Nutrition Meets Food Science

Snack for thought

Be it a road trip, movie date, trek or a regular day at school or work, snacks are something everyone looks forward to. Snacks are a conversation starter, bonding opportunity, brain fuel, a treat for good work and even a time-pass according to the chikki and ‘bobby’ vendors in Mumbai local trains.

We usually associate the word snack with processed foods like chips, cookies or chocolates. But in reality, snacks can be delicious and healthy at the same time. Theoretically, hunger should be a cue for snacking but there are so many other aspects that influence your snacking frequency and choice of snack. Imagine you are at a wedding reception and the waiter carries a tray of fried Chinese finger foods. Even if you are not hungry you tend to grab a few anyway, encouraging your cousin to try it while vouching for its good taste. Yes, and being the non-hunger cue for snacking for him or her!

Do we really need snacks?

Well, that’s a tricky question. Let’s start with children. Snacks are everyone’s favourite meal of the day, but particularly so when it comes to children. It is also an opportunity to add a lot of nourishment to their day’s diet. They are very active throughout the day and need that extra energy to support their physical and mental growth. This makes it even more important that the snacks are packed with nutrients. One rule you can use to make sure kids are getting the right snack is the ’50-50 choice’ rule. The snack can have two components- one of their choices and one of yours, or you can alternate between making the snacking choices (e.g. – mid-morning snack of their choice and the evening snack of your choice)

Here are some snack options that are nourishing and enjoyable for children:

  1. Cheese and nuts- A slice or ½ a cup of cheese with ½ a handful of nuts are loaded with nutrients like protein, fibre, omega 6, calcium, zinc, magnesium, selenium etc, depending on the choice of nuts. Cheese is a favourite among kids and the nuts can be the component of your choice for kids who don’t like nuts.
  2. Fruit and nut butter- fruits like apples, banana and dates make a great pair with nut butters like peanut butter, almond butter etc. You can serve it as finger like slices to dip in the nut butter or as mini sandwiches made of banana coins and some nut butter. Another snack that is loaded with the growth and brain nourishing nutrients.
  3. Smoothies or yogurt bowls- a combination of fruit and milk or curd is nourishing and liked my most children especially when served in a fancy mason jar or their favourite cartoon printed bowl.
  4. Fruit Popsicles- a healthy version of the regular ice candy can be made by adding chopped fruits to a popsicle mold or paper cup and topping it with coconut water, milk, flavoured yogurt, coconut milk or fresh fruit juices. Loaded with nutrients and low in refined sugar at the same time, these are great for children and adults alike on a hot summer’s day.
  5. Devilled eggs- hard boil an egg, slice it in half and scoop out yolk. Traditionally, a tsp of mayonnaise is added to the hard boiled yolk, whipped lightly and piped into the hollow egg whites, but you could replace the mayonnaise with some cheese spread or hummus and serve it with two peas or olives as eyes for the devil. Wouldn’t your adult self also want to grab one if served like that?
  6. Paushtik ladoo- these are every grandmother’s solution when hunger strikes between meals. These ladoos can be made with a varied assortment of nuts, seeds, flours and roasted pulses, and sweetened with dates, dry dates powder, dried fruits or even some jaggery.

A part from these, you could go for whole wheat banana bread, egg muffins, vegetable skewers, popcorn etc. I could go on, but you get the idea- include at least 2 food groups in a snack and serve it in a way that’s attractive for children. And don’t forget the ’50-50 choice’ rule.

Moving on to adults- snacking and its effects on the body are very individualized. For some, snacking may help boost metabolism while for others it may be a source of unnecessary extra calories for the day. It is important to decide on your snatching pattern based on your activity level. If you are majorly involved in sedentary desk work it is best to avoid snacking and if you do, go for low calorie, protein and fibre rich snacks. On the other hand, if you have more active job like teaching, cooking, rounding the hospital looking after patients, etc. you may require a few snacks to keep you energized and going through the day.

For individuals living with diabetes it was suggested until recently to keep snacking every 2 hours to avoid drop in blood glucose levels as a side effect of the medications. But it is important to consult your doctor about the type of medication that has been prescribed to you. Not every diabetes medication leads to episodes of hypoglycemia and personalization in snacking or meal pattern is necessary.

For weight watchers it is necessary to understand that every time you consume a meal your body releases and hormone called insulin which pushes glucose and fat from your blood into your tissues to either be utilised or stored. If you are not adequately active these nutrients are not utilized, but stored in tissues and may lead to weight gain. The other hand eating too little food can drop your basal metabolic rate and in turn lead to weight gain. Is thus important to strike a balance between your activity levels and your snacking patterns and the best way to do it is to consult a qualified nutritionist or dietitian. The correct amount, quality and frequency of snacking can help you keep your energy levels up throughout the day, maintain a good metabolism and also prevent ravenous over eating during main meals, keeping your weight in check.

How to make sure that your snacks are nourishing:

  1. Snack because you are hungry, not because you are bored, angry, stressed or happy.
  2. You must have heard this many times. But 50% of the times you are actually thirsty, not hungry when you crave for that cookie to snack on.
  3. That does not mean that you starve yourself. Just make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day with regular sips of water and you your body will know when it’s time to actually snack.
  4. Your snack should have at least two components- protein and fibre.
  5. You can get your protein from pulses, egg, cheese, curd, milk, nuts, seeds etc.
  6. The fibre can also come from pulses, nuts or seeds or from fruits and vegetables.
  7. Estimate the number of hours you are going to be working and plan your snacks accordingly. Some planning and prepping can help you eat healthy and avoid grabbing a pack of chips or namkeen on the way or order-in something during WFH.

Snacking can be fun and nourishing if you are mindful to your body’s needs and do little pre-prepping. Just make sure you are snacking to satiate hunger and not because you are bored, happy, angry or stressed.

Girija Damle

Dietitian, PFNDAI

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