Snack happy: reading the label is key to good grazing

Wisely chosen snacks can increase energy levels and help maintain a healthy body weight

Snacks can sometimes be eaten out of politeness, or simply because they catch our eye as we queue to pay for petrol.

Snacks can sometimes be eaten out of politeness, or simply because they catch our eye as we queue to pay for petrol.

 

Many of us were raised on three square meals a day. Nowadays, concerns about grazing and how the habit of snacking can contribute to obesity abound. However, few studies demonstrate a clear link between snacking and higher body fat levels or obesity. There are feasible explanations for this. Research results are ambiguous, probably because snacking has not been defined clearly across all studies.

Snacking is also linked to improved and increased intakes of fruit, and fibre-containing wholegrains, in many studies. These foods could potentially promote satiety and even reduce the risk of obesity. In addition, snacking is correlated with increased high-intensity activity in some studies. This may result in these additional snack calories being burned before or after exercise sessions.

Further studies are required to better understand the mechanisms by which snacking may impact the balance of our energy intake and expenditure.

Some people avoid eating between meals. Others have small appetites or higher metabolisms and simply couldn’t and wouldn’t be satiated without a nibble mid-afternoon.

Wisely chosen snacks can help to increase their energy levels, maintain a healthy body weight and improve concentration, all while adding valuable nutrients to their diets.

The key to smart snacking is to know when and what to snack on. If you are trying to lose weight, it may be best to check into the intensity of your hunger.

Do you need to snack? Can you wait until your next scheduled meal? Or could you reduce the size of the next meal and create a mid-morning or late-afternoon snack to keep you going? Would one of your five-a-day be enough to keep you going?

Fruits are naturally lower in calories than many other snack foods, and while they do contain natural sugar they also provide valuable fibre and little or no saturated fat and salt.

Crisps, nuts and pretzels

Can you bring your full attention to what you are eating, how much and even why? Snacks can sometimes be eaten out of politeness, or simply because they catch our eye as we queue to pay for petrol. The problem with certain snack foods is portion control.

A 175g bag of pretzels– of which the suggested serving size is 30g – contains approximately 679 calories and almost 4.5g of salt. So, it’s really about whether we can limit ourselves to the correct serving size.

At first glance, the fat content of the pretzels appears very low, but remember the almonds are rich in the healthier unsaturated fats.

All savoury snacks are low in sugar but the almonds are the better snack, in terms of protein, fibre and salt. Both crisps and pretzels are high in salt. It’s interesting to note the fat and salt differences in the homemade popcorn versus the microwaveable popcorn.

Cereal bars

When comparing bars, it’s important to bear in mind that they are not all the same weight.

The Bounce Energy Balls pack a good nutritional punch from a protein and fibre point of view. They have a better nutritional profile than the 9bar in terms of calories, saturated fat and sugar too.

Although the 9bar has the highest proportion of total and saturated fats, the majority of the fats are unsaturated fats from the seeds in the bar.

However the 9bar and the Nutrigrain bars taste especially sweet.

Of course when you bake your own, you can roughly calculate the amount of sugar (including agave, honey and golden syrup) and fat (butter and oils) in each of those 12 rather generous looking flapjacks cooling in your baking tray.

However, to determine the nutritional value of a shop-bought granola bar, you really have to read the label.

You can scrutinise the nutrition panel for the usual calories, saturated fat, salt and sugar per bar.

If you regularly choose a certain snack bar, it is also worth looking at the fibre, micronutrients and protein content. Does it offer anything over and above a chocolate bar? Some confectionery-type bars have considerably more sugar than the granola type snack bars.

Younger children

Start early with little ones. Limit chocolate, sweets and soft drinks to occasions. Allow children to develop a taste for snack foods that contain essential nutrients as well as their naturally occurring sugars.

A small bag of unsalted nuts (for older children without allergy), or make your own “trail mix” of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried blueberries and dried cranberries.

A pot of mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries) that they can pick up with their fingers.

Fruit salad made with whatever’s in your fridge: pears, grapes etc.

A halved kiwi, scooped out with a teaspoon.

A peeled satsuma nearly broken in segments and loosely wrapped in its skin.

A small bag of dried apricots, dried mango or raisins (without sulphites).

A homemade flapjack or oat biscuit, or a slice of carrot cake.

Hummus with carrot sticks for dipping.

Almond butter and sliced banana on cracker.

A pot of probiotic yogurt over a handful of home-made granola.

Eating between meals can be helpful in meeting calorie and nutrient requirements, especially for some groups of the population, such as children, older people, or people with a very active lifestyle.

It is what you eat that counts, how much of it and how frequently. Read the label.

Paula Mee is a dietitian and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute. Email: paula@paulamee.com; Twitter @paula_mee

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