I get a lot of questions about snacks. People wonder if they should snack between meals, and if so, what they should snack on. With kids starting school in next week, parents are also starting to think about what they should be packing for their children’s snacks.
Many people need a snack in-between meals since, in general, we shouldn’t be going more than 4-6 hours without eating. For athletes and active people, snacks become especially important because they can help speed up the recovery process. Snacks also become important for weight management. Having a snack can help prevent us from going into a meal overly hungry and then as a result, overeating.
So what does a “healthy” snack look like? As a general rule, snacks should include at least 2 of the 4 food groups. As a helpful reminder, the four food groups are:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Grain products
- Milk and alternative
- Meat and alternatives
While there is no hard and strict calorie target for snacks, most people need snacks in about the 100-200 calorie range. For athletes, it’s also important to consider the protein content of these snacks. For athletes, the ideal snack should provide about 10-20 grams of protein and a source of carbohydrates to help with the recovery process.
Unfortunately, many packaged foods are also falsely labeled as healthy due to clever marketing schemes. Just because something is made with honey, maple syrup or is labeled organic or natural does not make it a healthier option. For instance, a Taste of Nature “Organic” granola bar contains 15 grams of fat or a 23% Daily Value of fat (read on to learn that this a lot). Another example is fruit gummies. Annie’s “Organic” fruit snacks made with real fruit flavours and no added preservatives still contains no fibre, unlike a real piece of fruit.
100-calorie snack packs are another easy go-to snack option. These are really just small portions of “junk food.” The problem with this type of snack is that it will likely not keep you full for long. They’re better suited as helping with a craving or treated as a dessert than to provide the body with an actual fuel source.
There is certainly nothing wrong with eating packaged snack foods. However, be sure to compare labels to select the best product. When reading the food labels, the first step is to check the serving size so that you’re comparing similar amounts between products. While there are many nutrients to compare on nutrient facts labels, I recommend focusing on fat, saturated fat, fibre, sugar and protein.
The chart below compares two common granola bars and yogurts:
|Vector Chocolate Chip||Kashi Honey Almond Flax|
|Calories||230 calories||150 calories|
|Fat||7 grams||5 grams|
|Saturated fat||3.2 grams||0.5 grams|
|Fibre||2.5 grams||4 grams|
|Sugar||19 grams||5 grams|
|Protein||9 grams||7 grams|
|100 g strawberry whole milk Greek yogurt||100 g plain non fat Greek yogurt|
|Calories||150 calories||80 calories|
|Fat||4.5 grams||0 grams|
|Saturated fat||3 grams||0 grams|
|Fibre||0 grams||0 grams|
|Sugar||13 grams||6 grams|
|Protein||11 grams||15 grams|
As you can see from these examples, comparing food labels allows you to select products that are lower in fat, saturated fat and sugar and higher in fibre and protein. You can also use the % daily value (DV) on food labels. In general, >15% DV is considered a lot, and <5% DV is considered a little. For instance, the Taste of Nature Organic Granola Bar mentioned above with a 23% DV of fat would be considered high fat.
There are many snack options that are just as convenient as granola bars and other convenient snack foods, but they may just take a little bit more planning. Here are some easy alternatives to keep you going in between meals:
- 1 cup plain yogurt with 1 cup raspberries mixed in
- 1 boiled egg and a medium apple
- 4 original Triscuit crackers and 2 mini Babybel cheeses
- Carrot sticks, cucumber slices and ¼ cup hummus
All of the above options are in the 100-200 calories range. They provide an ideal source of fibre and protein to help keep you full. You’ll also notice that each snack provides two of the four food groups.
Snacks are an important part of keeping us properly fuelled for our day. While it might take some planning, packing healthy snacks for yourself or your family doesn’t need to be complicated.
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