So this is arguably the most common question I get, what snacks can I have Tom? I understand why, and the answer, admittedly is often the same.
Now there are a few reasons why people have this hunger (literal and metaphorical) for snacks and it stems from the obvious lack of ideas and dietary experience/ knowledge, but there can be a deeper underlying cause too… inadequate nourishment.
The desire to snack shouldn’t be a concern to people, it’s natural and most of the time a good thing. When it’s controlled and as part of a balanced daily intake to accompany a good level of physical activity, snacking is great.
Where snacking can become an issue is when it is a ‘gap fill’ to offset underlying nutritional inadequacies such as low calorie intake, poor nutritional density (low vitamin and mineral content of main meals) or unstructured eating and drinking. Don’t forget the manifestation of hunger through the lack of water…dehydration will often show itself as ‘hunger’. So be sure to drink enough too!
My answer is this…
If the rest of the diet is where it should be then look to snack on foods that work synergistically, foods that provide protein, carbs, some healthy fats and some fibre in a serving.
Only a few foods nail all four (protein, carbs, fat and fibre) by themselves, so there may be a need to combine several snacks to form a unified, balanced snack. Nuts are an example of a snack powerhouse (unfortunate of allergic to them…don’t worry, alternatives exist), they contain a modest amount of carbs which are accompanied by a good hit of protein and healthy monounsaturated fat per serving.
Fruit on the other hand is great for its nutritional density i.e. high vitamin and mineral content, and often providing a good balance of soluble and insoluble fibre (the flesh and skin respectively) but lacks protein and fat leaving a hefty hit of fructose (fruit sugar) when falling upon an empty stomach. This can trigger a rise in blood sugar levels, particularly in Diabetics, which may need managing.
Now in and of itself, blood sugar rises aren’t a problem, in fact they are normal, so I am most definitely not suggesting you steer clear of fruit, BUT it is something to be managed. Where possible we need to aim to have low Glycaemic Index cab sources (explained below) to limit or offset sporadic peaks and troughs (the up down up down nature of an unstructured diet) in blood sugar over the course of a day.
These peaks and troughs in blood sugar are undesirable for health, but may also hinder fat loss.
A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (one of the highest trusted journals in the world) found links between carbohydrate quality and chronic disease risk because low-glycaemic-index diets may offer anti-inflammatory benefits whilst higher GI can increase inflammation. Uncontrolled inflammation = not good.
Glycaemic Index (GI) explained…
The glycaemic index (GI) is a key to my snack recommendations for blood sugar management. GI is the rate at which the sugar in a carb source is broken down and enters the blood.
Now some carb sources contain fibre, which is indigestible and helps to slow the rate of release of sugar from the food. This is good, and one of the reasons why wholegrain foods are preferred when snacking. Protein and fat also slows the rate of release of sugar into the blood stream when a lower GI carb is consumed.
Simple and Complex Carbs
Simple carbohydrates usually have the highest GI because they are easily and quickly utilized for energy by the body because of their simple chemical structure, this can lead to a faster rise in blood sugar and therefore insulin release – this can also have negative health effects if not managed over time.
Complex carbohydrates, well, have three or more sugars linked together (known as oligosaccharides and polysaccharides) making them more complex by nature. Many complex carbohydrate foods contain fibre, vitamins and minerals, which also means they take longer to digest…a good thing when it comes to main meals and snacking alike.
Simply put, slower releasing carbs just gives the body a fighting chance of dealing with the release of sugar (glucose) into the blood stream. Consistent overconsumption of simple sugars and high GI carbs will leave your body in a stressed state, so this is why the following snack combo’s will serve you well in trying to reduce the stress response.
Tom’s ‘go to’ snacks
- 20 raw, unsalted nuts (approx. 2 handfuls) e.g. almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamia, hazelnuts etc
- 1 Fruit portion (see Portion Distortion eBook link below) and 10 raw nuts
- 1 fruit portion and 1-2 tsps organic nut butter (peanut, almond, hazelnut etc)
- 1 rice cake/ryvita, 1 tsp nut butter, 5-6 slices banana on top
- 1 rice cake/ryvita, 1 tsp cream cheese (high or low fat fine)
- ½ wholegrain pitta bread with 2-3 tbsps Houmous
- ½ wholegrain pitta bread with 2-3 tbsps Guacamole
- 2-3 squares 70%+ Dark Chocolate grated into 125g Greek Yoghurt
- Trailmix i.e. variety of nuts and seeds + broken dark choc pieces
- Houmous and crudites (chopped veg fingers e.g. carrot batons, cucumber, celery etc
- Celery and nut butter (trust me it works)
- You could even have 2 half dates wrapped in prosciutto ham of choice (although not optimal, not a ‘healthy eating deal breaker’ by any means
Naturally, portion sizes vary from person to person. Unsure on HOW MUCH to have?
Snacks, what to have, how much to have and when…doesn’t have to be a mystery!
Hopefully this sheds a little light for you.