Done right, snacking can keep hunger at bay, fuel your energy levels and provide a great source of health-boosting nutrients. Done wrong, snacking can leave you feeling tired, sluggish and hungrier than before, as well as full of empty-calories that don’t fill you up at all.
And whilst we all know of the obvious culprits to avoid, these seemingly “healthy” snacks are actually not all as virtuous as originally meets the eye.
1. Bottled green juices
While it’s nice to think you’re getting your 5-a-day in one drink, the reality is that you’re actually consuming huge heap of sugar. A Naked Juice Superfood Green Machine (450ml), contains a whopping 50g sugar – the equivalent of 12 ½ teaspoons – in just one drink. And although it’s from a natural source, with all the fibre of the fruit and veggies removed when they’re juiced, this sugar will still hit your bloodstream like a bag of sweets.
Instead choose: A piece of fruit or some raw vegetables such as carrots, cucumber or celery. The fibre they contain will both slow sugar release and help to sustain energy levels. Team fruit with yoghurt or nuts and veggies with a dip such as hummus or tzatziki for some hunger-zapping protein.
2. White rice cakes
They’ve long been touted as a “diet food” thanks to their low calorie content and zero fat, but anyone who has relied on them whilst dieting will know that they do absolutely nothing to fill you up. They also have a very high GI (glycaemic index), meaning the carbs they contain become absorbed into your bloodstream very quickly, sending your blood sugar on a rollercoaster. This spells bad news for energy levels, hunger pangs and weight loss in general.
Instead choose: Oat cakes – which are higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals and are made from the wholegrain so have a lower GI, and won’t upset your blood sugar as much. Combine with a source of protein such as nut butter or cottage cheese.
3. Energy/protein bars
These make a convenient on-the-go snack, but some brands actually contain as much sugar (if not more) than a Mars bar. Don’t assume that labels such as “natural” or “raw” automatically equate to “good for you”. These bars are often packed with dried fruit, honey and other syrups, which are all forms of sugar, thus high in calories and will drive your desire for more sweetness.
Instead choose: A handful of raw nuts. Protein is satiating (it fills you up), and also regulates blood sugar levels and helps to avoid sugar cravings.
4. Diet Coke
Diet drinks are free of sugar, but instead contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which gram for gram can be up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Regularly consuming these sweeteners can increase your cravings for sweet stuff by sending the same messages to your brain as sugar does, and this can actually lead you to eating more sugary snacks throughout the day. They might be labelled ‘diet’, but conversely some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners can contribute to weight gain.
Instead choose: Still or sparkling water, and infuse it with fresh fruit (orange, lemon, strawberries and mint) for flavour.
5. Low fat yoghurts
Fats in yoghurt taste really good, and when it’s removed from a product, food manufacturers know that they need to replace it with something else to make the food palatable. This something else is usually sugar. As an example, a small pot of Tesco low fat lemon yoghurt (sounds healthy doesn’t it) contains 23g sugar – the equivalent to almost 6 teaspoons. And whilst about 10g of that comes from the milk itself, that’s still over 3 teaspoons of added sugar, in what is considered a “healthy” snack.
Instead choose: Plain, probiotic yoghurt and add your own fresh fruit for sweetness
6. Bag of dried fruit
These grab-bags are found at most coffee shop counters, and seem like the virtuous snack of choice. But you wouldn’t sit down to a bowl of 10 whole apricots would you? And yet it’s very easy to eat 10 (or even more) dried apricots in one sitting. Whilst dried fruit is ok in small amounts, it’s easy to eat quite a lot of it – and this provide a big hit of sugar. In addition, some dried fruit has added sugar and preservatives.
Instead choose: A bag of trail mix, which combines a little bit of dried fruit with mixed nuts and seeds. Higher in protein, less sugar, and will keep you fuelled for longer.
7. Vegetable crisps
Don’t be duped by the word “vegetable” in their title. In terms of calories and fat, these are pretty much in the same ball park as regular crisps. Veggie crisps are usually deep-fried in oil, just like crisps, meaning that they are high in saturated fat – and also have lots of added salt. And once the veggies are processed into crisps, many of their vitamins and nutrients have been destroyed anyway.
Instead choose: A large handful of fresh edamame peas, which are rich in protein so will help keep you full, without overloading on calories.
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Here are some other useful tips for becoming snack savvy:
When you’re looking at food labels, pay attention to the “of which sugars” line. As a simple guide, 4g is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar. The daily recommended intake of added sugar is no more than 25g a day for adults – the equivalent of 6 teaspoons.
Be aware of the fact that sugar has many different aliases. Look out for names ending in ‘ose’ (e.g fructose, maltose, sucrose) and any syrups (e.g. maple syrup, rice syrup). These are all different forms of sugar.
Snacking healthily is all about being a bit organised. If you have some healthy snacks stored away in your handbag, or the office fridge, you are much less likely to give in to temptation.