To snack or not to snack—and on what

Health Tips from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

It’s 3 pm. My tummy rumbles rather audibly. I had a big lunch. Is it time for a trip to the vending machine? Or should I stick it out till dinner (and risk getting “hangry” on the bus home?)

It’s important we start thinking about food — and snacks — as fuel, says Rebecca Mercer, a dietetic intern in the Odette Cancer Centre’s Patient and Family Support Services.

She answered my burning questions about those mid-afternoon munchies and more.

Sometimes I get mixed messages: should we be snacking or not snacking?

Snacking can absolutely be part of a healthy diet — but it comes down to the quality and quantity of the snacks. It’s important that the snacks are just snacks, and not the calorie equivalent of a meal.

Ask yourself why are you motivated to munch? Bored? Hungry? Tired? Many different situations and emotions can trigger snacking so being mindful of what and why you are eating is a great place to start. There are different types of hunger and listening to your body can help you decide if you would benefit from a snack. This is what is referred to as mindful eating. If everyone in your 11 a.m. meeting can hear your stomach grumble, chances are you are physically hungry and could benefit from a healthy snack. If you find yourself reaching for the potato chips while you watch your favourite TV show shortly after dinner, perhaps the snack is not necessary.

Why should we see snacks as an opportunity to “fuel up”?

Nutritious snacks are a great way to fuel your body to avoid energy slumps that we often experience throughout the day. Having consistent energy levels can help prevent overeating at your next meal. Snacks are also a great way to reach our daily recommendations for different nutrients and should be viewed as an opportunity to fuel, rather than being a “treat” or way to pass time. They are a great opportunity to incorporate more fruits, vegetables and other high nutrient foods into your daily diet. Next time you are reaching for a snack, ask yourself “What in this food will fuel my body and how will it make me feel after?”

What are three or four go-to snacks that can give us a boost?

When I am reaching for a snack, I like to look for two things: protein and fibre.  Even better if you can pair them together. Protein helps us feel more satisfied after eating it, so it can prevent you from reaching for more food than you need. Fibre provides bulk to the food without adding calories, keeping us feeling fuller longer.

Some snacks that provide this dynamic duo include:

• Fruit with nut butter or nuts: i.e., apple and peanut butter, banana and ¼ cup of walnuts.

• Greek yogurt with berries: Greek yogurt is packed with protein.

• Two tablespoons of hummus and carrot or celery sticks.

• Hard-boiled eggs with a few whole grain crackers.

Are there certain times when we should reach for a snack?

The first sign that you may benefit from reaching for a healthy snack is physical hunger between meals. If your stomach is growling, chances are you could benefit from a nourishing snack. If you find that you are physically hungry while at work or throughout your day, keep healthy, convenient snacks within reach to avoid purchasing or over-eating a less healthy snack.

If you are planning on hitting the gym or working out a few hours after a meal, you may benefit from having a small strategic snack to fuel your workout. Heading into a workout hungry can leave you feeling light-headed, dizzy, nauseous or sluggish —all things that will limit your physical performance.  Reach for a snack that is around 100–200 calories and contains carbohydrates and protein. Some examples include rice cake with nut butter, a healthy granola bar, handful of dried fruit and nut trail mix. When purchasing granola bars, look for one with less than 8 grams of sugar and at least five grams of protein and four grams of fibre.

If you know you are going to have a late night at work or won’t have an opportunity to eat your meals at your regular time having a healthy snack on hand can help ward off hunger and reduce the likelihood of grabbing anything in sight. (We have all been there!)

Keeping fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and a healthy granola bar on hand can help hold you over.

Are there certain times when we should stop snacking / say no / do something else?

If you are bored, tired, anxious or stressed and not physically hungry, ask yourself whether or not you need a snack. Sometimes our bodies mistake thirst for hunger so making sure that you are adequately hydrated can help to avoid the confusion between hunger and thirst.

Listening to your own hunger cues and being mindful of why you are snacking is important. If it is just boredom or stress that has you reaching for food, try a healthier coping strategy like going for a walk, enjoying a cup of tea, or going through mindfulness exercise.


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Posted: Apr 16 2018 9:22 pm
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