Biscuits, chocolate bars or savouries like chips, bhujia and sev—we all tend to make unhealthy food choices when we’re feeling peckish. While both men and women snack in order to satisfy a craving, more women eat out of stress or boredom, or just to indulge themselves, according to Snack Attack, a 2014 global survey by Nielsen.

However, experts are quick to point out that snacking as a habit need not be vilified. Snack smart and you’ll refuel your body and keep hunger at bay.

Maria Goretti, TV cooking show host and author of From My Kitchen To Yours, says the type and frequency of snacking differ from person to person, body type to body type. “I love small nibbles through the day, but I make sure I keep them healthy and reach out to food that I like and that works for me," she says. She doesn’t recommend curbing cravings all the time since “you don’t want to feel like you’re in a prison".

Maria Goretti’s smart snack options include dried fruit and peanuts. Photo: Hindustan Times
Maria Goretti’s smart snack options include dried fruit and peanuts. Photo: Hindustan Times

Bengaluru-based sports nutritionist Ryan Fernando says he encourages his clients to snack. “It allows nutrition to be spread between meals. Or else, over the day, if you let there be long gaps between meals, it can lead to insulin spikes, and blood sugar levels can vary erratically. Over time, this can lead to lifestyle diseases such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes," he explains.

Goretti agrees. “Everyone can’t be snacking on the same thing. But if you eat good main meals, and choose smart snacking options, you will keep your metabolism and sugar in a good place. And your mood will be sunny," she says.

What are her go-to snacks? “A bowl of fruit, a handful of dried fruit, a piece of toast, peanuts, ragi pancakes, muesli. I love banana chips and chocolate biscuits, but stay away from deep-fried things," she says.

Best time to snack

Experts recommend snacking if the gap between meals is more than 4 hours. Otherwise, your metabolism will slow down, blood sugar will drop, and by the time you get to food, you’ll be so famished that you’re sure to make the wrong choices and end up bingeing. “Your first snack should be within 4 hours of breakfast: 11am and 5pm are crucial times; that’s when the brain is slacking and needs refuelling," Fernando says, recommending that you choose snacks with the right mix of protein, carbs and fat, depending on your body type and exercise level.

Varsha Gorey, senior clinical dietitian at Apollo Hospitals, Navi Mumbai, says stressful days often end in night-time snacking. “Emotional eating is a very common response to relieve stress. But people often tend to snack out of boredom or cravings. This is especially true for people who usually stay up late night, as their dinner would have been digested earlier," she says.

Snacking smart involves choosing the right food, depending on the time of day or the situation, so that the body gets the nutritional properties needed to work and live at the optimal level. “You need to listen to your body to realize how deep your hunger is. Eating a light snack when you’re ravenous will set you up for overeating and vice versa will lead to excess calorie count. It’s important to remember two rules while snacking: nutrition and portion control," says Mumbai-based nutritionist Rohini Koppikar. “Check the nutrition label and keep an eye out for added sugars and salt; they’re what take a snack from healthy to unhealthy. It often works better to make healthier versions of packaged snacks at home," she advises.

Mid-morning snack: If you have had a light breakfast or lunch is still a long way away, a mid-morning snack is a must—the right snack can affect your mood, alertness, and energy levels. Judith Wurtman, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet, recommends small protein-rich snacks such as low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts or a fruit. Try and limit the morning snack to 100 calories or less (a banana, an apple, or an orange with nuts), so that you don’t end up feeling sluggish.

Evening snack: Experts believe that evening is a high-risk time for overeating, especially if you’re stressed and already prone to binge-eating. “Choose from fruits, dry fruits, yogurt, or low-sugar energy bars. Fruits are high in nutritional value and keep the system clean; they are also easily processed by the system. It is always better to eat food items like fruits, nuts or dates that have high nutritional value," says Gorey. If hunger strikes again after this snack, head to the dinner table.

Late-night snack: More often than not, we tend to blow off the good we’ve done during the day by indulging once night falls. It’s important to ensure night-time snacking does not become a daily habit—and if you are eating, choose the right things. “Opt for four squares of dark chocolate (75% and above), a handful of walnuts (the melatonin helps you sleep), a banana or chia seed pudding. Make sure you have this an hour before hitting the bed," Fernando says. A cup of warm, lightly sweetened cocoa also works.

Gender Divide

Do women snack more than men? While both seek refreshments to satisfy a craving, women tend to eat more out of stress or boredom.

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