If you’re trying to eat more healthily or lose weight, what you eat between meals can have more of an impact than you realise. Snacking – or at least eating the wrong sort of snacks – can be your downfall if you don’t plan carefully and end up tempted by easily available foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt and calories.
Yet there are benefits to snacking on the right foods:
• It can prevent you from overeating at mealtimes. Most of us get hungry three to four hours after eating, and if we go for a lot longer than that without consuming food, by the time we get our next meal, we can overdo it and end up eating far more calories than we would if we’d kept hunger at bay with a snack.
• If you choose wisely, it can be a way to get healthy foods in your diet. Snacking can up your intake of five-plus fruit and veges a day, or calcium-rich dairy products such as yoghurt.
• It can help you maintain energy levels. Eating regularly can keep blood sugar levels stable, preventing dips that can deplete your physical and mental energy.
The important thing is to snack smartly. Here are some suggestions of how to do that:
• Eat food that is filling. High-protein snacks such as nuts or boiled eggs help you to feel full for longer. So do high-fibre foods with lots of grains, such as a wholegrain roll.
• Be wary of foods that say they’re fat-free. There’s a good chance they contain lots of added salt and sugar.
• Go easy on muesli bars – you might think they’re healthy but some brands can be full of unhealthy fats and added sugar.
• Mix and match. Combine a small amount of a food with healthy fats (peanut butter), with a large amount of fruit and vegetables (apple or celery).
• Be prepared. Have portable snacks, such as nuts or dried fruit, in your bag for times when you get hungry while out and about. They’ll help you to avoid the temptation of popping into a shop and buying a bag of chips or a chocolate bar.
• Don’t snack mindlessly. Shovelling food down your throat while watching TV, surfing the internet or working at your desk means you’re more likely to eat more. When you have a snack, stop what you are doing for a few minutes and concentrate on eating.