Let’s talk snacking. If you’re anything like us, snacking probably happens a lot in your household, by parents and children alike; someone is ALWAYS hungry.
In its truest definition, snacking refers to the consumption of food and or drinks outside of regular mealtimes. Snack foods and beverages can often be categorised as discretionary foods or high calorie items such as chips, biscuits, chocolates etc. However, snacking simply means to consume something between meals, regardless of whether the food or drink is considered healthy or not.
The main motivator behind snacking is often hunger, although people often snack when appealing foods are around or offered even when they’re not hungry. Other factors include environmental and social cues, time of day, food availability or scarcity and specialised diets such as diabetic and high energy, high protein diets.
BENEFITS OF SNACKING
Regular snacking can have a big impact on your health. Snacking on discretionary food can lead to weight gain and other health problems, but healthy snacks can have great benefits. Positive benefits from snacking include increasing the nutrient intake of an individual’s diet, sustaining energy levels and assisting in post-exercise recovery.
Improving diet quality
Certain snacks can help improve the quality of a diet. For example, the average Australian doesn’t meet the recommended dietary intake for fruits and vegetables, so serving fruit with yoghurt or vegetable sticks with dip as a snack can be an easy way to improve the nutrient density.
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Post exercise recovery
A healthy snack post exercise can help to replenish stored energy and speed up muscle recovery. For optimal recovery, consuming a quality protein source with some carbohydrate is recommended within 15-30 minutes post exercise for enhanced glycogen renewal and fluid replacement. Eg. Yoghurt with banana or peanut butter on toast.
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For specialised diets
Including diabetics or for people who need to keep blood sugar levels stable. After eating a snack, blood sugar will rise and then decrease over time. Snacking between meals can prevent the blood sugar from dropping too low. Choosing a snack such as a small tub of low-fat yoghurt or cottage cheese on a wholegrain cracker will provide slow-release energy preventing fluctuation of blood sugar levels.
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Pre-preparing healthy snacks and having them readily available can help to prevent snacking on higher calorie discretionary foods or fast foods when that is all that’s available. Portion size is key here as it’s possible to consume increased calories in ‘healthy’ snacks too.
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TIPS FOR HEALTHY SNACKING
- Amount to eat: For weight maintenance it’s recommended to eat snacks that provide approximately 200 calories and at least 10 grams of protein. This could be a boiled egg, a handful of raw nuts or a small tub of plain yoghurt.
- Frequency: The number of snacks you should consume per day depends on your activity level and meal size/calorie intake. For a very active person 2–3 snacks per day, whereas a more sedentary person may benefit from 0-1 snacks per day.
- Practicality: Keep convenient or pre-prepared snacks with you when you’re out and about to avoid snacking on less nutritious foods.
- Snacks to avoid: Highly processed, refined, sugary snacks will send your blood sugar high and give you a quick burst of energy, but you’ll probably feel hungrier an hour or two later
THE VERDICT ON SNACKING
A well-balanced diet can definitely include healthy snacks that provide a source of nourishing nutrients. It’s important to choose the right types and amounts of food to reduce hunger, keep energy levels stable and prevent overeating later on. If you are going to snack aim to choose highly nutritious, high protein options that keep you full and satisfied.
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