Clarissa’s Guide To Snacking
Ahhh…The 3pm snack attack. We have all been there, sometimes due to boredom or the need for a quick burst of energy. I often get asked in my clinic if snacking is healthy, normal or necessary. Well, there is no straight answer.
Snacking can help to support blood sugar levels, refuel after a workout or fill a gap till your next meal. And although the main focus should be on eating well balanced and structured meals throughout the day, providing you with enough protein, fibre, complex carbs and healthy fats to keep you going, sometimes you may just NEED a snack.
When it comes to questioning if snacking is good for us, it can depend on a number of factors such as the frequency of your snacking, the foods you are consuming and the quantities of each snack.
Snacking is usually planned and is designed as a small meal in between your main meals, to keep you going and prevent overeating at your next meal. With my clients, I always recommend that snacks are nutrient-dense and portioned to get the most from them. The aim is to have a balanced snack in terms of protein, fibre and healthy fats to support energy, satiety and combat cravings.
Keeping energy levels up and hunger levels stable throughout the day will help to avoid reaching for caffeine or refined sugar and carbs at 3pm.
TO SNACK OR NOT TO SNACK?
Snacking is not for everyone, as everyone’s metabolism and blood sugar levels can differ, it really depends on the individual, their lifestyle and health goals . Those who workout intensely, walk a great deal, or jobs involve more activity, may require additional snacks than those who are less active. It really does depend on the individual and their lifestyle.
Other factors such as gender, age, genetics, mood, stress levels and body composition can also impact an individual’s need for snacking, as no one is the same when it comes to their nutritional requirements.
For some, consuming three balanced, nutritious meals a day is enough and snacking is not necessary. However, if you suffer from low blood sugar, low blood pressure or get the shakes if you don’t eat for a longer period, then snacking may be necessary for you.
Really clocking into your hunger cues and considering whether your hunger is physical or emotional is also vital as many individuals will snack due to boredom or routine. Ask yourself, am I eating for hunger or because of an emotion, boredom or distraction. If the latter is correct, find something self care related that is not eating – go for a walk, call a friend etc.
What is the reason you are reaching for that snack? Do you feel hungry? Do you need a snack to keep you going before your next meal? These are all to consider.
So when does snacking turn into grazing?
Grazing is the frequent eating of an undefined portion of food, through random periods throughout the day. It is often seen as picking or nibbling randomly with no awareness of how much one is consuming.
Grazing often involves the consumption of high-energy, nutrient-poor foods that are easy to over consume such as crisps, roasted nuts, chocolate or sweets. However, it can also involve nutritious foods but just in high quantities. Over time, this may contribute to excessive daily energy intake and weight gain, which in turn can lead to the development of chronic disease. Studies have shown that grazing increases daily energy intake and can decrease diet quality.(1)
Below are some of the reasons why constant grazing is not beneficial for us:
A decline in cell autophagy– This is the self-cleaning process that recycles and breaks down damaged cells. This gives our body time to become less reliant on glucose as the main energy source, as the body is forced to dip into other energy stores. By stimulating autophagy, we clear out old junky proteins and cellular parts, whilst also stimulating our growth hormone, which tells our body to start producing new useful parts for the body.
More energy consumed than required- By constantly grazing throughout the day, it is likely you are consuming a higher amount of energy than the body needs. This could lead to weight gain.
Low energy levels- the digestion of food can take the body time and energy, it can take at least 6 hours to properly digest food. When we constantly graze, the digestive system is constantly working, which may give you a short-term energy boost but this ongoing digestion can reduce energy levels, making you feel sluggish and lethargic.
Gut health- Digesting food uses up a great deal of energy. Fasting giving your overworked gut a hard-earned break from energy-intensive tasks such as breaking down and digesting the food you eat. Our MMC (migrating motor complex) is our guts cleansing system that helps to push food through the intestines and reduce bacterial infections and overgrowth. When we fast, this can allow the MMC to do its job. The MMC only needs about 120 minutes to do its job. To support your gut health, keep a 12 hour fast overnight and leave 2-3 hour gaps between meals. When it comes to gut bacteria, it has been suggested that fasting may improve gut-friendly flora such as Akkermansia. (2)
Brain fog- when food is being constantly processed in the gut, a certain amount of this energy is required for the digestion process. Therefore, our brain and body will not function at their optimal sharpness.
