If, by definition, we are meant to only nibble on snacks rather than inhale them, and if snacks are indeed meant to be a small portion size rather than a meal size, then for our sustenance and sanity we may need to reconsider what we forage for between breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Sometimes you reach for snacks because you are bored rather than hungry, but most often it is when your blood sugar levels are plummeting and you feel foggy or irritable. If you were to examine what your body actually needs at this time — as opposed to what your mind, trained through habit, says you should eat — there are certain foods that serve you well. Healthy snacks create a steady release of energy and offer your brain and nervous system essential nutrients to sustain concentration and an upbeat mood.
Unfortunately, too many snacks contain cheap, damaged fats such as trans fats (trans fatty acids, or TFAs) that not only impede good neural function but interfere with the body’s ability to digest and utilise fats. Foods that tend to contain TFAs include crackers, biscuits, chips, cakes, cereals and margarines.
Our brains rely on good fats to work effectively. Studies indicate that the massive increase of TFAs in our diets over the past 20 years has been a major contributing factor in the rise of attention deficit disorder and other childhood behavioural problems. Furthermore, adult mood problems such as poor concentration, anxiety, depression and aggression can also be linked to TFAs.
We serve our minds and bodies well by eating snacks containing good fats or essential fatty acids (EFAs). These fats are found in many foods but particularly nuts, seeds, olives, coconuts, avocados, high-quality fish, dairy, sheep and goat products, and chia seeds. EFAs are extremely important for the health of our cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and nervous systems.
You also need sustained energy from your snacks rather than a quick-fix sugar high, so snacks should also contain wholesome, organic carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables give us many benefits besides; blueberries, for example, are packed with nutrients that not only improve brain function but also protect delicate brain structures against oxidative damage. Nuts and seeds are also superfoods; just a handful a day is all you need to get your recommended daily amount of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills, and vitamin E, which helps to prevent memory deterioration.
High-quality foods nurture you in many ways and can easily be negotiated into a snack menu. However, sometimes our busy lifestyles lead to our kitchen pantries and bellies being filled with poor food choices. Every so often you need inspiration to stop, recalibrate and take charge of your diet and your health outcomes. Good health is secured through wholesome daily habits and, if your life becomes stressful, those good habits will ease the brain fog and boost your concentration and energy.
It’s also wise to incorporate plenty of variety in your snack choices. An apple a day may keep the doctor away but it also promotes boredom. We all love novelty and without it you may find yourself tempted to ditch your healthy items in favour of the bedazzling array of unhealthy snacks on offer in shops, food stands, vending machines and supermarkets. Health is a process, not a destination, and it happens through choice, not by chance.
Simple snack ideas
Whether you are an experienced cook or a beginner, whether you are tentatively embarking on healthier lifestyle habits or are already a health nut, it’s easy to create wholesome snacks. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Fresh, organic fruits served as whole pieces or as a fruit salad with yoghurt and nuts
- Nut butters spread on large apple wedges or celery
- Snack mixes made up of your favourite ingredients, eg organic dried fruits, nuts, seeds, celery pieces, blueberries, apple wedges and chocolate-covered goji berries
- Toasted muesli and yoghurt served with berries and nuts
- Raw organic vegetables such as cucumbers, celery sticks, green beans and carrots whole or cut into vegie sticks as a substitute for crackers with a homemade dip such as hummus
- Homemade chocolate mousse (see recipe below) mixed with blueberries
- Homemade sweets made with wholesome ingredients, such as nut bars (see recipe below), slices, muffins, cakes and fruit and nut balls
- Chocolate liquorice
- Organic fruit bread or buns
- Boiled eggs
- Organic popcorn
- Oven-roasted chickpeas
Source: Wellbeing Magazine