‘What can I eat for a snack?’. This could well be the question we get asked most. Once the principles of healthy eating are conveyed, it’s a lot more straightforward to apply them to breakfast, lunch and dinner. But when it comes to snacks, our clients often draw a blank. That’s because, traditionally, snacks do not fit the blueprint for healthy food. In this series of blogs, we attempt to answer the question of what to eat at each meal. In this blog, we answer the question ‘What can I eat for a snack?’.
To find out why this is a common question, take a look at the first of the series: ‘What can I eat for lunch?’
Read on to find out more about snacks.
The binge eating habit
Most of us have been there. Lunch at 12, no opportunity to eat before dinner at 8pm. You’re ravenous. You have some munchies as soon as you get in – crisps, peanuts, something like that. Does anyone remember those garlic flavoured crunchy things called Mignons Morceaux? I used to eat those! Maybe two bags. Then you’ll have a huge dinner, big portions, and go back for seconds. If you’re cooking for yourself you’ve probably decided what you’re having before you get home. You’re thinking pizza, curry, massive bowl of pasta with a creamy sauce. Once that’s demolished, you’ll probably round it off with a calorific finish – ice cream, or the chocolate mousse you bought on the way home, or cheese maybe.
Is that you?
Or maybe you get home, head straight for the fridge and stand there with the fridge door open, popping in pieces of cheese or processed meat. Maybe you feel you need that snack when you get home. You pop in a couple of pieces of toast, butter them and cover them in peanut butter. Is that you? If it is, just be aware you’re putting in around 500 calories of fat and fast acting carbohydrate.
Or perhaps you deliberately abstain, ‘saving’ yourself for dinner. Either way, the feeding behaviour and the outcome is the same. Binge eating. This wouldn’t be so bad if you binged on healthy, calorie sparse foods. But we’re not wired that way. Our hormones are telling us to get some calories, so we tend to go for sweet, fatty, instantly gratifying calorie dense food. We also tend to eat too quickly, putting down a lot of tucker before any ‘full’ signals. And then…. bosh! You’ve had your daily calorie allowance in one meal. And that’s on top of breakfast and lunch.
Why do we have snacks?
There’s a school of thought that you shouldn’t snack. If you’ve been brought up on the 3 meals a day mantra then you may avoid snacking in the belief that snacks lead to calorie excess. Instead, you stick to 3 meals a day with huge gaps between meals. In reality, this just drives poor eating behaviours and leads to excess calorie intake over those 3 meals.
Snacks are for filling the gap, they’re a good thing. Have the right snack between lunch and dinner and you can avoid over consuming at dinner. Not only can snacks avert poor eating behaviours, but they are an opportunity to feed yourself some goodness and get some muscle sparing protein.
The ideal snack
A snack should take the edge off your hunger and keep it off. You want to arrive at dinner time ready for a nice meal but not so ravenously hungry that you shovel in 2000 calories before your brain has a chance to modify your behaviour. Choose the right snack and you’ll be fine. Choose the wrong snack and it’ll leave you just as hungry or, worse, even hungrier!
So, what is the right snack?
Some research has been done on what foods satisfy us the most and keep us full for longest. The ‘satiety index’ and the ‘fullness factor’ are both useful concepts on the topic. And there are some articles that are a nice summary of both.
But it’s not enough of a summary for this blog! Basically, it boils down to this: if your meal or snack has all the following elements then it will keep you fuller for longer:
- Slowly digesting complex carbohydrate
Ideally the snack will also be nutritious, providing some healthy goodness, and calorie sparse, providing satisfaction without too many calories.
The ideal time to have a snack is when you feel hungry. Often this is just before you commute home. Don’t save yourself! Have the snack and arrive home without feeling like you need to stuff yourself. You’ll eat a lot less for dinner or when you get home if you just take the edge off by having that snack.
The wrong snacks
You might have already guessed that people’s usual choices are generally poor choices. Let’s look at some typical snacks
They tick all of the pleasure boxes – crunchy, salty, instantly gratifying – but none of the ‘good snack’ boxes. Little protein, no liquid, little fibre, fast digesting refined carbs, calorie dense and lacking in goodness.
Mars bar or chocolate
Calorie dense, lacking goodness, protein, fibre, liquid and slow digesting carbs. The high fat content will slow the digestion a little, but the insulin output will ensure that you are hungry before dinner.
Biscuits and a cup of tea
Loaded with sugar and fat, no protein, very little fibre. Do you find it difficult to have just one biscuit? Are you more likely to scoff half the packet?
Very fast digesting carbs, low in protein, fibre and liquid.
Fast digesting carbs, low in protein, fibre and liquid.
Calorie dense, low in protein, low in liquid, relatively fast digesting carbs. You might be thinking nuts are high in protein as is so often said. Not so. They are high in fat – typically 50g per 100g and often quite low on protein, sometimes as low as 7g per 100g.
Ticks some boxes, but crucially is low in protein. Also, ripe bananas can be quite fast digesting. Apples are better, but still lacking protein. Any fruit eaten on its own will not keep you full for long enough because of the low protein content.
What do all these snacks have in common? They
- Are all instantly gratifying and ‘easy’.
- Will go in your bag – even your pocket – without making a mess.
- Won’t go off, at least not during the course of a day.
- Will fit nicely in a vending machine.
They have these properties because most of them are refined, dried, processed foods designed for a long shelf life. ‘Shelf life’ and ‘filling snacks full of goodness’ are, to some extent, mutually exclusive!