Increased insulin levels– when we eat, the body secretes insulin which delivers sugar from the bloodstream to our cells, then to the liver and muscles for storage. However, these storage units only take what they need, so if you have excess sugar hanging around in your blood, the liver repackages this sugar as triglycerides. Insulin stores these triglycerides as excess fat.
WHEN TO SNACK?
After or before a workout: whether you like to fuel your body before a workout or refuel post-workout, if your meal is more than 2 hours away, consuming a snack that contains both complex carbs and protein will be just what your body needs. Think greek yogurt with berries and nut butter, a couple of boiled eggs with carrot battens or a shake made with 1 frozen banana, a handful of nuts and a scoop of high quality protein powder.
Between lunch and dinner: Having a snack between the hours of 2-4pm may help to provide an energy boost if you have several hours between lunch and dinner. This can also help to curb your appetite to prevent overeating at your next meal.
Avoid snacking before bed: Try to aim for 2-3 hours of fasting before bedtime for optimal sleep and digestion. Studies have shown that food intake late at night is less satiating and may result in a greater daily caloric intake compared to consuming food earlier in the day. (3)
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
Always read the label when it comes to choosing a snack that is not a wholefood in its raw form (such as an apple).
Avoid the product altogether if it contains ingredients you have never heard of or any artificial sweeteners. Additionally, if it contains a high volume of added sugars it may also be best to avoid as it will only result in a blood sugar spike followed by a sudden decline, and crash.
Many granola bars on the market are packed with refined processed carbs and sugar, often marketed as “healthy” due to containing some puffed wheat on the odd seed. Be wary of this and always try to opt for:
- Less than 5g of sugar per 100g
- At least 5g of fibre to support gut health, contribute to your 30g a day goal and keep you fuller for longer
- At least 8-10g of protein to keep you satiated and promote a sense of fullness whilst balancing blood glucose levels
WHAT TO SNACK ON
So, when the snack cravings kick in what is the best thing to reach for? Avoid the Digestives and try to prioritise wholefoods as often as you can. Although, when on the go it can be challenging to always have wholefood options available, so try out some of the following:
PROTEIN- Protein really helps to keep you full and satiated till that next meal. It also supplies the muscles and brain with a steady supply of energy, helping increase mental performance.
Try a couple of boiled eggs, a handful of nuts and seeds, some organic turkey slices or when on the go, a good quality protein bar such as VIVE protein bars, use code CLARISSA for discount available here.
FATS- Fats supply the body with energy whilst helping you to absorb certain vitamins, so always aim to incorporate them in your meals and snacks. If fruit is your snack of choice, ensure you pair it with a fat to keep those blood sugar levels in check and keep you energised all afternoon.
Think banana and almond butter, 70% dark chocolate and fresh raspberries or a pear with tahini and cinnamon.
TEXTURE- Texture such as a crunch or a chew can help to satisfy those cravings when we feel as though we need a snack.
Carrot sticks with hummus, greek yogurt with almonds, popcorn or rice cakes with nut butter are all good options.
SMOOTHIES- When in a rush, making a smoothie to go can be the easiest way to pack in the nutrients. Build a smoothie just like you would build your meal: PROTEIN, CARBS AND FAT! Below are some of my favourite combinations when it comes to smoothies that will keep you full and satiated till your next meal:
- 100g greek yogurt, 1 banana, 1 tbsp tahini, cinnamon, 1 handful of spinach and Plenish almond milk.
- 1 scoop of high quality protein powder, 1 handful of frozen blueberries, ½ avocado and Plenish almond milk.
- ½ cup of oats, 1 tbsp peanut butter, 1 handful of spinach and 250ml of Plenish soya milk.
If you feel the urge to constantly snack, you may be lacking something in your main meals. Look at your plates and ensure to check you have a good quality serving of protein, fat, colourful fruit and veg and a source of complex carbs. I always advise ½ of your plate to be filled with fruit and veggies, ¼ of your plate of protein, ¼ complex carbohydrates and 1-2 tbsp of fats per meal.