Plenty of us eat fairly healthy fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but when it comes to snacks, sometimes the munchies can get the better of us, and we end up with a high sugar, high fat ‘treat’ food to get through the morning, boost our flagging energy levels at 3pm, or give ourselves a reward at the end of a hard day.
Apart from giving us a quick energy kick, these foods do nothing for us. Their quick-fire energy leaves us feeling more depleted and craving more junk to fill the energy void that’s left behind.
Quick release, fast burn
The energy from these high glycaemic load foods, that are high in sugar and low in fibre is released very quickly into our bloodstream, resulting in a release of insulin from our pancreas to help control the sugar kick and bring levels back down to normal. The problem is that the energy from these foods doesn’t just disappear, but rather is stored (thanks to the effects of insulin) as body fat around our (aptly named) muffin top!
The confusing and misleading thing is that in our quest for good health, we often rely on reading food labels to help us make an informed choice, but a lot of these snack foods that are marketed as diet foods, high protein snacks, low calorie bars and such like are not doing our waistlines any favours. They tend to be high in sugar, poor quality fats, artificial sweeteners and other rubbish that is very far removed from any natural food we might find in our kitchen cupboards.
Perhaps rather than relying on these over-processed snack foods, it is time to get back to basics and eat real food!
When choosing a snack to help maintain and sustain your energy levels, and help keep the sugar monster at bay, there are a few simple ingredients that will keep you right.
- Make sure you have some sort of protein in there, to make you feel fuller for longer.
- Tick the fibre box for a slow burn of fuel to keep you going.
- Eat something that packs an extra hit of vitamins and minerals into your day.
- If possible, add a source of healthy fats – nuts, seeds and houmous are good for this.
Snack Attack – what to eat!
Here are a few ideas that might work for you:
- Oatcakes & cheese – the best for protein is cottage cheese, but cheddar is fine too. Just stay away from ultra-processed cheeses (you know the one that look like a triangle, or are stringy!).
- Houmous & raw veg sticks like carrot, sugar snap peas, red pepper and cucumber. Choose full fat houmous, as it usually contains olive oil and tahini to give you a hit of healthy fats.
- A piece of fruit and a handful of nuts. Low sugar fruit include berries, cherries, kiwi, apple, pear and plums. Choose any nuts you like – almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts and hazelnuts are good choices.
- A chopped apple with sugar-free peanut butter. This unusual combination is super tasty and perfect if you get a mid-afternoon sugar craving.
- Natural yoghurt & berries. Keep some frozen berries in your freezer and defrost as you need them.
- Really dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids – the more cocoa, the less sugar chocolate tends to contain) with a few brazil nuts.
- Olives are a good alternative to salted nuts or crisps.
- Toasted coconut chips. Try them – they are delicious!
- No bake energy bites. There are plenty of great recipes around for low sugar energy balls, based on oats, nuts and seeds. Check out vital-nutrition.co.uk for some of my recipes and ideas.
- Roasted chickpeas and beans. Look out for healthy snacks like these in your local supermarket, or make your own by roasting chickpeas with some smoked paprika, a little cumin and a touch of sea salt. The fibre and plant-based protein is sure to get you through the afternoon energy lull.
This blog post first appeared in my column in The Irish News on Saturday 12 October 2019.