Everybody loves to snack. Today’s question isn’t so much whether to do it, but how often is best, and what should we be eating?
There is nothing wrong with snacking – in fact, it is generally better to eat small, frequent nutritious meals, as opposed to just a few enormous ones. This provides a steady flow of nutrients, and minimizes peaks and valleys. Those of us with very long work or school days will particularly benefit from good snacking. And, if you are among those who get ravenously hungry or suffer from low blood sugar between main meals, then snacking is an especially good idea.
However, a snack food or beverage does not need to be fast food, high in sugar, salty, or have poor nutritional value. It may be unrealistic to assume that all snacks should be highly nourishing, but let’s see how we can shift them to the healthful side.
The proper number of snacks? It depends. A snack is best consumed before you feel too hungry, and certainly before you become hypoglycemic. Two to three per day is fine, as long as the portion size doesn’t get in the way of eating your main meals. Avoid nighttime snacks if you are prone to acid reflux, or if you are not actually hungry. Diabetics generally find that at least a small nutritionally-balanced bedtime snack works well.
So, let’s be specific. Snacks should be enjoyable, easy to prepare, and nutritious. Stick with natural foods, rather than highly processed foods. Read labels! Foods with high fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein make good choices. Fast foods and highly processed foods tend to be low in nutritional value, and high in salt, fat, sugar, and calories. Undesirable choices include soda, chips, cookies, candy, donuts, and ice cream.
Here are a few examples of great snacks:
Nuts: A mixture of nuts packs a lot of nutrition, and is linked to a reduction in diseases like heart disease. They provide a balance of healthy fat, protein, and fiber, and are very filling.
Plain yogurt with mixed berries: It’s delicious, a great source of calcium and potassium, and high in protein and antioxidants.
Apple slices with peanut butter: Apples and natural peanut butter taste just great together. Apples are high in fiber and antioxidants. Peanut butter raises the good cholesterol HDL, and reduces the bad cholesterol LDL and triglycerides.
Cottage cheese with fruit: The cottage cheese provides fat and protein, and the fruit adds complex carbohydrates.
Hard-boiled eggs: Eggs are a healthy and weight-loss friendly food. They are loaded with protein and vitamins. While the yolk has a high cholesterol content, recent studies suggest that moderate egg consumption doesn't increase the risk of heart disease.
Beef jerky: Beef jerky makes a great high protein snack.
Edamame: Steamed raw soybeans are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Toasted 100% whole grain English muffin with peanut butter: Another choice that is loaded with protein and fiber.
Trail mix: You can find many combinations of raw or toasted nuts and dried fruit - or, it’s easy to make your own well-balanced mix of good fats, fiber, and protein.
Raw vegetables with guacamole or hummus: That crunch is enormously satisfying. This is a great blend of complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber.
Dark chocolate with almonds: Need I say more? Well, sure: It’s rich, satisfying and portable, and loaded with flavanols, monounsaturated fat, fiber, magnesium, and antioxidants.
Snacking can be a very good thing. It helps to level out the blood sugar, and is a good way to add more servings of fruits and vegetables to the diet. I urge you to do your best to avoid fast food and processed foods, and to focus on natural foods and a balance of nutrients. Enjoy!