Better choices – the (minor) challenge
Obviously better choices will keep you full for longer, plugging that all important gap. Ideally, they will meet the ‘filling snack’ criteria, provide some goodness and deliver a sensible number of calories. If they are also ‘easy’, then there’s your cherry on the cake, so to speak. And no, cake doesn’t tick any of the boxes!
But there’s the rub. ‘Easy’ snacks are usually dried out for preservation, taking away the need to refrigerate and removing the risk of mess. Often the best snacks will require you to have a fridge at your place of work. If that’s home, great, snacking is easier. In the case of a workplace, well, often there’s a fridge. If it’s on the road, then you’ll need a cool bag. It’s not difficult, it just requires a little more organisation.
That said, there are some snacks that tick most of the boxes and are ‘handy’ but they may lack liquid. Why does a snack need liquid? Because liquid fills the stomach and swells the soluble fibre to keep you full for longer. The solution is simple, of course. Just have a glass of water with your snack.
Let’s take a look at some examples of better snacks.
What can I eat for a snack? Try these
Here are some ideas for better snacks that tick most of the ‘good snack’ boxes.
Greek and fruit
That banana from earlier – it’s good, but lacks protein. Add a pot of 0% fat Greek yoghurt and you’ve got the protein you need and a bit more liquid. Choose the 0% so you can decide what fat, if any, you put in it. Pumpkin seeds will add a nice crunch of healthy fats.
Chicken breast and fruit
Why not? A two-course snack. Bit of chicken, maybe spiced, followed by a nana or a couple of apples. It ticks all the boxes other than easy and then only because you need a fridge.
Oatcakes and cottage cheese
Oatcakes are a little processed, but they are slow digesting and contain a good deal of soluble fibre. Low fat cottage cheese adds the wet and the protein.
Veggies and a Greek dip
This is a great snack but has potential to be messy. Strips of pepper, cucumber, carrot… whatever takes your fancy. Have them with a dip based on 0% Greek yoghurt. A spicy dip or a minty yoghurt dip like the one at the bottom of our blog on dips is a great choice. Fill your boots with this snack, it’s pretty calorie sparse and ticks all the boxes aside from the ‘easy’ box.
Veggies and cottage cheese
Similar to the yoghurt dip, works really well with celery.
Tuna, cherry tomatoes, balsamic, fresh basil
Take half a punnet of cherry tomatoes, cut them in half, mix in a small tin of tuna and a tablespoon or two of balsamic. Tear up a few basil leaves. Voila, a tangy, tasty, filling and nutritious snack. Have a piece of fruit with this for a few more carbs and extra goodness.
Protein shake and a piece of fruit
If you take the protein powder with you then this snack becomes ‘handy’. Then all you have to do is add the water. Now, that said, this works better with a casein-based protein shake. But, in my experience, casein needs a little time to mix and thicken to make it more filling. Whey is ok, but it is rather fast digesting compared to casein.
These are just immature soybeans in their pod. The good news is, although vegan, the protein is complete and there’s a decent amount of it. 200g of edamame will deliver over 20g of protein and around 250 calories. In my view these are better lightly salted. You can buy these already cooked or simply steam them yourself.
Life Force Fitness protein jelly and a piece of fruit
Take a look below at our recipe.
Protein bars or protein flapjacks
They are ‘handy’ for sure. They have protein, fibre and slow digesting carbs. But they lack liquid, so have them with a big glass of water to help them fill you up more. Yes, they are processed foods and lack healthy nutrients, but they are a reasonable substitute if you’re driving, for example, or you can’t open up your usual Tupperware-stored snack in a meeting. Eating something that resembles a chocolate bar in meetings seems to be acceptable. Try that with the tuna-tomato snack and you’ll get a different vibe from the other meeting attendees!
Greek, oats, berries. It’s got everything you need from a snack and it provides lots of healthy nutrients. True, it tends to be more of a breakfast option than a snack as the oats add a good deal of healthy carbohydrate calories, but if you downsized this one it would also make a great snack.
If you like your crunchy spicy snacks then this one would fit the bill. Really slow digesting carbs, lots of protein and fibre. It’s also ‘handy’, can fit in your bag and there’s no need to refrigerate it. It’s low in liquid, but have a glass of water with it and it ticks all the boxes.
Life Force Fitness Protein Jelly
Here’s a screenshot from our recipe book. Give it a go! Have it with a piece of fruit for a great snack.
How to adopt the right snacking habits and avoid binge eating
Here is a list of things you can do to adopt good snacking habits
- Do snack! Saving yourself until dinner will only lead to binge eating
- Remove tempting items – crisps, peanuts, chocolate – from your house and your shopping. Replace them with healthy options. At least then if you do find yourself ravenously hungry when you get home, you only have healthy choices available to you.
- Get organised. Prepare your snacks the night before or at the weekend if that’s possible. Make sure your shopping list has all the things you need for healthy snacking.
- Make a pact with yourself. When you’re tempted by the vending machine, listen to the little voice on your shoulder, the healthy you. “You will not have that bag of crisps and chocolate bar, you will have that apple and Greek yoghurt you brought with you and stored in the fridge”. Don’t let the healthy you down. Don’t let your body down.
- Think about a snack as an opportunity to give yourself some healthy nutrients. Consistent healthy snacking and mealtimes will make you healthier and healthier. Be the healthiest, most energised, most productive version of yourself you can be.
Snacks are a great tool in your weight loss arsenal. Follow the rules for a filling healthy snack to make sure you don’t make your hunger worse by dinner time. We’ve provided plenty of ideas for alternative snacks to the usual refined, calorific bites with low nutritional value. So, armed with this new know-how, go out there, get snacking, watch your overall calorie intake come down and lose a bit of weight!