qualifier is that if you get so hungry it results in over-eating, you would have better having a small snack. I advise having a snack if you’re hungry and it’s still 2 hours or more to mealtime.
So the first point is to recognise when you are eating for hunger and when you are eating for other reasons. If you’re not hungry yet you’re tempted to have a snack think about why it is that you want to eat. Eating is a largely pleasurable experience and so often we just want to do something nice. We treat ourselves to certain foods. Often we cheer ourselves up with certain foods. This may be a learned response from childhood. If you were often given an ice-cream as reward for being good, as an adult you may find yourself continuing to reward yourself in that way. When you’ve had a tough day at work some people reach for a glass of wine, others hit the gym and the food rewarders think “I deserve something tasty after the day I’ve had”. Some of this kind of behaviour is normal and may never be an issue. But if it leads to frequent overindulgent eating of energy dense foods, it’s highly likely to be contributing to weight and health problems.
Sometimes we eat just because we are bored or we are procrastinating. I know when I’m writing on deadline and can’t find my words, I frequently think “oh I’ll just make a cup of tea and have a bite to eat”. Or we eat because someone else is and so we join in on the activity. Sometimes we eat as an energy pick me up. The 3pm queue for coffee and a muffin or slice of banana bread is no coincidence. Eating and especially a hit of sugar into the bloodstream does tend to make you feel more alert and the flush of feel good hormones improves your mood, at least temporarily.
So what can we do to limit this kind of non-hungry eating? You need to have effective strategies in place before the situation arises. Don’t wait until you are in that coffee queue to think about how you’ll avoid the banana bread. By then you’re facing temptation and it will be hard to resist. Instead do plan and have to hand a healthy snack. A portion controlled, healthy choice is a good idea for that mid-afternoon slump. It’s especially important if you’re going to do some exercise in the early evening. But the key word there is portion controlled. For most of us a snack of between 500kJ and 750kJ is all we need. If you’re a big bloke up to 1000kJ and only more if you’re trying to gain muscle mass. A slice of banana bread can be well over 2000kJ! It’s not hard to see how you can overeat without really feeling like you are eating much. A Goodness Superfoods bar by contrast is just over 500kJ. It’s also high in fibre, low in sugar and has a low GI. I’m really pleased with how they turned out and I can hand on heart recommend them as an appropriate snack choice for most people. Other great choices include a piece of fruit and a yoghurt, a handful of mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit, or a homemade smoothie with berries and chia seeds. Bottom line snacking can be healthy or can be contributing to your waist line. Choose wisely and schedule to snacks for when you really are hungry between meals.