The word snack has become synonymous with foods that are unhealthy or unnecessary, yet that is not the case at all! Snacks are an important part of your daily nutrient intake and, when thoughtfully consumed, can help you effectively lose weight, without turning you into that ‘hangry’ friend that everybody avoids. In this blog, we explore 5 ways you can make better snack choices.
1.Better snack choices: Know why and when you are to snack!
Healthy snacks are like stepping stones between meals. They are not meant to be a complete meal that totally fills you up. Jaclyn Reutens, Active8me expert dietician and Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultant says, “Healthy snacks can keep energy levels up, curb hunger pangs and give you needed nutrients.”
Your feelings of hunger are regulated by hormones that are affected by your levels of blood glucose. So, pinpointing an ideal time to snack is not realistic. Often, the time you feel hungry will be related to the glycaemic index (GI) of your previous meals. But, if we are brutally honest here, when was the last time you actually experienced hunger? Most of us have turned into mindless snacking zombies!
We are bombarded with an abundance of ‘snack’ foods and often eat because our other senses are charmed (think: that yummy aroma of fresh baked mooncake or the glossy look of kacang). Jaclyn points out “Knowing when to snack is a matter of listening to the signals your body gives when you are hungry”. This may be tummy rumbles or that pulling sensation in your stomach. She adds, “However, if you can adequately function on three meals a day without feeling lethargic or going crazy hungry, you may not need a snack.” One time you do want to avoid snacking is right before bed. This can lead to disturbances in your sleep and is often associated with weight gain.
2. Better snack choices: What to avoid
The obvious answer to better snack choices is to avoid the highly processed foods that have high sugar and fat content. But, that is easier said than done. We are often misled into thinking some snacks, such as muffins and sushi are healthier than they actually are. Unfortunately, the trap with these snacks are they give you that instant fuel fix but their high GI leads to you wanting more snacks, more often.
Try to avoid creating the bad habit (or look at replacing it) of telling yourself you ‘need’ a sugary snack to get through the afternoon lull. This is an association you have built with fatigue not hunger. While reaching for a sugary snack may momentarily snap you out of your lethargy, it spikes your blood glucose and starts a vicious cycle of mindless snacking. Jaclyn recommends “Acknowledge that a craving is a want not a need. It reaches a peak and then subsides, just like a wave. Recognise what you’re feeling, pause or distract yourself with another non-food related task, and learn whether you are feeling hungry or something else.”
3. Better snack choices: What to look for in a healthy snack
Remember that a snack is like a stepping stone between meals. Regulating the portion size is just as important as choosing a healthy option in making better snack choices. Ideally a snack will be:
✓ Nutritionally dense foods – generally whole foods with a good mix of protein, low-GI carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals eg. Mung bean noodles soup with chicken.
✓ High in fibre – this will mean you can satisfy your hunger with smaller portions and prevent overeating eg. Vegetable sticks with a Salsa dip.
✓ Low in fat, salt and sugar – be careful with automatically choosing ‘low fat’ options as they may have double the amount of sugars to compensate for the low fat. Eg. Low fat flavoured yoghurts are often packed with calories from sugar. Try natural or greek yoghurt instead.
✓ Convenient – We all know it is so easy to wander into a hawker centre or warung, so make sure you have better snack choices at hand to help you win in the snacking department. Have snacks that are easy to make, peel or carry with you. Eg. Crackers with sliced tomato or a tub of yoghurt.
✓ Chewable – this might sound strange, but it a good reminder to aim for a snack that takes time to chew and digest as this overcomes mindless, high calorie snacking. Eg. Portions of Jackfruit vs a bag of jackfruit chips.
4. Better snack choices: The taming of temptation
Making any changes in your life isn’t easy, especially if it’s something you’ve been doing for a long time. But, we all have to start somewhere and if you want to lose weight and transform your body, then starting with better snack choices is a great first step. If you try to change everything at once, you may find that it feels like you are depriving yourself. It’s not enjoyable and it doesn’t last! So start with an easy change like snacks.
✓ Start small – try changing the snack you would normally have to a healthier alternative, just once or twice per week. Each new week, try to reduce the unhealthy and replace with healthy.
✓ Limit your portion size – you can start by halving what you would normally have. But don’t think that your will power to ‘just leave the other half of that cupcake’ will be strong enough. Offer it to a friend so you have no option to go back to it later.
✓ Listen to your body – Jaclyn recommends “Craving sugary or fatty snacks will become less intense and less frequent if you practise good eating habits. Before automatically reaching for your regular (less than healthy) snack, stop and do a self-check. Listen to what you’re feeling and what your mind is telling you. Delay reaching for the unhealthy snack and notice how your sensations change.”
5. Better snack choices: Snack alternatives
✓ Choose steamed over deep fried – Steamed buns, red bean buns, lotus paste buns (there are even wholemeal versions) or Chee cheong fun instead of fried spring rolls or dim sims.
✓ Choose low fat over creamers – Have your coffee with ‘real’ milk and drop the butter on toast and replace with low fat cheese (bonus calcium intake too).
✓ Go it alone with vegetables – ditch the stir fried veges or tempura and replace with fresh celery, carrot or capsicum sticks with hommos dip, low fat raita or cottage cheese.
✓ Go nuts the right way – Nuts are a good snack, but limit your portions as it’s easy to overeat nuts (small handful). Stay natural and steer clear of coated, flavoured or fried nuts.
✓ Have a serve of fruit instead of a serve of cake – You still get a sweet fix, but with greater nutritional value and usually less calories. Berries are great to add to yoghurt or a small bowl of fruit salad, sprinkled with coconut and some pumpkin seeds are great!
✓ Go natural with your drinks – We’ve said it before, but avoid sugary (and even artificially sweetened sodas) and replace with green tea or infused water. The ‘empty calories’ in sugary drinks are a common trap many people fall into.
✓ Choose a smoothie over juice – you can get extra nutritional benefits, less calories and feel fuller for longer with a smoothie over a conventional juice.
✓ Lose the white rice – yes, it sounds horrifying but you don’t need any rice accompaniment as a snack!
✓ Take away the toppings – Ask for less (or no) syrup on your Chendol or Kacang.
So there it is – 5 ways to make better snack choices. Plus a host of suggestions and tips for you. While we hope you make great healthy snack choices, we also want you to remember that at Active8me we live in the real world too! We know there will be times when you want that unhealthy treat. When this happens, just don’t overdo it, and don’t be too harsh on yourself.
Active8me want you to make healthy living part of your life. We are not about restrictive diets; we are not about one diet fits all; nor are we about cheat days or pure will power. Active8me are about balanced, healthy, clean eating. We are about workouts which are fun and effective. We are about empowered positive thinking. It’s about making changes stick in your real every day life over the long-term – a healthy, active lifestyle. For your good…and for good.