Snacking can have a positive or negative impact on your eating habits, your weight and your overall health. Certain snacks can increase your intake of sugar, salt and fat, and increase the chances of you gaining weight. Try to remember that snacks are only meant to keep you going until your next meal. They should not be seen as a ‘reward’ or eaten out of boredom or to subdue an emotion.
Snacking should simply help you to keep hunger at bay. You run the risk of making rash or impulsive food choices at meal times and the risk of overeating if you become too hungry. So it is important to become snack savvy and choose wisely. Make your snacks count nutritionally.
Snacks such as chocolate, crisps, sausage rolls, pastries, muffins, jellies, and biscuits can be enticing and difficult to resist. They are convenient and readily available no matter where you are. Remember they are also high in calories, unhealthy fats and sugars. They will not satisfy you for long. Be aware that even small amounts of these foods eaten on a regular basis can increase your calorie and fat intake dramatically which can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Any snack which offers beneficial nutrients can be considered a smart snack. Remember that a snack is just that. It is not a meal, and so the portion size should reflect this.
- Fruit and vegetables:These are good sources of for fibre, vitamins, essential minerals and antioxidant. They are fantastic options for snacking. A diet higher in fruit and vegetables is associated with lower risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Fruit and vegetables tend to be low in calories, fat and salt. They are also great substitutes when you crave something sweeter such as jellies or chocolate. So if you are watching your weight snack on a piece of fruit or some chopped raw vegetables. Be cautious with juices and smoothies as they can be high in sugar and lack fibre.
- Two wholemeal crackers (e.g. oatcakes, ryebread, wholegrain rice crackers, seeded flatbread crackers):These are good sources of fibre and have a lower glycaemic index (GI). A low GI means there is a slow and gradual release of the energy in the food. This helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. Low GI foods are beneficial when trying to manage your weight. Choose them instead of more refined foods such as bread, baps or rolls which have a higher GI and tend to be higher in calories.
- Nuts and seeds: These are good sources of protein, fibre, folic acid, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, the good fat “omega 3” and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. In particular their high protein and fibre content means that a small amount will satisfy your hunger. Just remember that nuts and seeds are high in calories, so keep to a small portion. About a handful of mixed nuts or seeds is all you need for a healthy nutritious snack. Be sure to avoid the salted or sweetened versions of nuts.
- Diet / Greek / Low fat yoghurt:These are a good source of calcium, which is essential for good bone health. A regular snack of yoghurt will help keep your bones strong. If you need to lose weight choose a low fat variety and keep an eye on the sugar content as well. The calcium content remains similar whether yoghurt is a full or low fat variety. Choose yoghurts that have less than 100 calories per pot and less than 15g sugar per pot.
- Healthier alternatives: If you don’t have a snack supply with you and find yourself hungry while out and about, there are smarter choices that you can make when it comes to quick, store bought snacks.
- Try “lite”, “light” or “baked” versions of crisps for a lower calorie and fat content.
- Choose sugar free drinks to dramatically reduce your sugar and calorie intake.
- Look for a small bag of pretzels or unsalted popcorn.
- Avoid buying anything in bulk as you are less likely to “just have one” if there is more available.
Smart Snack Swaps
Avoid Smart Choice
Muffin à Low fat greek yoghurt with an apple
Sausage Roll à 2 oatcakes with low fat cheese/ hard boiled egg
Chocolate bar à Handful of nuts/seeds e.g. almonds/brazil nuts
Bag of crisps à Small bag of popcorn (preferably unsalted)
Crackers and cream cheese à Carrot sticks with reduced fat hummus
Chocolate biscuit à Piece of fruit e.g. apple, banana, orange
Fizzy soda drink à Water or a sugar free option
- Only snack if you are hungry.
- If you are feeling hungry think about whether you have drank enough during the day as you may mistake thirst as hunger.
- Take control of your snacking by preparing in advance.
- Having a shopping list prepared will help you stay focused in the supermarket and make the smarter choices.
- Bringing healthy snacks to school or work or on journeys will help avoid making impulsive decisions when hungry.
- Keeping a food diary for a week can help you increase the awareness of your snacking and help you avoid mindless eating.
Updated by members of the weight management interest group, April 2016.
Review date: April 2019.
© 2016 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided the source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with a dietitian. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.
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