Healthy snacks for healthy lifestyles

Feeling peckish? If you find yourself reaching for a snack between meals, you’re not necessarily doing a bad thing. A healthy snack can help to keep your blood sugar levels stable, which in turn helps to maintain energy levels, concentration and focus, and prevent those distracting hunger pangs. The right snacks can even help us lose or control our weight, both through balancing blood sugar and by stopping us overeating when we do get to mealtimes.

But it’s often difficult when you’re out and about to find something healthy to snack on. Shops and snack machines are full of chocolate, crisps, sweets and muffins, all of which are sugar and carbohydrate-rich but low in protein and devoid of vitamins and minerals. These foods can temporarily satisfy hunger pangs and give you a quick boost, but then your body’s insulin response to the sugar sends your blood glucose levels plummeting, leading to an energy dip and more cravings for sugary foods. Even fruit, which many people choose as a better alternative, can be high in sugar and quickly absorbed when eaten on its own.

What is a healthy snack?

In a moment we’ll have a look at some better snack options, including some healthier ‘ready-made’ snacks to buy. But first, let’s consider what makes a healthy snack.

A snack should:

  • Be low in sugar. Even brown sugar, honey or fruit (especially dried fruit) can upset your blood sugar balance. The easiest way to avoid sugar is to prepare snacks at home. But if you’re looking at snack bars, choose one that has the lowest sugar content, or make sure that the protein content is higher than the sugar (more on protein in the next point). Bear in mind the different forms that sugar can come in, including glucose, dextrose, fructose, glucose-fructose syrup, honey, agave syrup, and barley malt – all of these can be listed separately in the ingredients but add up to a lot.
  • Contain a good amount of protein and/or healthy fats. Protein and fat can both help to slow down your digestion and absorption of sugars and carbohydrates, balancing blood sugar and energy levels, keeping us satisfied for longer and preventing cravings for more sugary foods. The protein in good quality snack bars can come from nuts or seeds, or protein powders such as whey or pea protein.
  • Contain only natural ingredients. When buying snacks, avoid those that have unnatural or chemical-sounding ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, colourings and preservatives. Usually, the ones with the fewest ingredients are the most natural.

Healthier snack ideas

Eating better snacks doesn’t have to be a chore. Most of the following options are relatively quick to prepare at home or to buy from a supermarket – you just won’t find them in the average snack machine or your corner shop!

  • Two oatcakes or rye crispbreads topped with a tablespoon of cottage cheese, or hummus, or guacamole – all available in most supermarkets.
  • Crudités such as carrot or cucumber sticks with any of the above dips.
  • Half an avocado on two oatcakes or crispbreads, drizzled with lemon juice and black pepper to add flavour.
  • A tablespoon of nuts or seeds, with a piece of fruit. (The protein and fats in the nuts and seeds help to slow down absorption of the sugars in the fruit.)
  • A plain yoghurt with some nuts and a handful of blueberries or other berries.
  • A protein shake made with sugar-free protein such as Solgar Whey-to-Go Vanilla, milk or milk alternative and a handful of berries. This one may be easiest if you’re at home – or have a blender at work! Or see the protein powder suggestion below under ‘Convenience snacks’.
  • A whole hard-boiled egg with a sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper. If you’re at work your colleagues may not thank you for the smell, so eat it in the kitchen!

 

Convenience snacks

If you like your snack bars, or prefer things you can easily carry around in your bag or keep at work, the following may be good options for you. Stock up!

1. ‘Bounce’ balls. An old favourite, these sustained me through long days of nutrition lectures and clinics! Bounce balls are made with all-natural and nutritious ingredients including nuts, seeds, cacao nibs, whey protein and coconut and are sweetened with fruit extracts and agave. Most have at least 9 grams of protein, and they are now all gluten-free.

2. A low-sugar, all-in-one protein shake such as Nature’s Plus Ultra Energy Shake. This doesn’t need to be blended with fruit to make it tasty – just add water or milk in a shaker bottle and drink. An excellent option to keep at work.

3. In the same range as their Ultra Energy Shake, Nature’s Plus makes the excellent Ultra Energy Bars. The Cookies and Cream bar contains a fantastic 22 grams of protein, with 25% of the recommended daily value of most essential vitamins and minerals. Like their shakes, the bars are designed to release their carbohydrates slowly into the body.

4. 9 Bars. Although some of them do contain sugar, 9 Bars are made primarily from nuts and seeds. Go for the savoury ones such as the ‘Cracked Black Pepper’ bar for minimal sugar content.

5. Clearspring Snack Organic Roasted Sicilian Almonds. Now while we don’t advocate buying roasted and salted peanuts or other nuts at your local shop, these are gently roasted in organic tamari sauce and make a delicious low-sugar snack that contains good levels of fibre and protein.

6. Nakd snack bars. These are made with all natural, simple ingredients – mainly dates and nuts – and contain only the naturally occurring sugars in the fruit. I like to accompany mine with a few extra raw nuts for a more filling snack and to increase the protein content.

7. Vegetable crisps, such as Danielle Crunchy Pumpkin Veggie Chips. These are an excellent alternative to normal potato crisps. If you get the fruit chips, accompany them with some nuts to balance out the protein to sugar ratio.

8. Raw Hemp Protein Energy Balls. Another lovely snack based on dates and nuts, but with added hemp protein and using only raw ingredients. This one contains guarana which provides a natural boost (it contains caffeine) so can be good as a morning snack.