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Until recently the common wisdom on snacking was that it was bad; something you must be guilty about. Don’t eat between meals, you were told. It will ruin your teeth, make you gain weight and spoil your appetite. Far from true! “The word snack has a negative connotation, but it can be a good thing.” Dieticians, nutrition and fitness experts now say the best way to keep healthy is by eating small frequent meals. It keeps you from overeating at mealtimes and fires your metabolism.

Why we need to snack

Intake of food and breakdown of it during metabolism releases glucose-the simplest form of sugar. This glucose is taken up by insulin and used to regulate the body’s energy levels. All this takes place in the spleen. Twice a day a healthy person’s blood sugar dips when the glucosein the blood gets used up. This brings on lethargy. This is when snacks come in handy. It is essential to get it right.

The right time, right pace

It is generally two hours after breakfast and a couple of hours after lunch that you need to pump your blood sugar, these are the high activity zones of our day when maximum energy is consumed either at work or while doing chores at home. A feeling of lethargy, lack of concentration, compulsive eagerness to get over with work and head over coffee machine indicates tumbling sugar level but very often we confuse the need for a break with the need to snack. We end up munching out of boredom.

What to eat, what to drop 

Look for foods with complex carbohydrates (wholegrain breads or fiber-filled vegetables). Combine them with protein rich stuff like low fat cheese. High protein snacks keep you full longer and may reduce the amount you eat next time. The ideal break up for a person should be:

carbohydrates: 10 to 12 grams

Proteins: 5 to 6 grams

Fats and oils: 3 to 5 grams

You could get this from:

A cup of tea with whole wheat bread, sandwich (skip the mayonnaise), try low-fat cheese or a glass of sweet lassi with a bowl of upma or poha or fresh juice with medium sized sprouts.

Snack smart

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DO’S

  • Balancing snacks with meals is a clever idea. If you had a carbohydrate rich breakfast and no protein, at snack time pick up low cal flavored yogurt.
  • Eat a variety of foods with different food groups and tastes to fill up on nutrition deficit.
  • If you are self confused sweet lover, try to replace a few sugary snacks with more healthy ones. It may not be very difficult.

DON’Ts

  • Snacks by definition are quickies but that does not mean you stuff them in a speed. Eat your food slowly. The brain transmits the message of food satiation when you chew leisurely.
  • Do not couple foods of the same food group together. To get maximum value from nutrients, select food from different groups.
  • When ordering out, remember that you needn’t eat the entire portion. Go for pooled snacks share them with friends.

The right drinks

Avoid coffee, tea and colas. Packaged juices have high sugar level but the added vitamins and minerals make them preferable to drink.  Stick to calorie free drinks such as iced tea or club soda with a twist of lime. But remember nothing beats a glass of cool freshly squeezed fruit juice.

Snacking strategies

We never plan for snacks simply because the idea of impending lunch or dinner is too overwhelming both for cooking and eating. Being a smart snacker is not that tough it only needs you too understand the logic of healthy snacking planning and buying groceries wisely.

At home

  • Go for steamed veggies or cut salads accompanied by a yogurt or mint dip.
  • Toast small pieces of whole wheat bread. Dip them in olive oil, flavored with some oregano and chili flakes.
  • A bowl of cut fruits is great idea. Different fruits for breakfast and snack time should be your mantra
  • Satisfy cravings in a healthier ways. Get a chilled milkshake, stirred with drinking chocolate.

At work

  • Dip into a cup of yogurt. There is a huge variety in the market. Carry them along with you if you don’t get them in the office canteen.
  • Pack some light snacks. Sprouts, cut vegetables, fruits or idlis. Prepare them the previous evening and store them in the fridge for office next day.
  • Simply nibbling on a cucumber works!

When out shopping

  • Identify juice and salad bars. Ask for fruit and vegetable juices. They are nutritious and filling.
  • Stop over cafes and takeaways that give you a break from oily stuff.
  • Go for a yogurt smoothie and gelato.
  • Carry a pack of roasted grams and nuts in your bag. They give you an instant energy boost.
  • Avoid steamed corn (they are frozen and packaged). Always look out for a freshly roasted corn.

Pacing your snacks with your meals is all important and required for a healthy living. Many of us watch what we eat through the day-only to lose control at the end of the day if we have been starving. If you catch yourself eating in large quantities, grabbing chips and digging into ice creams, watch out!!