Healthy snacking: A nutritionist on best food choices, diet habits, and why we feel peckish in the mid-afternoon
The time is 4pm. We're losing logical sense in our hundredth email of the day. Our eyelids are getting heavier by the minute. Then, we notice a half-eaten pack of cookies. Jackpot. Some days, it's almond cookies. Some days, a bowl of salted nuts. Or on really 'treat yo-self' days, an acai bowl. The feeling is indescribably soothing, like scratching an itch. Yes snack time is that gratifying, despite the repercussions if we're not careful.
But an argument stands — would we then be excused from the seemingly bad habit if these snacks were deemed as healthy? Yes, is what we tell ourselves. So we checked in with functional medicine and culinary nutritionist, Karin G. Relter to find out the causes, truth, and if there's any way we could omit the peckish habit altogether.
Why do our bodies crave for snacks at a certain hour?
The craving for snacks is usually the result of unstable blood sugar levels. Eating a whole foods' diet rich in fruits and vegetables will help stabilise blood sugar levels and in turn, keep your hunger and cravings at bay.
Or if your meals are longer than four hours apart or if you have skipped breakfast, your blood glucose levels would have dipped. A mid-morning snack is perfect for those who eat a very early breakfast or want to eat a late breakfast. This can also help to keep you from overeating during lunchtime.
Would it just be a matter of what we eat?
There are plenty of other triggers to hunger. A lot of them are habits or emotions like boredom, stress, or a lack of sleep. When you're stressed, your body releases high cortisol levels, aka the fight-or-flight hormone, which can rise and then sharply drop your blood sugar levels causing you to feel "tired but wired" and frazzled
How do we entirely eliminate the need to snack?
To heighten alertness and keep your energy flowing through balanced blood glucose levels, eating protein and healthy fats combined with low GI carbs for lunch is recommended.
For example, this can involve consuming a balanced meal with a healthy protein (grilled fish, chicken or cooked lentils) paired with a complex carb (brown rice, quinoa or sweet potato) and loaded with vegetables (grilled, raw, cooked or stir-fried). Eating a balanced meal like this will keep you filled up for longer and release more sustained energy. Some options include Grain Traders Hen's Nest or Vios by Blu Kouzina's Guardian Bowl. Remember to keep hydrated with water or green tea.
And if we were to snack the right way? If there's such a thing?
Definitely. Have healthy foods around you and keep unhealthy foods out of sight. If you have healthy foods (like fresh fruits and raw nuts) in your office, it will be easier to reach out and snack on those. If you do not, you will most likely go to the first store you can find and usually buy processed options that are loaded with sugar. Alternatively, if you're lazy, opt for food delivery apps like Deliveroo which can deliver a list of healthy options to your doorsteps.
Try to opt for snacks with complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and antioxidants as these help keep blood sugars stable and boost the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps you feel calm and relaxed. Healthy fats also support hormone and neurotransmitter production (brain foods). Shake Farm's Banana Nutter Toast and Haakon Superfoods and Juice's Acai Pie Super Smoothie are great options.
If nuts and seeds suffice on their own, do we still need colourful bowls like acai blends?
With an acai bowl, you combine fats (like nuts and seeds) together with fruits, that actually balances out the blood glucose levels and fills you up without spiking the blood sugars. So yes, mixing it up is recommended.
In a sea of superfood bowls, how do we know which is good for us, and which isn't?
I recommend always asking what is in the food or meal. Understanding the ingredient list will determine if the food is actually healthy for us or not. Added processed sugar is a no-no. But natural occurring sugars like the ones in fruits are fine in small amounts.