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Health-Conscious Snacking Made Easy

Health-Conscious Snacking Made Easy

We can probably all remember being told not to snack between meals or you’ll ruin your appetite – and they had a point – depending what you snack on, it could limit what you’re able to eat at mealtimes, which in turn could deprive your body of necessary healthy nutrients. But, when that mid-morning hunger hits, or the 4 o’clock slump strikes, it’s hard not to reach for a sweet treat to inject a bit of energy into the proceedings.

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Dr Lucy Williamson, award winning nutritionist and gut health specialist, explains how we can take a healthier approach to snacking and offers advice to limit the times we reach for a chocolate bar, and choose a different option instead.

She explains why we feel we need to snack: “When our blood sugar drops the result is hunger and often lower mood and so a craving for sweetness follows to ‘reward’ our comfort centre in the brain. Therefore, we need to work at eating foods that promote a steady blood sugar. Think high fibre, minimally processed foods. You may have heard these referred to as ‘GI carbohydrates.’ This is an index which measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar after eating. By eating higher fibre foods like wholegrains, digestion slows down which helps to reduce peaks and troughs in our blood sugar response.”

Now we understand why we feel the need to snack, let’s think about if we really need to snack, and if we do, what should we be snacking on:

  1. Gut Health - our fabulous gut microbiome has a profound impact on our whole health, including our mood. High fibre foods like wholegrains are also gut healthy foods. That’s the good news! Not so good is that our gut health benefits from an empty gut in between meals. So, we need to strike a balance.
  2. Thirsty or hungry? We often mistake being hungry for being thirsty so rather than reach for breakfast before work, try rehydrating really well with a couple of cups of warm water or something invigorating like a green tea. Extending an overnight fast in this way is great for gut health (try for 12-14 hours). You’ll find you can push breakfast later - easy if working from home; if not, make a time saving overnight soaked oats jar to take with you. No need for elevenses before lunch and you may also feel more energised and productive!
  3. Embrace your natural circadian rhythm - if we reach for a large coffee early in the morning the caffeine will definitely drive the need to snack an hour or so later. By waking up by rehydrating with warm water or green tea, we allow our natural, slower biological wake-up process. The result is lower stress levels too, which reduces our appetite further.
  4. Breakfasts to help reduce the mid-morning snack attack - Make breakfast higher in protein and fibre to sustain you better. Add protein packed chia seeds into your porridge, try the low sugar, high fibre weekend granola recipe (below) on bio live yogurt with a little fruit or quickly poach an egg on a slice of sourdough.
  5. Good swaps - When a snack is really needed, often about 4pm when energy levels are fading, try these alternatives: 4 or 5 different whole nuts and a couple of pieces of dried fruit, treat yourself to a delicious dark chocolate bar and break off a couple of squares - suck them rather than chew to enjoy maximum, lasting flavour! Try nibbling on my granola - use a ramekin dish for a small portion, or how about a hot chocolate made with protein-rich dairy, cacao powder and dried dates for sweetness; silky and delicious and easily whizzed up together!
  6. The Smoothie Snack - A small smoothie is quick and easy to prepare. To make sure it’s not high in sugar, use more veg than fruit, add in some nuts and chopped dates as a sweetener. The bitter taste in some veg can help with satiety (feeling of fullness) - try blending watercress, half a pear (tinned is fine), a few frozen peas, sprinkle of chopped dates and blend! Or see recipe below.
  7. Self-compassion - Often we’re reaching for a snack by way of comfort rather than to satisfy hunger. So, think of other ways of doing this - we all need a little Yin! Our gut-brain axis is a strong emotional connection but often just switching off with a warming cup of herbal tea or heading off for some exercise instead, will have the same uplifting effect.
  8. Don’t be fooled! - Many snack bars are marketed as healthy when in fact they’re hiding sugars and additives, both of which interrupt our natural appetite control. So, take time to make a batch of a healthy snack at home like my not so naughty chocolate fridge cake saving you money and helping your gut! (see below)

But despite all this, remember to be kind on yourself! There’s always a place for a lovely, sweet treat too – but it’s best enjoyed after a main meal when we don’t absorb so much sugar, rather than when hungry and primed to absorb it all! So, enjoy a nice treat now and then - food is to be enjoyed after all!

Here are some recipes that are nice but not so naughty, so you can enjoy virtually guilt-free snacking!

Warmly spiced weekend Granola

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This very low sugar granola will delight your taste buds! And it’s versatile too - pop it on yogurt for breakfast, use as a mid-morning snack or as a crumble topping.

