How often to eat snacks
Our bodies are naturally programmed to ‘fast’ between meals and these rest periods allow the digestive system to recover. “Metabolism is also bound up in gut health and we need empty time between eating for gut flora (beneficial bacteria) to flourish and gut mobility to occur,” adds nutritionist Charlotte Watts, author of The De-stress Effect.
But, let’s face it; none of us are snack saints! Most of us find it hard to go from lunch to dinnertime without reaching for a snack especially given strenuous work schedules, family commitments or gym sessions, which can sap energy levels.
“Ideally we should be able to go at least three to four hours without eating, but if you feel a blood sugar dip in-between, I recommend a few welltimed snacks to keep up energy and mood,” says Charlotte. “A healthy snack at about 4pm is a good time to break the longest waking period without food, between lunch and dinner. This is also when we have a natural brain lull as the body changes metabolism to prepare for sleep. Some nuts or fruit here can stop us binging later and help make more conscious dinner choices.”
What to do when those snack attacks strike…
- Drink water. Go for a glass of H20 first before you reach for the snack to check you’re not mistaking hunger for thirst.
- Distract. Want to see if you’re really hungry? Studies show hunger pangs only last a few minutes and then pass away, so paint your nails, brush your teeth – anything to take you mind away from food.
- Treat it like a meal. If you must have a snack, eat it like you would a proper meal – not standing up, halfway through another job, or while you’re mindlessly watching TV! This way your brain will be able to register that you’ve eaten.
- Keep track of the calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, noting down the calorie content of your snacks is as important as your meals. It all adds up!
- Pump up the flavour. Go for homemade snacks with intense flavours – umami or saltiness – so you eat less of them but feel you’re getting more.
The right bites
Try these slim-snacks that are full of flavour but less of the calories:
1. Raw veg crudités with a healthy dip such as hummus or guacamole
2. Two wholegrain crackers with 1tbsp nut butter
3. Wholegrain cereal with skimmed milk
4. Full-fat Greek yoghurt with nuts, berries, coconut and cinnamon
5. Almond butter on celery
6. Mackerel paté with crudités
7. Apple slices (leave the skin on for a fibre boost!) with nut butter
8. Boiled eggs and olives
9. Banana milkshake with semiskimmed milk
10. Homemade popcorn with a sprinkling of chilli powder
Can snacks instead of meals help me lose weight?
Overall it’s the total calorie content of your food minus your total calorie expenditure that determines your weight – and this is true whether you have six snacks spread out across the day or you eat three meals. Implemented correctly, some studies have suggested mini meals might have positive benefits on cholesterol, insulin levels and appetite control, particularly if you lead a very active lifestyle.
“While there is no firm research to suggest that eating little and often fires up our metabolism, we are all biochemically individual and some people find this is a great way to stick to their goals as they don’t feel deprived,” says Angelique. “But you need to ensure that each meal and snack is a happy, healthy balance of complex carbs, protein and fats. And don’t overdo it – you want smaller servings only! If you don’t limit your portions, then you won’t lose excess weight.”