This year Nutrition Month is all about unlocking the potential of food – to fuel, discover, prevent, heal, and bring us together. While I hope to share more about how dietitians in various roles can help you unlock the potential of food, this week I’m starting off with some snack inspiration to keep you well fueled throughout your day.
Eating a balanced diet can be a challenge during busy weeks, and sometimes this causes us to skip meals. As a new mom, I understand how hard it can be to make food a priority for yourself – just give me a coffee and let’s get on with it. The problem is, when that caffeine wears off, energy levels drop and I’m left feeling sluggish. Sound familiar? If putting together a full meal seems like too much, you regularly find yourself hitting the wall at 2 pm, or struggling through your post-work spin class, a snack might just be what the dietitian ordered.
Not everyone needs to have a snack between meals. If, for example, you eat regularly throughout the day and don’t feel hungry between meals or have a big drop in energy levels, you’re probably doing just fine. In general, eating every 4-6 hours, depending on your hunger and activity level, is a great way to keep your blood sugar stable and energy levels consistent throughout the day. Some people find eating more frequently works for them. Here are five scenarios where adding a snack to your day might be of benefit to you.
- You know it’s going to be longer than 6 hours between meals. If you know you have plans for a late dinner, say 8 pm, and you normally eat your lunch at noon, it’s a good idea to plan on an afternoon snack to get you through your day with consistent energy levels. Similarly, an early breakfast followed by a late lunch might call for a snack in between to get you through.
- You can barely make it through your spin class after work. A high intensity workout like spin class, CrossFit, or a run requires a well fueled body. Adding a snack containing mostly carbohydrate and a small amount protein about an hour before you hit the gym or class will help you spin faster, lift more, and run farther. If you eat closer to your workout, skip the protein and try to have a lower fibre containing food, as the fibre and protein will slow the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream – which you need for your workout. The next section covers protein and fibre containing foods.
- Your workout starts before the sun comes up. If you like to workout first thing in the morning having a source of carbohydrate before hand is essential for good performance. If you don’t have time to eat before your workout, having a balanced snack before bed the night before will help ensure your body has some extra fuel in the tank when you wake up. Right before you go workout, have a glass of juice or a small piece of fruit for some quick acting energy.
- Your job requires you to do shift work and it’s challenging to keep a consistent eating schedule. Packing some extra snacks to have on your break can help keep your energy levels up through those 12-hour shifts. Depending on your work schedule, having a small snack before bed might help you sleep better as well, since going to bed hungry or eating a huge meal right before bed can both keep you from getting the sleep you need.
- You are hungry. This might seem obvious, but we can often ignore our hunger cues when we are busy, or we try to control our eating habits with external cues like and imposed eating schedule. Remember I said in general, eating every 4-6 hours helps maintain stable blood sugar and energy levels – you know your body best. If you didn’t eat enough at breakfast, for example, you might not be able to focus at your morning project meeting (neither will your coworkers if they have to listen to your stomach grumbling the whole time). If this sounds like you, don’t ignore your hunger. Grab a snack and plan for a larger breakfast, if you can, in the future.
What to Look for in a Snack
Pair together foods with protein and fibre and you’ll feel satisfied and your energy levels will be sustained for longer than if you eat foods without them. Examples of protein containing foods are nuts and seeds, dairy products, eggs, beans, meat, poultry and seafood. Fibre can be found in plant foods, such as vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. For snacks eaten with the specific purpose of fueling before an intense workout, less fibre is better – this is when you would skip the whole wheat bread and maybe have white toast with peanut butter and jam, for example.
Here are some of my favourite protein and fibre containing snacks:
- Apple and peanut butter. The perfect sweet and salty combo, that also satisfies your need for crunch (if you’re into that sort of thing). Apples are low on the glycemic index, so they won’t spike your blood sugar, plus they are a good source of fibre. Peanut butter is also a good source of fibre, as well as plant-based protein and healthy fat. Seed butters work just as well for those with nut allergies or if you are bringing your snack to a nut free environment.
- Hummus and vegetables. Made from chickpeas and sesame seed paste (tahini), hummus is another plant-based protein that’s high in fibre. Pair with your favourite veggies like carrots, celery, peppers, or cucumber for extra fibre and nutrition.
- Plain Greek yogurt with fruit. Greek yogurt is higher in protein than the traditional kind, so it will keep you feeling full for longer. One of my favourite bedtime snacks is Greek yogurt with frozen cherries or berries. The yogurt forms a thin frozen layer on the fruit when you mix it, which I love – it’s especially good on those hot summer evenings (which seem so far away right now).
- Avocado toast. As an ‘elder millennial’ you can’t expect me not to mention avocado toast. Avocados are loaded with healthy fat and fibre and are also a good source of magnesium. Sprinkle with sesame or hemp seeds for protein and chili flakes for extra flavour. I recommend whole grain or sourdough for the toast.
- Crispy chickpeas and pumpkin seeds. This Nutrition Month feature recipe is a great snack to satisfy your crunch and refuel after a workout. Make a large batch and keep some on your desk at work or in your gym bag for those emergency snack situations.
Remember, food is more than just fuel. Some days, you just need a cookie (or three), and that’s fine. Have it, enjoy, and move on. If the moving on part seems difficult to you, you’ll want to come back for next week’s post to learn how dietitians can help you with your relationship with food.
What are your favourite go-to snacks? Let me know in the comment section below.
Part of this post was adapted from the Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month campaign materials. Find more information about Nutrition Month at www.NutritionMonth2019.ca