We are often asked for ideas for healthy snacks as this seems to be the area that most people struggle with. Let’s look at some of the reasons for this and some healthy snack ideas.
How many times do you start a healthy eating plan, do really well throughout the day, eggs for breakfast, healthy salad and chicken for lunch and maybe a stirfry for tea but then you sit down in front of the tv and the munchies start and you reach for some chocolate or a packet of biscuits.
Why does this happen?
- You might be hungry. Maybe you haven’t eaten enough or enough of the right foods throughout the day, and you are actually hungry, for example, if you are very active but don’t eat enough carbohydrate in your main meal, you’ll probably want something sweet as you will be craving carbs as your body needs these to recover.
- You might be tired. When you are tired, your stomach will secrete ghrelin (a hormone that makes you feel hungry) and reduce levels of leptin (a hormone that decreases your appetite).
- You might feel that you deserve a reward. We are programmed to look at sweets and treats as rewards and comfort food, and we feel that we deserve that chocolate or that extra glass of wine. After a hard or bad day at work or looking after the children, we see the quiet time between watching tv and going to bed as our reward/comfort time.
- Mindless snacking. If you are reaching into a packet of sweets or biscuits whilst watching tv, sometimes you don’t realise how many you’ve had until the packet is empty! It becomes a habit rather than enjoying what you are eating.
- Stress. When you are stressed, you release a hormone called cortisol (known as the stress hormone!), and this can lead to cravings for unhealthy fatty foods.
- Dopamine. This is known as the ‘feel-good’ hormone and when levels of this are depleted, which can be caused by stress, lack of sleep or a high usage of anti-depressants to name a few, our appetite increases.
What can we do to help control this?
- Make Sure that you have healthy food in the house. It sounds simple but if you don’t buy biscuits and chocolate, then you can’t eat it, meaning that when you are hungry, you’ll have healthier options to grab. You could also make sure you always have healthier options readily available. When you want something to snack on the unhealthier options are usually the quickest and easiest to grab and need no prep (crisps, biscuits, chocolate etc), whereas heathier options (veg sticks, fruit, peanut butter on toast etc) often involves a little effort.
- Make conscious decisions. Ask yourself whether you really want to eat the chocolate or crisps and the reason why. Are you hungry, bored, tired, looking for comfort or a reward? If you’re hungry, try to eat a healthy snack or a piece of fruit or even drink a glass of water. If you’re bored, try to find something to do whether that’s household chores, exercising or reading a book – anything to keep your hands occupied. If you’re tired, try going to bed a little earlier and if you’re wanting a reward or something comforting try having a relaxing bath, calling someone for a chat, having a healthy snack or a hot drink.
- Make sure that you are drinking plenty of water. Your brain cannot differentiate between thirst and hunger so always have a glass of water first. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day also has the added benefit of making you feel fuller too!
- Eat regularly throughout the day. Eating regular healthy, filling meals (including carbohydrates, protein and fat) throughout the day should keep you full, so that you are not tempted to snack. You might think that you are saving calories by skipping breakfast or cutting lunch calories down to the minimum, but actually this will just make you more hungry later in the day and this is when you will snack on unhealthy foods that are quick and easily accessible. Usually, if you are not hungry for breakfast in the morning, it’s because you’ve eaten too large a meal the night before – this will become a habit. Try to space your meals out equally throughout the day.
- Try to eat slowly and without distractions so that you are conscious of how much you are eating and when you feel full. Quite often, eating in front of the tv means that you eat more than you probably would as you often don’t realise when you are full. Leave some time between your main course and dessert to see if you really want it. It can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full.
- If you find that your snacking is a habit, try to change it. Maybe do something different at that time or have a healthier snack such as a piece of fruit a little earlier.
Here are some ideas for healthy snacks. If you find you’re eating too much chocolate, cake, biscuits and crisps, try to replace them with the following.
- Fruit – Fruit is naturally sweet and very nutritious and is great when you’re craving something sweet. It’s a great snack on its own, or for a little extra sweetness, try dipping your fruit in melted chocolate and either eat like that, or let the chocolate harden in the fridge. This is lovely with strawberries and bananas (you can pop sticks in them so that they are easier to coat with chocolate and also easier to eat). Another idea is to make a big bowl of mixed fruit, keep it in the fridge and have a small portion when you fancy.
- Banana ice-cream – If, like me, you love ice-cream, but you’re concerned about the number of calories and amount of fat, then try blitzing bananas in a blender and freezing. This is a great substitute, cures my ice-cream cravings and is much healthier.
- Cheese – If you’re a cheese lover, try high protein, low calorie cottage cheese instead as a healthier, lighter option.
- Greek Yogurt – This is a firm Sheerin/Dudley favourite and is always found in our fridges. This is such a versatile snack as well as being higher in protein and lower in sugar than standard yogurt. You can eat it on its own, add berries, nuts and honey and use it for baking, for example it’s great to make healthy naan bread with.
- Dark chocolate – If you are craving chocolate, try eating a couple of squares of dark chocolate. You will probably find that this amount is enough to satisfy your craving and it may also reduce the risk of heart disease. Be mindful of portion sizes – too much will add high amounts of sugar. Aim for 70%+ as a minimum.
- Nut butters – Another favourite snack of ours! This is great to satisfy a sweet craving and can be eaten spread on a slice of wholemeal toast or a wholegrain crispbread or cracker. Try it with a little fruit – apples dipped in peanut butter are yummy. This can also be used to make healthy protein balls and bars. It’s full of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Again, watch portion sizes of this – a scraping of peanut butter has a lot less calories and fat than a large dollup!
- Nuts – Nuts are great as a snack but do watch portion sizes as they are high in both calories and fat (although it is the good kind of fat that your body needs!) Try dribbling melted dark chocolate over almonds or walnuts for a little added indulgence.
- Try homemade plain popcorn – Add a little salt or chilli to taste.
The above are great ideas for when you’re wanting to snack but not load yourself up with calories. Having said this, there are times when you fancy something a little indulgent and that is absolutely fine, now and again. It only becomes a problem if you are eating high calorie, high fat (particularly saturated and trans fats) foods all the time.
Remember – no food is ‘naughty’. It’s all about eating enough food with a healthy balance of fats, protein and carbohydrates. If you are doing this, you shouldn’t really feel hungry so if you’re wanting a snack, make sure you really want it and enjoy it as a snack and not as something to pass the time, relieve boredom or as a reward.
Caroline & Hannah xx