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What A Nutritionist Snacks On To Stay Healthy This Season

5 MIN READ • 3rd July 2022
Health and Wellbeing by Health and Wellbeing

From delicious healthy recipes to the best nutritional advice, we guide you through what should – and shouldn’t – be on your plate this month

How’s your willpower these days? Even if you’re dedicated to your healthy eating goals and steadfast in making wholesome choices, resisting the different treats that pass your way around Christmas time is hard. We take our hats off to you if you’re able to stay firm while all those around you are cooing over the triple chocolate yule log and digging in to the extra-buttery mince pies. But whether you have a penchant for melt-in-themouth pastries or just can’t say no to a handful of perfectly seasoned crisps, there are ways you can snack more mindfully this Christmas.

The problem at this time of year is that there’s so much on offer to tempt us. “Just as the nights get longer and temperatures drop, we are suddenly surrounded by adverts showing cosy fireplaces and platters of ready-made snacks from major supermarkets,” says nutritionist Dr Federica Amati, the chief nutrition scientist for Indi Supplements (indisupplements.com). “We are also invited to parties with canapes and plenty of alcohol and are generally encouraged to celebrate the whole season with lots of processed, readymade food. Unfortunately, highly palatable ultra-processed foods are literally designed to be delicious to our tastebuds and our brains, making them irresistible when combined with effective and targeted advertising.”

It’s enough to make even the most ardent healthy eater turn their back on their favoured vegetable dips, but indulging too much in these unhealthy snacks can have an impact on our wellbeing.

“What makes these snacks particularly unhelpful to our health is their lack of beneficial fibre and nutrients and their excess of added sugars and ultra-processed ingredients,” Dr Amati adds. “When we frequently consume foods that are low in fibre and high in sugar and processed fats, it results in spikes in our blood sugar and blood fat levels. This can then cause crashes to our blood sugar levels, leaving us feeling hungry and can also result in inflammation in the body. Not only are we likely to feel hungry after snacking on these sorts of foods, we are unlikely to have met our nutritional needs and can feel sluggish. In the long-term, a pattern of food that is mostly made up of lowfibre, highly-processed foods, containing lots of sugar and fat, can lead to an increased risk of constipation, depression, anxiety, unhealthy weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.”

Now, that doesn’t sound appealing. So, just how can we look after our bodies and resist unhealthy temptations? According to our experts, snacking itself isn’t unhealthy – in fact, it can actually benefit our bodies in lots of ways. But, it’s a case of snacking more mindfully – and making clever choices. Follow their top tips…

  1. Pack snacks full of nutrients

Snacking is a habit we all indulge in and there’s nothing wrong with having a little bite to eat in between meals – as long as it involves the right sort of foods. As nutritionist Rob Hobson, head of nutrition at Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk), explains, you can use snacks as a clever way to boost your nutrient intake for the day. Make sure you get your five-a-day by incorporating fruit or vegetables into your eleven o’clock break, or think about what you need as an individual. “Many women struggle to get adequate amounts of iron, for example,” says Rob, “so dips made with pulses and served with pitta bread or dried fruit can be a good way to get a little more of this mineral. The same is true for calcium and a high calcium snack could be a low-fat soft cheese with rye crackers.

“Some foods can also help with certain conditions, such as those that help to lower cholesterol,” he adds. “Oats are a good example here so you could consider a healthy home-made oat bar or pot of instant oats. These could also make a nice bedtime snack as they are a good source of tryptophan which is used to make melatonin in the brain, and helps you control your sleep cycle.”

  1. Time it right

As with anything, the best thing to do when thinking about snacks is listen to your body. “It’s best to eat when hungry,” says Dr Amati. “And this is why I like to think of snacks as mini-meals and an opportunity to add flavour, fibre, colour and probiotics to my day. There is no ‘best time’ to snack but it is a good idea to give your body a break from digesting food overnight for about 14 hours, so try to keep your eating hours between 8am and 6pm. If you do like to snack on something sweet, it’s best to consume this after you’ve eaten something savoury and fibre-rich, rather than on an empty stomach, to help aid digestion.”

  1. Make simple swaps

Hosting family and friends over the festive season? Swap your usual selection of snacks for those containing more nutrients. They don’t have to be completely guilt-free, but any step towards a healthier option is something to be celebrated. “Examples could include a traditional cheese platter with fresh fruits, nuts and dried fruits,” says Dr Amati. “In terms of cakes and sweeter snacks, it’s always best to make your own where possible, avoiding ultraprocessed options. Why not try making some seasonal apple and cinnamon muffins or enjoy a dark chocolate fondant at the end of a plant-rich meal to stabilise blood glucose levels?”

  1. Savour every bite

Whatever you’re snacking on, the important thing is to do so with intent. So often, we’re guilty of mindlessly eating as a way to keep our hands busy and distracted while we procrastinate at work, but this means we don’t always process the fact we’ve eaten, and can still be hungry afterwards. “Snacking mindfully could be described as eating with intention and focusing on the moment, savouring everything about the food you are eating, including the taste,” says Rob. “Essentially you are trying to get the most out of your snacking moment. Set your snack aside, serve it on a plate, sit down to eat it and pay attention to how it tastes, notice its texture and eat it slowly, savouring every mouthful.”

  1. Plan your day

If you know you’re going somewhere where unhealthy snacks will be laid out in all their glory, think about what you can eat before you go. “Try to have a good meal before any events that may have unhealthy snack foods on offer, so you have already had some nourishing foods and don’t arrive hungry,” advises Dr Amati. “I’d suggest trying to eat some green vegetables, along with a handful of nuts or seeds, before enjoying the cake buffet. By consuming fibre from plants before eating processed food, you’re less likely to overeat.”

  1. Move away from temptation

Why is the party always in the kitchen? The answer is often because that’s where all the food is. “If you’re at a gathering where there’s lots of unhealthy snacks on offer, try not to stand next to the buffet as it becomes easy to nibble while chatting. Try taking what you want then leave the area,” suggests Rob. “I would also try to keep tins of sweets and biscuits out of the house or office if you know they are going to become a tricky one to avoid.”

Hero bites

Three ways to nourish your body and soul with snacks, as recommended by Dr Amati

  1. Add a diversity of plants to your diet by snacking on vegetable sticks and hummus, nut butter and rye bread, or walnuts and dried apricots.
  2. Boost your probiotics by snacking on natural yoghurt or kefir, sauerkraut on toast or miso soup.
  3. Nurture your soul by snacking on a square of dark chocolate, a bowl of warm soup or banana with peanut butter.

Switch it up

Rob suggests some easy swaps to make this festive season

SWAP cheese straws for breadsticks and healthy dips, such as tzatziki or reduced fat hummus (which are lower in saturated fat and calories).

SWAP a chocolate yule log for a roulade filled with fresh fruit and Greek yoghurt (which is lower in sugar, saturated fat and calories).

SWAP salty savoury snacks for unsalted mixed nuts.

SWAP deep fried buffet foods, such as breaded prawns, for plain varieties, such as marinated cooked prawns.

SWAP chocolates for dried fruits such as medjool dates (which have less added sugar and more fibre and nutrients such as iron and magnesium).

SWAP processed meats, such as salami and smoked options, for lean sliced poultry
or smoked salmon.

SWAP white and milk chocolate for dark chocolate (which contains more antioxidant flavonoids and minerals such as magnesium).

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