No doubt you’ve heard the admonition to avoid between meal snacks but avoiding snacks can do more harm than good when it comes to healthy weights. Snacking is a way to maintain weight, lose weight and even help to keep from gaining weight during the holidays because eating a healthy snack may keep you from taking a second or third helping at your next meal. The right kind of snacking can lead to good appetite control and more consistent blood sugars. Since your stomach empties approximately every three hours, you can anticipate that and plan ahead with a nutritious snack. This is especially helpful if you have a tendency towards hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, which can manifest itself in feelings of light-headedness, confusion, shaking and sweating.
Snacking takes planning. Eating a snack that is handy can often be high in refined carbohydrates such as a doughnut or a candy bar and may trigger an insulin response that produces hypoglycemia. The resultant hunger is typically satisfied by eating other refined carbohydrates which will satisfy your hunger urge only temporarily. By planning ahead with nutritious snacks, you can avoid the steep declines in blood sugar and its accompanying ravenous hunger. So what are nutritious snacks?
Nutritionally speaking, snacks should include carbohydrate and protein. Protein slows digestion and helps to keep blood sugar levels up longer so you don’t feel hungry as quickly. A little fat also helps to give you that feeling of satiety or satisfaction. The type of carbohydrate is important and should be complex versus simple, for example, a whole wheat bagel versus a cupcake. An example of a nutritious snack is a whole wheat mini-bagel with some low fat cream cheese–under 200 calories if you’re counting. Another is a piece of celery with some crunchy Adam’s peanut butter and a few raisins on top–bugs on a log! Add a small glass of non-fat milk and you’ll be ahead of your hunger. This is one of my favorite snacks. It has high satiety value because of the crunch, the nuttiness and the sweetness of it. Snacking is also an especially good time to catch up on your calcium intake, so non- or low-fat yogurt is another good choice. Nut butters, hummus and whole wheat pita bread are some other good choices and don’t forget the old standard, an apple and a slice of cheese.
Recent research has shown that a good ratio of carbohydrate to protein is between 3:1 and 4:1. The above examples fit into that category. For instance, the whole wheat mini-bagel contains 22 grams of carbohydrate and about 5 grams of protein, as does the apple and cheese. For those occasions when you don’t have the time to prepare a snack, I’d like to add a word about nutrition bars and some of the better ones to keep handy. Many granola bars are high in carbohydrates and sugar with very low levels of protein. For instance, Quaker Chewy Granola bars have 20 grams of carbohydrate and less than 2 grams of protein, a 10:1 ratio while a Kashi Go Lean Protein and Fiber bar has 28 carbohydrate grams and 8 protein grams, a ratio of about 3:1. Check the labels and divide the number of carbohydrate grams by the number of protein grams.
The important thing is to eat some protein with your snacks. Any activity requires fuel and the more active you are, the more fuel your body needs. A mid-morning snack can help to short-circuit ravenous hunger at noon or later in the day. Physiologically speaking, eating multiple smaller meals may help to suppress your hunger and keep your blood sugar on an even keel. Throughout your day, keep your hunger satisfied with smart snacking. Think of a snack as a mini-meal. Keep a supply of nutritious snack foods at home and take them with you to work. That way, you won’t be tempted to snack on what’s there. Happy snacking!
Yours in fitness,
Olivia Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM