Snacking doesn't have to be bad
The term “snacks” has become so synonymous with unhealthy treats like potato chips and ice-cream that people assume eating healthy means having to get rid of all snacks. However, snacks need not necessarily be junk food. Nutritious snacks are a real thing, and can be considered as a supplement for your current diet (assuming that it's already in the right place). The bad reputation attributed to snacking is mostly due to one simple thing – overconsumption.
The reason why we can’t stop snacking
Photo: Active Health
Most of us indulge in snacks not because we’re hungry, but simply because we want to and because we can. Complex brain functions linking our emotions to our body’s subconscious sense of well-being are responsible for triggering the habitual desire. It’s a really complicated neurotic process that translates to the following effects.
• Stress eating
When you’re fighting tough deadlines or going through a rough phase with a loved one, do you find yourself turning to snacks to cheer yourself up? Snacking is a perfectly normal and extremely common reaction to stress, because our brain registers the anxiety and sends certain signals throughout our body. However, these signals of distress may be wrongfully interpreted as hunger.
• Distracted eating
Performing mundane, monotonous tasks for hours on end can really suck the energy out of anyone. It’s no surprise then how some of us turn our attention to food just to for the sake of having something else to focus on. Our brains acknowledge our boredom and translates it to a need for external stimuli. More often than not, the most readily available option lies in the fridge or a kitchen cabinet.
• Thirst relief
Sometimes we’re thirsty and our subconsciousness recognises this discomfort but there’s a loss in translation – we eat to quell the discomfort even though it’s actually water we really need.
• Action for restless jaws
Many people who have a habit of snacking blame it on their “itchy” jaws. Mindless snacking is sometimes a result of the unexplainable feeling of restlessness that leaves the jaws aching for something to chew on.
If you really wish to cut snacks out of your diet entirely, consider tackling the root causes of your snacking habits. Deal with your stress in other ways, like stretching it out on a yoga mat or going for a run. Refocus your distracted mind with an interesting book or tease your brain with some crossword puzzles. Chew sugar-free gum or crunch on carrot sticks when your jaws are feeling particularly restless. There are many ways to distract your mind and body from indulging in excessive snacking habits.
On the flip side, snacks can fulfill a genuinely functional role in our health. The occasional snack can provide a boost of energy when you’re in dire need of one or even help in your weight-control plans.
When snacking can be a good thingPhoto: Active Health
Plenty of scientific research has been conducted to study if humans really need their snacks, producing a wide pool of results that don’t always agree with each other. What’s certain is that having snacks can potentially affect your appetite and weight, although the exact impact varies among individuals.
• Post-exercise recovery
Chances are you won’t feel hungry after a particularly hard workout like a football game because your body is too tired to even think about food. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat. A healthy snack will really help as your body needs food to replenish the energy expended and also for muscle recovery. Experts recommend consuming carbohydrates and protein 15 to 30 minutes after your exercise. Now you know why bananas and oatmeal are always handed out after marathons!
• Resolve hunger pangs to prevent overeating during meals
Our hectic work schedules often cause mealtimes to be pushed back. This can hardly be a good thing – the longer we go without eating, the greater the tendency for us to overeat when it’s finally time for a proper meal. Research has found that Singaporeans have been consuming more over the years and are currently consuming an average of 2,624 calories a day. That’s roughly the amount an active man in his mid-30s, weighing 75kg would require to maintain his weight!• Provide a source of nutrients
If your regular meals aren’t sufficiently packed with nutrients, healthy snacks can be a great way to make up for the deficit. According to a recent poll, many Singaporeans don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit. So why reject snacks from our lives when they can just as well make up for these nutritional gaps in our daily meals?
Planning your snacks beforehand can also help when it comes to weight management. Ang Sin Hwee, an Associate Sport Dietitian at the Singapore Sport Institute states that availability of nutritious snacks is key to helping you eat better. “Keeping these snacks protein and fibre-rich will definitely help your weight-loss journey. Good examples include boiled eggs, hummus and veggie sticks. It is also useful to do an environmental audit of your pantry to improve snack selections.”
Healthy snacks that won’t hurt
Photo: Active Health
The right type of snacks can really make a difference to your life. Whether you’re eating for an energy boost or just out of boredom, choosing something nutritional and slow-digesting will you a quick health fix and also help you to eat less during mealtimes. If you’re set on incorporating snacks formally into your diet, snack with respect. This means mindful eating, where you set aside what you’re doing and focus on finishing a fixed quantity of food. Packing your own snacks can help as well, as it reduces the temptation to buy something unhealthy from a vending machine or a nearby convenience store. Lastly, rotate through different snack foods as this will keep your subconsciousness from becoming bored!
