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How to snack the healthy way

The wrong snacks can be a real trap when it comes to weight loss and staying healthy. But you can develop healthy snacking behaviour.

Snacking is normal – we all do it and it isn't always bad. It just depends on what, when and why you snack. Take a moment to step back and look at your snacking behaviour, to check you are on a healthy track. Do any of these snacking types sound like you?

The hungry snacker

  • Your car is cluttered with lolly wrappers and pie crumbs.

  • You never eat much for dinner because you snacked so much while preparing it.

The impulse snacker

  • You see a TV advertisement for chocolate and you just have to eat some.

  • You can't pass through the supermarket checkout without a little something from the 'impulse bar'.

The habitual snacker

  • You always have a little sweet treat with your tea or coffee – whether you are hungry or not.

  • After a busy day you like to chill out with a pre-dinner drink and nibbles.

  • The kids are finally in bed: time to relax with a hot drink and a well-deserved biscuit or three.

  • You are studying for exams: you simply can't make it through without chocolate or lollies.

  • It's 10am – time for coffee and cake!

The emotional snacker

  • You have just had a huge argument with your best friend; your dog just died; life is terrible – time to bury yourself in the biscuit tin.

  • You have just missed that important appointment and got a speeding ticket. Time for some chocolate.

  • You are bored and find yourself peering into the pantry or hanging off the fridge door looking for something – anything!

If you ticked most of the boxes above, you are not alone. This list is written from personal experience! We all snack sometimes, and mostly for reasons other than simply fuelling the body. But when the snacks start adding up we can find the kilos do too.

Even the experts differ in their opinions about whether it is best to stick to three meals a day or graze. It really depends on what suits you best.

Those in the grazing camp say that eating every 3-4 hours helps keep your metabolic rate up – that's the rate at which your body burns up energy or fat.

This can work well if you choose small serves of the right food. But it can backfire if you are grazing on fatty, sweet treats. And even choosing 'healthy' snacks, you are at risk of inadvertently taking in more kilojoules than you need if you are not careful about portion sizes.

Some people prefer just three meals a day with perhaps a snack for morning or afternoon tea. With the right snack this also works well. Just make sure you eat enough during the day to avoid the pre-dinner munchies.

Children need healthy snacks in between breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their small stomachs cope better with smaller meals more often.

For people with diabetes, snacking between meals is an essential part of managing their blood glucose levels.

An 'average' woman might need about 8500kJ each day – more if you're very active, less if you're small, and less as you age. You can spread these kilojoules through the day any way you like – as real meals or snacks. If you want to 'have your cake and eat dinner too', then dinner may need to be a bit smaller to compensate for the extra kilojoules. Or if you prefer to keep your main meals to a decent size then you have maybe 1500kJ left for snacks.

That's not a lot, really – one decadent chocolate bar will account for the lot! – or you could have three or four smaller snacks of around 400kJ each. Don't forget to include that latté, glass of wine or glass of juice in your quota!

A can of soft drink has about 8 teaspoons of sugar and tonic water has just as many kilojoules as soft drink even though it doesn't taste sweet. If you love your G&Ts go for diet tonic, or try lime and soda – perhaps with a nip of brandy if you've had a hard day! Soda water and sparkling water have virtually no kilojoules. Replace your daily can of soft drink with water and you could lose up to 6kg in a year!

Health-conscious parents know that soft drinks are a treat food, not an everyday food. But what about fruit juice? Sure it has a few vitamins and is more 'natural' than soft drink, but a glass of fruit juice can have the equivalent of up to 6 teaspoons of sugar. These liquid lollies slide down the throat and it's easy to drink a few glasses a day without feeling full.

Researchers at Deakin University in Melbourne studied children aged 4-12 and found that those who drank over two glasses of fruit juice or cordial a day were more likely to be overweight or obese. Children who drank over four glasses a day were more than twice as likely to be overweight.

Teach children to enjoy water, milk or very diluted juice as liquid snacks – and give them fruit rather than juice. It's better for their teeth and their health.

Watch out for milkshakes and smoothies too. The kJ value varies enormously depending on how much ice cream or frozen yoghurt is added. Some can be just like sucking flavoured ice cream up the straw! Find places that make more 'real' smoothies – using real fruit and milk – and ask for reduced-fat milk. You will easily cut out at least 300-400 kilojoules.

Remember that a healthy snack is not simply the one with the least kilojoules. A glass of milk has about 600kJ but is packed with protein, calcium and other vital nutrients – with no artificial sweeteners or colours. It's a bone-building, tooth-friendly snack for growing children.

Snacking is often a habit, and like all habits, it takes a bit of brain power to change it. It may be as simple as thinking before you open your mouth. This rule works well not only in relationships but also in choosing healthy snacks.

Try to use your hunger as a guide, not your habit. When we unconsciously, impulsively put anything in our mouths we are heading for trouble.

But with a bit of thought and planning we can happily snack, and still look and feel good.


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