Is snacking actually good for you or is it just extra calories you don’t need?
Of all the dietary areas that have changed in recent years, a general position on the role of snacks is one of them. A few years back regular snacking was almost encouraged as a way to help optimise metabolism – small regular meals proposed to stoke the metabolic fire and keep us burning calories.
While there is a benefit associated with not going too long without food when it comes to metabolism, unfortunately the message of small frequent meals has been translated into regular large meals and resulted in us eating too much, too often.
The question of whether you need to snack will depend on many factors – how active you are; what time you eat your breakfast; how old you are and whether you enjoy large or small main meals? As a generally rule of thumb human beings need to eat every 3-4 hours which for the average person will translate into breakfast, early lunch, a midafternoon snack and dinner. If though you have breakfast especially early, or work out in the morning, you may find you need something small as well mid-morning.
So if you do find yourself genuinely hungry in between meals, here are some other questions to ask yourself to ensure you snack is a filling, satisfying mini meal, not just extra calories you do not need.
1) Will it fill you up?
If you do need to snack in between meals, your snack should keep you full for at least a couple of hours. Any less than this will see you eating too frequently to allow your natural hunger and fullness signals to function optimally, while any longer would suggest that your snack is more like a meal. Asking yourself this simple question before choosing your snack will also eliminate the easy to grab, yet low nutrient density snack food choices such as biscuits, potato chips, snack bars and chocolates which are unlikely to keep you satiated for any extended period of time.
2) Does it contain protein?
Unlike carbohydrate rich snacks such as muesli bars, biscuits, dried fruit and fruit snacks, snack choices which contain some protein will help to slow down the rate of digestion and as a result keep you fuller for longer after eating them. As a simple rule, combining a carbohydrate rich food such as fruit, crackers or a snack bar with a protein rich food such as yoghurt, cheese or nuts is an easy way to find the right nutritional balance for snacks.
3) Portion, portions, portions
When it comes to smart snacking, portion control is the key. Packets of potato chips, slices of banana bread, muffins and even yoghurts are frequently purchased in large serving sizes, large sizes which encourage us to eat far more than we need or even want. Ideally a snack should contain 200 calories or less. Get into a habit of checking nutritional labels or referring to calorie counting programs to keep an eye on extra-large snack choices that may be creeping in.
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4) Add in the vegetables
One of the most common reasons that we feel hungry in between meals is that we have not consumed enough salad or vegetable bulk as part of our meals. Simply adding low calorie vegetables into your daily snacks is an easy way to keep full and satisfied but to also add some nutrient rich fresh food into your diet. Cut up celery, carrots, snow peas and red capsicum make perfect snack accompaniments which will not only help bulk up your snacks but may even help you to control your weight long term.
5) Count the liquid calories
Milk-based coffee; juices, smoothies and protein shakes can be used as snacks but the calories do need to be counted. For example, a small latte is the snack, you do not need to add food as well. Keep in mind that fruit juices and smoothies can contain as much as 30-40g of sugars and as many calories as a snack and they are less likely to keep you as full as solid food. A vegie juice; small milk-based coffee or a protein shake with a piece of fruit are all nutritionally balanced, filling mid-meal snack choices.
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