From elevenses to afternoon ‘pick me ups’; many of us snack throughout the day.
In fact, a recent survey revealed that 66% of UK adults snack at least once a day.
But, is it good for us to snack between meals?
And is there really such a thing as healthy snacking?
One thing for sure is that the snacking market has boomed in recent years. And we’ve seen an explosion of healthy alternatives enter the market. Kale chips, protein bars and energy balls are all making their way onto the shopping lists of health-conscious consumers.
Here, we explore how snacking between meals impacts our weight, energy levels, appetite and overall health, and determine whether there really is such a thing as healthy snacking.
How does snacking affect us?
Some people believe snacking between meals can help to curb hunger. While others say it can make you more hungry, and more likely to overeat.
In reality, the effect snacking has on appetite really depends on the individual, and of course, the type of snack being consumed.
Tuck into a bag of crisps and you’re likely to find yourself feeling ravenous by your next mealtime. But opt for a snack high in fibre or protein, such as nuts or an energy ball, and you’re more likely to feel satisfied for longer.
Most research indicates that snacking between meals doesn’t affect our weight. Some have even suggested that snacking can help us to lose weight by boosting our metabolism. However, scientific evidence doesn’t support this.
Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that the time of day you reach for a snack can influence whether or not you gain weight. For example, snacking late at night, just before bed, is thought to be worse for weight gain than snacking in the morning.
Once again, the biggest contributing factor is the type of snack you eat - as well as how much of it you consume.
Snacking on items that are high in sugar are more likely to cause weight gain than those with low sugar content. And snacks with little nutritional value that don’t satisfy hunger cravings may cause you to overeat, and gain more weight as a result.
Blood sugar levels
Blood sugar is an important source of energy and provides nutrients to the body’s organs, muscles and nervous system. It’s important that we maintain a healthy amount of blood sugar throughout the day.
There is some evidence to suggest that eating at regular intervals helps to maintain our blood sugar levels. However, this isn’t the case for everyone.
Of course, the type of snack and how much of it you consume will have the biggest impact.
Snacks that are high in fibre and low in carbohydrates can have a positive impact on blood sugar levels. Foods high in carbohydrates may give you a brief energy boost, but will end up making you feel more sluggish and tired in the long run.
We need nutrients to keep our bodies happy and healthy. And snacking, when done in moderation, can help supply our bodies with those important nutrients throughout the day.
The key is to find snacks that are loaded with nutritional value. Nuts and seeds are a great option. The macadamia nut, in particular, is a highly nutritious food containing healthy fats that are proven to lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and oxidative stress.
Sweet vs savoury snacks - which is healthier?
When snack cravings occur, many of us tend to crave either sweet or savoury snacks.
But is one better for you than the other?
Research shows that we tend to reach for salty snacks when experiencing a hormonal fluctuation due to changes in stress levels, or when we’re feeling dehydrated. Satisfying that craving can give your body some much-needed nutrients. Nuts, rice cakes or popcorn with a little sea salt are all good options.
Cravings for sweet snacks, on the other hand, can be associated with low blood sugar levels or emotional stress. For options with high nutritional value, try yoghurt and blueberries or macadamia nuts dipped in dark chocolate.
The best healthy snacks
When choosing a snack, opt for items that are high in protein and fibre. And avoid those high in carbohydrates and sugar.
Think eggs, cottage cheese, nuts and seeds. These will help reduce hunger, keep you feeling full for several hours, and help to maintain your energy levels.
Macadamia nuts, in particular, make a great snack as they are high in vitamins, minerals and fibre, and low in sugar and carbohydrates. They are also rich in monounsaturated fats, which can boost heart health and lower cholesterol. What’s more, they are loaded with antioxidants which helps to fight inflammation in the body and lower cholesterol levels.
Eaten whole, just 28 grams (1 ounce) of macadamia nuts will provide you with 2 grams of protein and 3 grams of fibre. You'll also get plenty of important vitamins including magnesium, iron and vitamin B6.
Or why not check out our Macadamia Hummus recipe? It takes just a few minutes to make and tastes great with rice cakes or chopped vegetables. If hummus isn't for you, our Macadamia Pesto is just as delicious!
So, is there such a thing as healthy snacking?
If you aren’t convinced, try replacing your mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack with a handful of macadamia nuts. Or, try some vegetables or crackers dipped in our Macadamia Hummus or Pesto. We promise you’ll be left feeling satisfied, energised and ready to tackle whatever you have in store for the day.