Here’s a list of 5 healthy snacks that you can experiment with:
1. Mixed nuts
Unsalted nuts are full of nutrients and also keep you feeling full, so you won’t overeat during mealtime. When eaten in moderation, nuts can be good complement to a weight-loss diet. This study shows the positive effects of almonds on weight loss. Apart from almonds, other healthy nuts include walnuts, pumpkin seeds, cashews and hazelnuts. These nuts are said to even decrease vulnerability to heart diseases and cancers.
2. Greek yogurt with berries
Greek yoghurt is an excellent choice of protein and a healthy yet delicious substitute for ice-cream. However, opting for yoghurt sweetened with sugar/syrup/molasses tends to negate most of the benefits offered by this fermented product. Choose a plain Greek yogurt whenever possible for a much healthier experience. This yoghurt also goes well with fresh berries for that extra taste and fibre that your body is sure to appreciate.
The humble banana has been getting a lot of flak for being high in carbohydrates and too ‘caloric-dense’. But this is not necessarily the true picture. A medium banana has 102 calories, 12% of the recommended daily Vitamin C of an adult female and 3 grams of fibre. Bananas are also high in potassium, an essential electrolyte that is required for normal cell function, maintaining intracellular fluid volume and supporting normal blood pressure.
A study in 2012 showed that the ingestion of bananas before and after prolonged and intensive exercise is an effective strategy, that is on par with commercial sports drink. Cheaper and easy to bring along for exercises, it’s time to go bananas after an invigorating run!
4. Roasted Seaweed
These savoury and crunchy snacks are great go-to alternatives to chips and crackers without adding too much sodium, fat and calories in the diet. It provides many beneficial vitamins such as Vitamin A, C, E and minerals such as iron and iodine. Seaweed also provides gut-healthy fibres that support growth of beneficial bacteria in the body.
5. Reduced sugar soy milk
Soy milk is a plant-based beverage, naturally lactose-free with the equivalent amount of protein as cow’s milk, and is low in fat. Soy has shown to help lower low-density lipoproteins (LDL) level, reducing the risk of heart diseases. Not all soy milk is created equal. Choose soy milk that are fortified with calcium and Vitamin D for a more nutrient-dense option.
Of course, this isn’t all. Vegetables like bell peppers, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes and baby carrots would go well with healthy dips such as guacamole and hummus. For those with a sweet tooth, dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids) is definitely a great snack option but indulge in moderation with 2 squares instead of the entire bar!
The list of healthy snacks may be a long one but there are several foods that don’t belong there as well, although they are often mistakenly classified as being such. These shouldn’t be completely avoided but do exercise plenty of diligence before purchasing them to make sure that they’re indeed as healthy as they claim to be.
3 common “healthy” snacks to be wary of
Granolas can be healthy and filling snack options but their nutritional profile can vary widely based on the specific ingredients used to prepare them. Do not be fooled by words like ‘pure’ and ‘natural’ and always have a look at the ingredients list and nutrition information for greater insights. Some granolas contain fruit syrups and honey that will increase the added sugars found in them. Salt can also be added as a flavour enhancer. A serving of granola contains a large number of calories (about 250 calories per ½ cup / 45 g). So, portion control is key!
2. Energy bars
It may be hard to believe that energy bars aren’t healthy because they’re always marketed as such, but the truth is energy bars may be higher in calories than some candy bars because of the high amounts of sugar and synthetic additives. When buying these bars, keep a lookout for their ingredient list: the fewer ingredients a bar contains, the less nasty it’s likely to be.
3. Multigrain bread
What you’re really looking for is whole grain bread, so don’t be fooled by multigrain labels. Many multigrain breads do in fact contain refined grains, which are much lower in fibre and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. To correctly discern whole grain from refined grain breads, look at the ingredients list. Whole grain breads should not contain bleached or unbleached enriched wheat flour and “whole grains” should always be the first ingredient that's listed.
Just because unhealthy snacks exist doesn’t mean you should remove all forms of snacking from your lifestyle. There’s a wide abundance of healthy food that can serve as nutritious snacks for an energy fix or to ease hunger pangs – your life might in fact be better off with snacks than without! Remember to choose the right snacks that provide the nutrition you need. If you’re unsure whether your diet is balanced, visit our Active Health Labs to find out more about your individual dietary needs!