Snacks form an important part of your diet and require just as much attention as the rest of your diet. This is one of the easiest areas to make significant improvements. Many people avoid snacks because they are afraid that snacks contribute to weight gain. However, a healthy snack can offer many health benefits. The trick is to choose the right snack. Aim to eat your snack about halfway between meals to keep energy levels consistent.
Ideally, protein (~10g) should form the basis of your snacks with the addition of some low glycaemic index carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. At least one snack a day should contain a variety of fruit and vegetables. Nutrient-poor, sugary snacks such as biscuits and chocolate give you a quick boost of energy that is followed by a crash that can leave you hungry, cranky, sleepy, and unable to concentrate.
Benefits of snacking:
Increase your nutrient intake
Eating a healthy snack allows you to add to your intake of essential nutrients. Fruits and vegetables add vitamins A and C, both of which are important for immunity, wound healing and teeth and gums. They also offer fibre and fill your stomach for very few calories. Add low-fat cheese, yogurt or hummus to increase protein intake, which is necessary for healthy muscles, skin, cells and hair. Whole grain crackers add complex carbohydrates and additional fibre. Low-fat dairy foods increase calcium intake, a nutrient that is needed for healthy bones. A handful of nuts at snack time adds healthy fats to your diet, which protect your heart and brain.
Control your appetite
Having a snack between meals prevents you from becoming so hungry that you reach for unhealthy junk food. A healthy snack keeps hunger at bay and allows you to stick to a moderate amount of food when you do eat your next meal. Choose snacks such as hummus, oatcakes, yoghurt, peanut butter on whole grain crackers; these items are low in calories but will satisfy hunger.
Increase your energy levels
A healthy snack made up of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats increases your energy levels for a longer period of time than sugary snacks do. This is because sugar will cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, leaving you hungry and lethargic. Complex carbohydrates are a stable source of energy, and including them in a healthy snack helps you to maintain energy levels, concentration and focus. A good choice would be yogurt with a small handful of almonds.
Improve your concentration
Adding healthy snacks between meals increases focus and performance. Try snacks such as vegetables and hummus, savory popcorn or apples, pears and oranges.