Fills a 1L Kilner jar

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes plus cooling time

Ingredients

100ml Tahini

2 tbsp Honey

1 tbsp cinnamon

Pinch of chilli

½ tsp turmeric

zest of 1 orange

1 egg white

Optional for extra sweetness - 3tbsp apple or orange juice or half a very ripe banana

100g chopped dates

20g Puffed quinoa

250g Jumbo oat flakes

200g mixed chopped nuts - I like pecans, flaked almonds and walnuts

50g mixed seeds

Pinch of salt and pepper

Method:

Preheat the oven to 150°c (fan) and line a large baking tray with baking paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, puffed quinoa, spices, orange zest and S&P

Put all the nuts in a bag and bash into small pieces. Add these together with the mixed seeds and chopped dates into the oaty mixture.

In a smaller bowl whisk together the tahini, honey, juice, mashed banana (if using) and the egg white.

Pour the tahini mix over all the dry ingredients and give everything a gd stir - it should begin to form clumps

Spread this mix out onto the large baking tray; you may need to do this in two batches. I find to get an even bake it’s best to leave the centre of the tray empty. You want to end up with a fairly thin layer in a big circle around the edge of the tray.

Bake on a low shelf for 15 minutes until golden brown and starting to crispen. At this point give it a little mix around and bake for another 5 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave in the oven until completely cool with the door ajar.

Once cold, store in the kilner jar until needed. Keeps in the cupboard for 1 month (but it will be all eaten up well before that!)

Gut Healthy Chocolate Fridge Cake

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Gut healthy chocolate fridge cake – what’s not to like?

Makes about 16 slices

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: ready to eat after half an hour chilling time

Ingredients

  • 8oz digestive biscuits (we used Doves Farm)
  • 6oz oats
  • 2oz puffed quinoa
  • 8oz butter
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate)
  • 3oz caster sugar
  • 3oz chopped dates
  • 8tbsp whole milk
  • 2oz chopped walnuts or pecans
  • Pinch salt

Method

  1. Crush the digestive biscuits in a bag with a rolling pin
  2. In a blender, whizz together the dates, nuts and sugar to a fine powder
  3. In a pan over medium heat, melt together the butter, sugar/date/nut mix, cocoa powder, milk, cinnamon and salt
  4. Add the crushed biscuits, oats and puffed quinoa into the melted mix. You may need to adjust quantities – the dry ingredients should absorb all the chocolate mix after stirring so it’s a medium firm mix
  5. Pat into a greased baking tray (23x23 or similar) to a 2cm thickness and refrigerate for half an hour before cutting into 16 pieces

Homemade Oatcakes

These oatcakes are quick and easy to make so they’re ideal for weekend lunches with soup or evening snacks with cheese. They’re packed with fibre from the quinoa grain, oats and wholemeal flour, and are made with a little less butter by including cold pressed rapeseed oil. The egg white keeps them nice and crispy and adds more protein too. Making your own oatcakes avoids buying the more processed versions often with added sugar and preservatives, so keeps your gut health happy too!

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Makes approximately 16

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes maximum

Ingredients

  • 200g British oats
  • 25g British puffed quinoa
  • 60g stoneground wholemeal flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 40g butter (cut into small cubes)
  • 20g Cold pressed rapeseed oil
  • 1 egg white, whisked
  • 60-80g warm water

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°c (fan) 190°c (non-fan) gas mark 4
  2. Mix together the oats, puffed quinoa, flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda
  3. Add the rapeseed oil and small chunks of butter. Rub together to a crumble consistency, then stir in the raw egg white until mixed through as evenly as possible
  4. Add the water from a recently boiled kettle until you have a firm but not sticky dough – the amount will vary depending on your flour
  5. Roll out to ½ cm thickness on a floured surface and use a cookie cutter to make about 16 rounds
  6. Bake for about 25 mins on a baking tray until lightly browned round the edges – be careful not to overbake as they’re delicious still slightly soft inside

Watercress, Melon & Pear Smoothie

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Galia melon, quartered with pips and peel removed
  • 2 pears, peeled, quartered and cored
  • 85g watercress

Method:

  1. Cut the melon flesh into bite sized pieces
  2. Feed all of the fruit and watercress through a juicer and pour into two glasses
  3. Stir and drink immediately

We’re all overcome by the hunger monster once in a while and actually a little of what you fancy does you good – occasionally! But before chowing down on a Mars bar too often, consider some health-conscious snacking instead, and feel better for it.

For more recipes and advice on gut health visit Lucy’s website at www.lwnutrition.co.uk

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