Snacking is good – but only if the snack is good

A study published at the end of last year suggested that including a snacking could be good for us.

Rather than adding unnecessary calories to our daily diet, a couple of well chosen snacks could help improve our fibre intake, make sure we reach our daily five-a-day target, and increase our vitamin and mineral intake substantially.

Who should snack?

All of us are different, so some people will thrive on their ‘three square meals’ a day, while others find that eating little and often suits them better. I find that my clients with digestive issues tend to prefer smaller portions of food throughout the day, which can be easier to digest and not so heavy on their system.

Older people can also benefit from snacking as a useful way of increasing their nutrient intake, helping maintain energy levels and support digestive health.

Children and teenagers tend to raid the fridge and cupboards for snacks when they get hungry, so having some healthy store-cupboard foods means they are likely to get an extra nutritional boost from their after-school snack, rather than a sugar-rush and energy crash from high-sugar foods.

Hit the sugar

Of course, it really depends on what you are snacking on. In this part of the world, we are fond of a biscuit or two with our afternoon cuppa and love nothing more than a bag of Tayto and a bar of chocolate to keep us going. We are people with a very sweet tooth, and it is not doing our health any favours.

If your snack of choice tends to be sweets, crisps and chocolate, then making small changes to nudge your diet in the right direction is the best idea. Rather than clearing out the cupboards to make way for the healthy snacks, take a look at what you are eating and check the food label. Check out the sugar content in particular.

For example, most chocolate bars contain around 60g sugar per 100g (anything over 22.5g per 100g is high). If you switched to chocolate digestives, you would have 28.5g per 100g, and if you made the switch to plain digestives, you’d be down to 16g per 100g.

That is a massive reduction in our daily sugar hit. Swapping a 45g bar of dairy milk (containing 25g sugar per bar) to two digestive biscuits (containing 2.5g sugar per biscuit) would reduce your sugar intake by 20g – that’s a whopping five teaspoonfuls, not to mention the additional fibre you are getting from the digestive biscuits.

I am not saying that a digestive biscuit is the healthiest choice, but it is definitely healthier than a chocolate bar.

What makes a healthy snack?

If we can choose snacks based on fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and dairy products, we can eat our way to better health.

Here are some healthy snack ideas:

  • Some chopped vegetables with dips (eg houmous, guacamole, yoghurt dip)
  • Natural yoghurt with berries and toasted seeds
  • 2 oatcakes with cheese
  • Carrot sticks and houmous
  • Sliced apple with sugar-free nut butter (almond or cashew nut butter is preferable to peanut butter)
  • Really dark chocolate (at least 70 per cent cocoa solids) with a few Brazil nuts
  • A piece of fruit
  • A small bowl of soup
  • Mixed nuts
  • Celery sticks with cream cheese
  • A hard boiled egg
  • Coconut chips (unsweetened of course)
  • Olives
  • Dates with nuts

This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 7 March 2020.