To snack, or not to snack? Nutritional therapist Ian Marber reveals whether eating in between meals is healthy
Folklore has the phrase ‘three square meals’ at its origins in the Royal Navy, as square wooden plates were indeed used on board, back in the day, for ease of stacking. True or not, eating three balanced meals a day has been largely usurped by eating between meals, so much so that the snacking category in the UK is now worth some £18 billion annually. With such a valuable market, it’s no wonder that the food industry has invested so heavily in promoting snacks, healthy or otherwise, that you’d think snacking between meals is essential.
Whether you choose to eat something between your meals depends on several factors, not least hunger and energy. Some people may feel hunger quite keenly and experience a dip in energy unless they eat regularly, whilst others are unperturbed by eating only at main meals. There’s no right or wrong, but if you do snack then it is of course quite easy to overeat and exceed your ideal calorie intake for the day.
Remember that what we eat and drink creates glucose, which fuels the cells to make energy. Simple carbs break down rapidly leading to low energy levels and hunger, before too long, as the energy they create can be short lived. Fibre-rich complex carbs, protein and fat take far longer and so should result in relatively even energy and manageable appetite. It follows that, if you combine the food groups at main meals, then you should find that you aren’t overly hungry soon afterwards.
If you do snack, then following the same formula – that’s a little protein with fibre-rich complex carbs – should help you sustain energy and hunger until your next meal. There are countless combinations, such as an apple and some whole almonds, a dollop of Greek yoghurt with blueberries, an oatcake with smoked salmon, a rice cake with cheddar cheese, or hummus with a carrot.
Portion size is all-important though. Assuming you consume around 2,000 calories a day and prefer to space your food out throughout the day, you may want to aim for a 400 calorie breakfast and 600 calories at main meals, then snacks of 150 calories would fit in nicely. That may seem rather modest, especially when you consider that my first suggestion, an apple and some almonds, would allow only a small apple and six nuts. A tablespoon of fat-free Greek yoghurt has 10 calories, leaving space for 100g of berries. You may need to make allowances for drinks.
I often advise clients to get an app, one that allows them to enter what they eat and get an idea of what’s in it. I’ve tried it myself and, as someone who does like to snack between meals, I found it very useful at helping me understand portion sizes.
Ian is one of the UK’s top nutritional therapists (ianmarber.com).
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