When it comes to sticking to a healthy diet, avoiding overeating and staying on top of cravings, snacking can be your best friend.
Snacking often gets a bad rap because of its association with highly processed foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt (aka junk food). But having two or three snacks in between meals can be really helpful in keeping your energy levels up and preventing you from getting so hungry that you devour the first thing in sight as soon as you walk in the door at night.
And if you choose healthy options, it can be a great chance to get in some extra nutrients too.
My top 10 healthy snacks:
- Fruit – yep, good old fruit is always going to be number 1 of me due to its unbeatable combination of healthy, delicious, cheap and portable
- Nuts – filling and nutritious, just make sure you stick to a small handful (20-30g) as they are high in calories (due to their healthy fats). And for the healthiest option go for raw and unsalted. The little 30g boxes of nuts can be the way to go if you find portion control an issue
- Natural yoghurt – nice and satisfying with lots of calcium and protein (especially if you go for greek yoghurt), add some fruit if you want a bit of sweetness
- Veggie sticks with hummus – carrot, celery and cucumber all make for great dipping and the hummus makes them a lot tastier. Nut butter is another good option (stick to no more than a tablespoon)
- Popcorn – not just for the movies, popcorn is a delicious high fibre, low calorie snack. For every day snacking steer clear of the butter and go for plain or lightly salted versions, or ideally make your own with some spices for extra flavour (ground cumin and coriander, smoked paprika or cinnamon are all great)
- Smoothies – needn’t be just for breakfast, smoothies made with milk, yoghurt and fruit or just fruit and veg are a great way to ensure you’re getting your 2&5
- Crackers with avocado – a couple of wholegrain crackers (e.g. Ryvitas or Vitawheats) and a small amount of avocado (i.e. 1/4) is one of my favourite snacks. Add a bit of cracked pepper or some chilli flakes and maybe some sliced tomato and its ready to be posted on Instagram. Peanut butter and cottage cheese are also great spreadable options
- Boiled eggs – a good one if you’re wanting to increase your protein intake. Have one or two plain with a bit of salt and pepper or sliced on some crackers
- Tuna on rice cakes – keeping some small tins of plain or flavoured tuna and a packet of rice cakes (preferably wholegrain) in your desk drawers at work is a great way to ensure you’ve always got healthy snacks available and don’t have to resort to the vending machine or packet of biscuits in the kitchen…
- Edamame beans – a little harder to get your hands on, but if you can, these little Japanese beauties are not only high in protein but also fun to eat!
And some snacks that aren’t as healthy as you might think….
- Protein balls (aka bliss balls/energy balls/paleo balls) – these may be huge right now, but don’t be fooled. Many of them are just another highly processed snack food full of artificial ingredients. Some have some decent nutrition credentials (oats, nuts and seeds) but they’re predominantly made up of dried fruit, which, while it is nutritious, provides a concentrated source of sugar. Eat occasionally and in moderation (i.e. one) and if possible, make your own
- Rice crackers – these might be low in calories, but they don’t have much else going for them nutrition-wise and can be high in salt. Plus, it’s far too easy to eat half a packet and still feel unsatisfied
- Muesli bars – possible one of the most deceptive of the ‘healthy snacks’, muesli bars may be marketed as being good for us, but in reality, many of them contain a lot of added sugar, are calorie dense and have little nutritional value. Check the nutrition information on the label and go for the ones with the lowest amount of sugar
- Dried fruit – fine in small quantities and full of vitamins, minerals and fibre but high in natural sugars. The issue with dried fruit is that its very easy to eat a lot of it, for example, five dried apricots doesn’t seem like much, but we would rarely eat five fresh apricots….
- Banana bread – it’s not bread, it’s cake…enough said
- Frozen yoghurt – despite containing the word ‘yoghurt’ in the name, frozen yoghurt bears little resemblance to its non frozen counterpart with very little protein and calcium and huge amounts of added sugar. No need to eliminate it all together but think of it in the same category as ice cream
- Muffins – for some reason muffins seem to have an aura of healthiness but again, they’re basically just cake. No problem with eating some cake occasionally but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a health food
- Corn chips – another food that seems to have undeservedly been categorised as a health food, from a health point of view corn chips are generally no better than potato chips (plus they would have to be one of the most addictive foods on the planet!)
And remember, it’s not just about what you snack on, how you snack is just as important
Mindless snacking is one of the most problematic habits when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Keeping a bowl of M&Ms on your desk at work is more than likely going to result in you eating them….even if you don’t particularly want them.
So when you do decide you want a snack, do it consciously. Treat it like a meal and snack while sitting down, with limited distractions. Think about what you’re eating and enjoy every bite rather than just shovelling something into your mouth while reading emails, watching TV or cooking dinner.
When it comes to sticking to a healthy diet, snacking can be your best friend or your worst enemy, it’s all about how you do it.