Three square meals a day is all well and good, but we all sometimes need a little something in between – particularly when we live an active lifestyle.
However, snacking can easily become a diet downfall rather than an energy boost – so with that in mind, here are the top ten healthy snacking options, which you can use to fill a gap without piling on the calories!
Almonds ‘n’ apricots
Almonds are high in protein and fibre, as well as being low-GI, a good source of magnesium, and rich in vitamin E (an antioxidant). Dried apricots, on the other hand, are rich in carotenes – which may lower the risk of cancers of the throat and lungs – and provide you with potassium, iron, calcium, silicon, phosphorus, and vitamin C. Interestingly, dried apricots have a far greater nutritional value than fresh ones because the nutrient content is so concentrated. Gram for gram, dried apricots have 12 times the iron, seven times the fibre and five times the vitamin A of fresh ones. The best way to eat this snack is to impale the almonds in the apricots!
Yogurt ‘n’ honey
Yogurt is low in fat, high in calcium and good for your gut. A recent study also found that people who got their calcium from yogurt rather than other dairy sources lost more weight around the tummy area. Opt for low-fat, unflavored varieties that contain pro-biotic bacteria, and add a touch of sweetness with honey. Honey has been shown to increase the blood’s level of protective antioxidants, and may also be a useful diet addition for people with high cholesterol. According to research, using honey instead of sugar or an artificial sweetener can reduce total cholesterol and triglyceride levels and increase HDL (or ‘good’) cholesterol.
Apples ‘n’ pears
By eating these you can put two ticks against your five-a-day fruit ‘n’ veg target! Apples are high in pectin, a soluble fibre; contain Guercetin – an antioxidant that can reduce damage caused by cholesterol; and have a high water content, which will help to keep your thirst satiated. Apples are also a good source of vitamin C. Pears are high in potassium and are also a good source of fibre and vitamin C. A study in 2003 found that women who consumed three apples or pears a day for three months lost more weight than women who had a similar calorie-controlled diet but did not have the fruit.
A homemade smoothie or similar (i.e. no added sugar, sweetener or additives)
While a fruit juice counts towards your all-important fruit and veg target, it doesn’t offer any fibre at all. A smoothie, on the other hand, contains the pulp of the fruit and not just the juice, and provides you with fibre plus a good array of vitamins and minerals. It also boosts hydration, of course – and research from Penn State University in the US found that liquid foods help you to feel full for longer, making you less likely to overeat later on. For maximum health benefits, choose a berry-rich flavour smoothie.
Chocolate has an unnecessarily bad press in health terms. Yes, a nougat or sugar-filled milk chocolate bar the size of a brick isn’t the best choice, but you can eat chocolate as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Dark chocolate containing at least 70% cocoa solids is a good source of antioxidants – particularly flavonoids, which are the type that are found in green tea and red wine. And while chocolate is high in fat, it consists of saturated types – including stearic and palmitic acid – and oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil. A number of studies have found that chocolate’s main fat, stearic acid, has a neutral effect on the LDL (or ‘bad’) cholesterol. Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce high blood pressure, and has twice the magnesium of and more iron than milk chocolate. Plus chocolate makes us feel good!
Peanut butter on crispbreads
This is the perfect combination of protein, fat, carbohydrate, and lots of fibre. While peanut butter is high in fat, it’s the unsaturated (or ‘good’) kind – and peanuts are a great source of the antioxidant vitamin E. Peanut butter is also rich in protein – so is an especially good option for vegetarians! – and a good source of magnesium. Opt to spread the peanut butter on rye crispbreads – which are low in salt, high in fibre and have a low GI – so you won’t get an energy high followed by a crash.
Hummus and crudités
A tasty, crunchy snack that’s perfect if you’ve got cold storage nearby. Hummus is best when you make it yourself using chickpeas – but if you don’t have time to do this, opt for the reduced fat variety, which will supply you with vitamin E, manganese, and disease-fighting garlic. Use raw veg – such as beta-carotene-rich carrot sticks and potassium-rich celery – to dip into the hummus, in order to boost your fibre intake.
Seeds and raisins mix
While seeds are high in fat, it is mostly unsaturated ‘healthy’ fat – and since they weigh so little, they are easy to eat on the move. Seeds are also high in protein and a good source of phytosterols – plant compounds which are believed to reduce cholesterol and enhance immune function. In a US Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry report, sunflower seeds proved to be the best source of phytosterols – as well as being a good source of magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, and vitamin E. Pumpkin seeds contain cucurbitacins – a substance that appears to help prevent prostate enlargement – and are also a good source of zinc, magnesium, and manganese. Research also suggests pumpkin seeds might have anti-inflammatory properties that are useful in curbing the symptoms of arthritis. Add a handful of raisins to this mix and you’ll be upping your iron intake and potassium intake.
Grapes and cheese
If you’re a cheese lover, you are probably only too aware of its high saturated fat content – which is particularly the case for the harder varieties. But it’s not all bad: hard cheese such as cheddar is a great source of calcium and phosphorus, and is one of the few good sources of vitamins B2 and B12 for non-meat eaters. Plus, if you buy stronger-tasting cheeses, you will only want to eat a little at a time. Eat with red grapes to up your fibre and fruit intake. Grapes contain polyphenols – antioxidants which are helpful to the heart – and ellagic acid, which is a cancer-fighting phytochemical.
Avocado on toast
Avocado is something of a ‘superfood’, as it’s rich in vitamin E, high in monounsaturated fats and a good source of potassium – as well as vitamin B6, which aids the process of serotonin synethesis (a process that promotes good mood). Spread half a ‘medium ripe’ avocado on a slice of wholemeal toast to get a tasty, wholesome, low-GI snack containing a healthy dose of fibre. And if you like a spicy touch, sprinkle it with a dash of Tabasco sauce!