6 minute read

Nothing reflects the evolution of nutrition recommendations better than snacking. Not so long ago, the clinical advice was to start the day with breakfast, and to graze throughout the day on three meals and two or three snacks. Well, how times and advice have changed. Current thinking is that many of us do not need to munch our way through the day, not least because many of the “snack” foods we can access lack nutritional balance. Research has shown, for the moment anyway, that many of us do better on two or three, well-balanced, satisfying meals a day, with a gap of 4-5 hours in between.

Whilst this is not universally applicable, many people benefit from a decent gap between meals, leaving time to connect with their unique signs of “stomach-hunger” and being able to enjoy a generous helping of veggies and protein. If you’ve experienced the sensation of being tummy hungry, rather than head or heart hungry, you’ll know just how delicious food can taste.

Hunger is the best seasoning.

Ken Follett

Some of us do need to snack

There are very few universally applicable truths, and so we have to acknowledge that there are some of us who do need to snack. Young children; pregnant or breastfeeding women; the elderly; athletes; anyone with a reduced appetite; those who are unwell or who have problems with blood sugar regulation; those trying to gain or maintain weight, and various other groups of people may benefit from snacking. Even usually healthy adults may find their circumstances change and snacking becoming a useful, if temporary, tactic.

As one example, my Mum was poorly recently. An older adult, a health concern spiralled out of control and she ended up becoming very ill. Once out of hospital and staying with me, her appetite needed stimulating, she could only manage small meals, and her blood sugar would fall quite quickly. Snacks were a central part of the day but what she wanted to eat and the amount and frequency that she needed to eat changed as she powered through her recovery. Now back to health and living independently, Mum is once again following her usual routine.

Just like my Mum, for many healthy adults, snacking may be unavoidable. Beyond illness, the hectic pace of life may see us missing a meal or not have time to eat properly; we may realise we won’t have time later to eat so grab something quickly to strategically refuel, or we may simply feel stomach-hungry before the next meal.

In these situations, understanding and choosing a nutritious snack might help ensure our body can perform optimally. These ten tips can help you snack better: shock horror, most of them don’t actually involve eating!

  1. Snacking can be good for you: recognising our fuelling requirements and respecting your hunger are key features of a balanced relationship with food. Snacking can be an opportunity to enhance your body’s nutritional status and performance ability. Creating a snack that looks like a “mini meal” – including some fresh fruit, veggies and protein – can provide everything you need to function well. Simple suggestions include a sliced apple with a tablespoon of a nut butter; raw veggie sticks and a mini pot of hummus; a couple of dessertspoons of natural, preferably Greek, yoghurt with berries; a few almonds and a pear, or a “protein” snack pot (Pret or M&S offer these if you’re out and about).
  2. Focus on nourishment first, but if something delicious is calling you, make a conscious decision to slow down, savour, and enjoy it. After all, you may as well max out on the pleasure and satisfy your brain’s reward centre whilst you re-fuel.
  3. Build a better plate (yes, a plate! And preferably sit down while snacking). Including fruit, veggies, protein, a little bit of fat (avocado, anyone?), maybe a bit of fibre from an oat cake (the cracker, not the big Staffordshire creation) can boost your nutrient intake and satisfy your appetite for longer.
  4. But first, a drink: because often we are thirsty, not hungry. Yes, thirst can masquerade as hunger so grab a drink, allow a few minutes afterwards then re-assess if you’re tummy hungry.
  5. Review your breakfast (if you eat it). We no longer recommend breakfast to everyone; some of us do better eating later or not eating breakfast at all. Whatever works for you. But, if you find yourself reaching for a snack, reviewing the make-up of your breakfast (it does contain protein, doesn’t it?) or maybe popping in breakfast if it’s missing, then assessing your response to it, might be helpful.
  6. A little bit of hunger holds no fear. Yes, it’s fine to feel hungry; it’s what drives our “foraging behaviour” and food eaten when we are properly (tummy) hungry tastes wonderful. Well, at least for the first few mouthfuls but we can chat about taste specific satiety later.
  7. Sort out the cues. If we are surrounded by snacks, we will want them. Simple. So, move the snacks out of sight or boost their nutritional value; check in with your tummy when your friend suggests a muffin with that coffee, have a strategic fuelling stop before entering a cue-filled environment, or stick a post-it note (pattern interrupt) reminder of your snack approach onto cupboards, or wherever you keep them.
  8. Make it harder to access them. Putting snacks in high cupboards so you need a step ladder to reach them or not buying them, or buying ones for your family that you don’t like (yes, get picky) all build barriers that act as a pattern interrupt that is key to successful behaviour change.
  9. Think about “why”, “what”, and “how much”. Do the thinking, make a snack-conscious decision that helps you understand the behaviour chain behind it and puts a cap on the amount you’ll consume.
  10. Ask you, “which direction are you travelling in?” Our choices either takes us towards or away from our goals. If your goal is healthier eating, check in with your conscious decision and ask: will this help me move forward, or back, or keep me stuck. You might find the answer, and your subsequent action, surprising.

Happy snacking, and stay well.


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