We like our snacks in Ireland. Research from Bord Bia last year showed that 70% of us are snacking once every day. While snacking may be a good approach for some people, everyone is different and our need to snack will depend on factors like age, metabolism, exercise, meal choices….. Read more or watch Heather discuss snacking on Virgin Media’s breakfast show.
In general, it takes our bodies about 4 hours to use up the fuel from a meal and after that, we start to run on empty. This can raise levels of our stress hormone cortisol as our blood glucose falls. Some people are very sensitive to this and feel tired, unfocused, shaky or cranky if they go too long without eating – hangry! If that describes you, you might benefit from a snack before reaching this point.
The other issue with going for too long without eating is that hunger takes over and it is very easy to overeat or make poorer food choices when we eventually do get to eat. For example, if you have an early lunch at noon and don’t get home until 6.30 pm to start cooking the dinner, it is difficult to avoid grabbing something on your way home or picking while cooking because you are so hungry. Eating a small snack at around 4pm might help you get through the afternoon with more energy and less hunger.
Where you might benefit from snacking
- If the gap between your meals is more than 4 or 5 hours
- Where you are underweight, as snacks give you the opportunity to add additional healthy calories
- If you are very active and especially if you exercise before your dinner. This is also relevant for growing kids with lots of activities after school. Having a healthy snack for them when they get home or in their lunchbox to eat before activities can be helpful
What are the pitfalls?
From a weight management perspective, research is mixed, with some studies showing that snacking helps you to lose weight. Other studies show the opposite. But of course, it depends on what you are snacking on. There is a difference between snacks and treats! While consumers are asking for healthier snacking options, the Bord Bia research showed that our favourite snacks are crisps, biscuits and chocolate, followed by fruit. We recommend
- avoiding snacks that are high in sugar. These will give you a quick boost, but are likely to leave you even hungrier in an hour or two.
- watching your snack size. It should not be so big that it fills you up. It is just meant to keep you fuelled until your next meal.
- Avoiding grazing. It is good to give our digestive system a break and constant grazing has been shown to cause weight gain
- If you are someone who does well without snacking and are not all hungry between your meals, there is not really a reason for you to start doing this
Our top snack tips to keep you healthy
Chose snacks that add something from a nutritional perspective, not just empty calories.
- Always chose a snack that includes some protein, to keep you fuller for longer e.g. an apple and a palmful of nuts rather than just an apple alone
- Avoid eating straight from the pack e.g. nuts, as it is easy to eat too much. It is better to take out a portion and put the pack away before you start munching
- Watch drinks. These may be providing you with more fuel than you think and effectively replacing a snack. For example, a café latte made with full fat milk usually has around 250 calories, which is what you could expect from a snack
- Have a stock of healthy snacks to help you make better choices and if on the go, bring something with you
Are ‘healthy’ bars really a healthy option?
It depends! Lots of breakfast bars and natural snack bars are high in sugar, for crunch, flavour and to hold the bar together. In breakfast bars, this is usually added. In other ‘natural’ bars it comes from their dried fruit content, but still contributes to your total sugar intake. Even if the packaging says high in fibre, or no added sugar, these can still be up to 50% sugar. They are still usually a better snack option than a chocolate bar, but as an occasional rather than daily snack
The ‘functional’ bars are designed to hit certain nutrition sweet spots like high protein or low sugar. However, these are usually full of highly processed ingredients like glycerine, isomalto-oligosaccherides (bulking agent and sweetener), poly-dextrose (soluble fibre, to reduce calorie content), collagen hydrosolate (collagen that is derived from cow/pig bone and cartilage)….
The bars low in sugar usually have artificial sweeteners. Recent research has shown that artificial sweeteners do not help with weight loss and that they can have a negative impact on our gut bacteria. We recommend avoiding them where you can. These types of bars often also contain sugar alcohols like maltitol and sorbitol, which will still affect your blood glucose levels and can cause digestive issues.
Many of them also don’t taste great and can be very expensive.
Simple snack options to get you through a week
It is usually better and cheaper to bring snacks with you from home, like any of the following
- A piece of fruit and palmful of nuts or seeds
- A small green smoothie
- Vegetable sticks (carrots, peppers, sugar snap peas, cucumber…) and 1/3 tub hummus
- 2 oat / rice cakes and nut butter
- Chocolate almond power ball – our lowest sugar powerball, made without dried fruit
- Chia berry pot
- Ryvita, cottage cheese and cucumber