Snacking: friend or foe?

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 11 May, 2020

In a recent survey, we asked about how your eating habits have changed during lockdown. A clear message to come out of the results is that snacking has been a challenge for many of us, with 50% saying they've been snacking more since lockdown started. But is this something we should worry about or not?

The term 'snack' is often interchangeable with the word 'treat' – but in my view the two are very different. Snacking in itself is not a problem, providing the food you eat is part of a well balanced calorie controlled diet. Issues arise when excess calories are consumed, or we make poor food choices. Which leads to the question – when is a 'snack' really a 'treat'?

Here are my definitions:

Snack – a small meal which provides some nutritional benefit and can be a healthy addition to your daily diet.

Treat – a food with little to no nutritional benefit, which should be eaten in moderation.

In either case, a snack or a treat should ideally be around 200 calories. Sweet or savoury is down to your personal preference! In fact our survey results showed an equal split between people's tastes.

It's really easy – especially when working from home – to just wander into the kitchen and grab the first tempting thing in front of you (which is what we like to call a 'snaccident'!). But it is possible to make snacking work to your advantage by taking a minute to choose a healthy option. I have listed below some ideas for some healthy sweet and savoury snacks – all are between 150-200 calories. Depending on how much time you have, some are instant snacks and others take a few minutes to prep.

snacking

7 speedy snacks

  1. Peanut butter on toast – 1 medium slice of wholemeal toast with 15g reduced fat peanut butter (161 kcals)
  2. Veg sticks with tzatziki – 200g carrot and cucumber sticks, with 80g tzatziki (150 kcals)
  3. Mixed nuts – 30g mixed unsalted nuts (174 kcals)
  4. Wholemeal pitta and houmous – 1 mini wholemeal pitta toasted, with 40g reduced fat houmous (163 kcals)
  5. Fruit & yogurt – 180g fresh fruit, chopped, served with 120g pot of low fat, no added sugar yogurt (191 kcals)
  6. Fibre One bar and banana – a Fibre One bar (flavour of your choice) and a medium banana (168 kcals)
  7. Strawberries dipped in dark choc – 100g strawberries dipped in 25g melted dark chocolate (172 kcals)

7 'mini meal' snacks

  1. Caprese salad
  2. Tuna & cucumber bites
  3. Smoked salmon rice cake
  4. Ham & cheese lettuce roll ups
  5. Banana pancakes
  6. Fruit kebabs with crème fraîche
  7. Apple rings with peanut butter

Click here for details on how to make.

snacking

Managing excess 'treating'

If you find your snacking tends to lean more towards the treat side, and you want to regain some control, here are some tips to try.

Practical tips

  1. Out of sight out of mind! – it really works. Keep your treat foods somewhere where you don't see them all the time – so preferably not on the worktop or eye level in the fridge. Make it awkward to get to them – at the back of a cupboard, on the top shelf or in another room – anywhere requiring a bit more effort!
  2. Pre-portion – portion up your treat foods into sensible servings to encourage you to stick to one portion. Or if possible buy already portioned for example a multi pack of crisps instead of a large sharer bag, or individual chocolate bars rather than a big slab.
  3. Limit occasions – if you like a treat everyday but it inevitably results in you overeating, maybe try a different approach. Allow yourself a treat every other day instead, so it won't be such a problem if you eat a little more than planned. Also plan for it – use the Nutracheck App and add it to your diary at the start of the day so you know how many calories you have left to play with.

Emotional tips

  1. Identify *why* you're eating these foods – before you open the fridge, stop and ask yourself how you are feeling – can you identify the emotion? Are you bored? Or hungry? Feeling anxious? Wanting a reward? Needing a pickup? Identifying your trigger is the first step to making a change.
  2. When you have the why, work on the how – if you’ve identified why you're eating too many treats, try to work on how to change this behaviour. If you're bored, try and choose something else to distract yourself. If you're feeling sad, think about why this is and try to address this. If you're actually hungry, what is going to satisfy you more – chocolate or a slice of toast with some peanut butter?
  3. Try the 'if – then' technique – this requires you to prepare in advance a list of things you will do instead when the urge to snack hits. So for example, "if I want a biscuit at 11am, then I will eat a piece of fruit first to take away the craving". Or "if I go to grab a chocolate bar at 4pm, then I will head out for my daily walk and listen to my favourite music".

This can work because you have already decided in advance what your course of action will be. So you don't have to think and find energy to make a decision when your willpower is already being challenged.

So in summary – don't beat yourself up if you are finding this situation is making you snack more. Snacking isn't bad – just snack smart! A piece of fresh fruit or handful of raisins can help you reach your 5-a-day. Likewise a cracker with cheese or a yogurt contributes to your dairy and calcium targets. If a 'snack' means a sweet treat or crisps, you can still factor this in by using the App to track what you're eating. Remember – no food in itself is bad, it's the quantity and frequency with which we eat it that has the impact on our health and weight. As always, the answer is moderation!

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.