Strategic snacking can help you eat less. Dietitian Claire Donnelly explains why and suggests the best choices that all come in at under 150 calories.
We’ve all had that experience. The one where we arrive home from work so ravenous, that we rapidly devour dinner …with a box of Pringles. Plus lots more besides. Then we suffer dreadful indigestion which leads to disturbed sleep.
Think of smart snacking as the solution to end these hangry (where hunger leads to irritability) episodes. As key components of a healthy and balanced diet, snacks take the edge of your hunger so you don’t over-eat at the next meal. Makes sense doesn’t it? It really is much harder to make healthier choices if you haven’t eaten in six hours.
So start honouring your hunger. As a society we seem to have forgotten to listen and respect our body’s signals. Get in tune with your body and eat when the hunger pangs hit. The snack time zones tend to be mid-morning, mid-afternoon and after dinner.
But remember there is a right way and a wrong way to snack. If you want to be a smart snacker ditch the duffins and cronuts. Also, watch out for the mindless munching, especially when you’re on a marathon box set session. Instead try to build planned snacks into your day.
The good news is scientific studies suggest snacking helps appetite control, which leads to improved weight management. If snacks fall within your total calorie needs for the day, weight gain is not an issue. Just remember the two key points: portion control and mindful eating.
So what can I eat?
View planned snacks as the chance to eat further good-for-you nutrients. Squeeze in one more of your 5-a-day fruit and veg, for vitality boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Also consider snacks which combine protein with complex carbohydrates. Often called starchy foods, complex carbohydrates are found naturally in foods such as oats, beans and wholegrain cereals. Complex carbohydrates won’t play havoc with your blood sugar, as they are broken down slowly in the body. This results in sustained energy levels.
In contrast simple carbohydrates such as refined sugars (found in soft drinks, biscuits, cakes and sweets) cause massive highs and lows in your blood sugar level. The changes in energy and mood will leave you feeling irritated and tired.
Snack Inspiration for 150 calories
Well, that’s the theory. What about real life with its tight deadlines, and never ending to-do lists? To get you started we’ve suggested quick and easy snacks containing around 150 calories. They’re convenient for desk top dining in the office or when the evening munchies strike. Most importantly they all taste good too.
- One 170g pot of Fage Total 0% Greek yogurt (100 calories) plus a medium apple (50 calories).
Greek yogurt is a nutritional super-star. At 18g per serving, it has double the protein of regular yogurt and contributes 15-20 per cent of your daily requirement for bone-building calcium. Despite having zero fat this Greek yogurt tastes creamy and satisfying. Munching an apple a day really does keep the doctor away. It is thought the pectins and polyphenols in apples reduce bad cholesterol and are anti-inflammatory. Inflammation in the body is linked to many diseases including coronary heart disease.
- 2 multigrain Ryvita (82 calories) and 1 Babybel light (42 calories) plus a satsuma (20 calories).
This provides a healthier version of the traditional cheese and biscuits snack. The multigrain crispbreads are slow release carbohydrates, so keep blood sugar levels on an even keel. What’s more they provide 4g of dietary fibre, plus the toasted seeds and grains taste great. The calcium rich, low fat cheese boosts bone health.
- 2 oatcakes (90 calories) plus a tablespoon of hummus (30 calories) and 10 cherry tomatoes or carrot sticks (30 calories).
The combination of the soluble fibre from both the oats and chickpeas can help to lower cholesterol. Plus the fibre will keep you full for longer. The B vitamins in the oatcakes and chickpeas may reduce tiredness and fatigue. Moreover the chickpeas deliver protein and zinc.
- 1 medium pear (55 calories) cut into slices and a tablespoon of a natural peanut butter (88 calories) OR 1 medium banana (96 calories) and 10 raw almonds (64 calories).
Combining dietary fibre, dense healthy fats and a crunchy texture, the pairing of fruit and nuts is ideal if you need an energy boost for a post work gym session. Raw, unsalted nuts provide monounsaturated fatty acids such as oleic acid, which research suggests may lower bad cholesterol in the blood.
- The Food Doctor fig & mango bar (103 calories).
Mid-morning when you need something moreish than fruit, these bars are perfect to tide you over to lunchtime. They contain wholegrains mixed with seeds and dried fruit, plus 4g per bar of dietary fibre.
- Tall skinny latte (126 calories) and 2 dried apricots (20 calories).
If it’s a jolt of java you need mid-afternoon, consider a tall latte made with skimmed milk. This is a great way to obtain 1 of your 3 recommended daily dairy servings for calcium. Try a decaffeinated version if you find caffeine leads to insomnia. Caffeine is thought to stay in the body for up to ten hours. The dried apricots provide a juicy treat and a dietary fibre boost.
- Half a packet of Pret A Manger popcorn (68 calories) plus 20 black grapes (80 calories).
If you’re craving a satisfying crunch, a healthier alternative to crisps is popcorn. As long as it’s not drenched in butter and salt. Popcorn is a wholegrain which are thought to promote healthier blood pressure levels and a reduced risk of diabetes. Popcorn also provides antioxidants and dietary fibre. Opt for black grapes as they are packed with a substance called resveratrol, which research suggests may have anti-aging benefits.
- And just because …sometimes nothing will do but chocolate when you’re in a 4pm energy slump. Consider any one of the following which deliver a sweet hit but without the excess calories, sugar and fat.
Two rice cakes with dark chocolate (170 calories).
Slimfast chocolate caramel treat (95 calories).
Shapers chocolate bar (98 calories).
Naked cocoa orange bar (35g) (145 calories)
Two finger Kit Kat (106 calories)
Two fun size Milky Way bars (160 calories)
Half of a 35g Green & Blacks dark chocolate bar (70% cocoa) (100 calories)
An Options low calorie hot chocolate sachet (38 calories) made with 200ml of hot skimmed (68 calories) or semi-skimmed milk (95 calories) is the perfect after dinner treat.
CLAIRE DONNELLY is a Registered Dietitian and has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition. She was the 2012 winner of the annual Caroline Walker essay in public health nutrition. Claire is passionate about health, nutrition and well-being, and is an advocate for lifelong learning.
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