When hunger pangs appear, waiting for lunchtime can be hard. Snacking is a practice as old as time that is present in virtually every society, and for good reason. Many people try to avoid it, though, as they think it is unhealthy and will only lead to overeating. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Here we offer some insights about cravings and present some suggestions to prove this belief wrong, as snacking can be healthy. They are based on information by the UK National Health System (NHS) and Canada’s food guide, by the Government of Canada. None of this, however, constitutes nutrition or medical advice, and you should not rely on it as a substitute for actual assessment and guidance from qualified professionals. Keep in mind that the key to good health is a combination of a balanced diet and physical activity. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t skip meals or try crash diets, seek professional guidance instead so you can do it in a way that is safe for your body and mental health. Your worth will never be defined by your body or appearance.
The art of mindful snacking
People snack for many different reasons, but it’s cravings that they often worry about, as they see it as a temptation to indulge in unhealthy foods. The Canada’s Food Guide advises learning about what causes these cravings and how to act in a healthy way. They suggest being aware of these “hunger cues”, paying attention to signals from your body. Your hunger may be influenced by the fact that food is available, so you can see it or smell it, but also by your mood, like when you feel like eating because you are in a stressful situation, bored or simply tired. Being aware of this conditions can help you be more mindful about when, what and how much you eat, the food guide states.
The same goes for feelings of fullness, so the guide recommends being aware of your emotional state and asking yourself whether you are really hungry or there might be another reason. When you eat, giving your body time to complete digestion before deciding whether you are still hungry is also mentioned as a tip.
Taking time to eat is equally important, not only because it allows you o properly enjoy and savour your food, but also because that way you might feel fuller, thus preventing overeating. Finding time to enjoy your food in the company of others is important, but modern life often deprives us of those moments, making us eat quickly while we mentally go over the day ahead of us, or forcing us to buy ready-to-eat food instead of cooking wholesome meals on our own.
Fighting these habits and reclaiming time for us can be hard, but there are some things you can do, according to the Canadian government. For instance, you could reduce distractions to the extent possible, trying to focus on your food and not on your phones or other devices. If you are working, eating out or in the cafeteria with your coworkers is preferred to doing so in your station. This is because distractions can be stressful and may make you eat too much or too little, only to then overeat in your next meal.
Finding time to prepare your meals can also be hard and not particularly enticing, but it can pay off, as it will give you more control on your relationship with food.
Light snacks to eat if hunger strikes
Experts agree there is nothing inherently wrong with snacking, as it can actually be a good opportunity to get the nutrients you are not consuming in your regular meals. It’s all about the nutritional value of the snack. An occasional treat will do no harm and can build motivation. But if you need to watch your portions or don’t want to overeat, the UK National Health System and dietitian Azmina Govindji include a list of light bites that take virtually no effort to prepare. They are simple, tasty and under a hundred calories:
Cheese and tomato toast: a homemade version of a popular snack in the UK that you can find in every cafe, this snack ditches the refined flours in favour of wholegrain crispbread, topped with around 40g of tomato and 15g of grated cheese (fat reduced in 30%). Optionally, you can sprinkle finely chopped spring onion.
Fruit salad: fruits are one of the most healthy snacks you can think of. They are light, but the fibre in the peel can make you feel full for longer. They are also convenient: you can easily take a few pieces of fruit with you for a quick bite. And they are versatile, as you can combine many of them to make sure you reach your recommended daily amount (5 pieces of fruit and vegetables, per the NHS). In this case, you can take the edge off your hunger with this fruit salad: 50g of black grapes, cut in half, 50g of apple (diced), and 100g of chopped pineapple in juice. You can enjoy it fresh off the fridge.
Smoked salmon and cream cheese: salmon and cheese are a great match. Spread 5g of cream cheese (a reduced-fat version) on four smoked salmon strips and decorate with dill, wrapping the strips to form a roll.
Baked beans toast: beans are full of protein and you can enjoy them beyond your breakfast with this wholegrain toast. 22g slice of toasted wholegrain and 60g of baked beans is all you will need to sate your appetite. You can add a finishing touch by sprinkling some chives.