4pm snack attack!

4pm snack attack!

It’s 4pm and you are fidgeting in your seat, trying to ignore your growling tummy. A colleague passes over a couple of burfis, adding 280kcal to your day. Resistance is evidently futile. So you think you might as well take a tea break.

“There are three main reasons (why) people feel hungry in the afternoon. They missed lunch or it was not satisfying; they are bored and want to munch mindlessly; or someone else is snacking," says Ishi Khosla, consultant nutritionist and proprietor, Whole Foods, New Delhi.

“Snacking per se isn’t bad," she adds, “it won’t make you fat. In fact, snacking can increase your metabolic rate and stimulate your body to burn more fat." As long as you are smart about it, you can avoid gaining weight. “Snacking does not have to mean high-fat, high-calorie food," says Jyothi Prasad, chief dietician, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore.

What you want is 100-150kcal with a good balance of nutrients. “Print a list of healthy snack options and keep it handy. So that when the craving strikes, you know what to order," she says.

Another choice is portion size. “Just having one vada, instead of two, can help keep things under control," says Jyoti Arora, team leader, nutrition and dietetics, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon. “Remember: Snack to satisfy hunger, not boredom."

The bad bets


Samosa is a popular snack as it is widely available, filling and tasty. The crust is made from maida, or refined flour, and the filling is usually boiled or fried potatoes

Why it is bad for you: It is high in calories, which mostly come from carbohydrates and fat. It is deep-fried, so is full of the worst kind of fats—trans fats—as the oil is reused over and over again. Experts say trans-fats are worse than even saturated fats for the heart (see ‘Beware’). Plus, you can’t really be sure of the type and purity of the oil used.

Vada Pao

This is really a variation of bread pakoda (see below). Though bigger in size, the ingredients are the same: One white pao bun, a mashed potato fritter and a little chutney.

Why it is bad for you: The refined flour bun and deep-fried fritter of besan-coated potato mash mean high carbohydrates with a full meal’s worth of calories. Also, there are those dangerous trans fats from the deep frying. The meagre helping of chutney adds little to the health quotient.

Potato Chips

Potato chip are not usually even real slices of potato, just reconstituted potato mush with lots of salt.

Why it is bad for you: There are a lot of preservatives (acidity regulators, anti-caking agents, flavour enhancers, essence—added to improve taste, preserve crunchiness and increase shelf life) and loads of salt. Also, be careful of labelling that says “no trans fats" as these are generated when oil is heated to a very high temperature. So oil changes to trans fat while processing. The labelling is factual—but is a half-truth. And, there is no way to know how much trans fat there is in a packet.


A 3x5-inch rectangle of sponge cake, sandwiched and topped with butter cream icing (and perhaps chocolate ganache).

Why it is bad for you: Refined flour offers scant satiety or nutrition. Most “butter cream" is really vanaspati (hydrogenated vegetable oil, hence trans fat) and sugar, which are not only calorie dense, but also damaging for the heart and arteries. Plus, unless you buy it from a reputed bakery, the colouring and flavouring agents can be of suspect quality.

Vada Chutney

Deep-fried savoury lentil fritters with coconut and lentil chutney.

Why it is bad for you: The vadas are high in calories. Since you do get some proteins from the lentils, vadas are a tad better than samosas. However, they are full of trans-fats and carcinogens from deep frying. Each vada absorbs about a tablespoon (15g) of fat—approximately 120kcal. Coconut chutney is extremely high in calories (an apple is also 80kcal, while a spoonful of mint chutney is only 5kcal).

Instant Noodles

“Instant" noodles are made of refined flour and typically come with a packet of flavouring.

Why it is bad for you: In substance and calorific value, this is closer to a meal substitute, which we often seek for instant gratification. It is usually at least 60–70% refined carbohydrate. Most of the remaining calories are from fat. It is loaded with preservatives, especially the flavouring. A packet of flavouring contains about 900mg salt, which is at least 40% of your daily salt allowance. Also, check for the presence of the controversial monosodium glutamate.

Cake slices/Muffins

Calories: 274kcal for a 75g pack

Typically about 10-12 slices of cake (or 3-4 muffins) in a packet and we rarely leave a few for next time.

Why it is bad for you: Like chips, these are a popular snack as they are easily stored in desk drawers or bags and stocked in canteens without much worry about spoilage or shelf life. Just as we reach for crisps when we want a savoury snack, we often choose these for a sweet. It helps that they are dry and crumbs are easy to dust off without leaving much evidence. However, they really no better than a pastry—high in fat, sugar (approximately 75kcal from sugar alone) and refined flour. Again, the fat used is typically partially hydrogenated oil, hence trans fats. Satiety, too, is very low without fibre or protein. Also, don’t be fooled by promises of fruit and nut—it’s a negligible quantity of candied fruit and colouring, flavouring and preservatives.

Bread Pakoda

Calories: 330kcal (376kcal if stuffed with potato)

Two half slices (triangles) of white bread coated with besan and deep-fried.

Why it is bad for you: High calories, mostly from being deep-fried, which also means they are loaded with trans fat from oil reused for frying (they are also frequently re-fried for reheating). The presence of besan adds some protein, which only means it is better than plain fried white bread. The accompanying chutney doesn’t really help much despite looking like a ‘green vegetable’—there simply isn’t much nutritional value to talk about. Plus, since they are typically sold alongside uncooked or raw foods (chaats, burgers and sandwiches with raw veggies), there may be a high contamination hazard.

Kathi Roll

Calories: 400-450kcal

A paratha wrap about 8 inches long with an egg coating and a filling of mutton, chicken or paneer in a curry-like gravy or as a grilled kebab.

Why it is bad for you: First of all, this is pretty much a whole meal, not a snack. So unless you’ve actually missed lunch (which causes its own problems and you can’t just make up for it with a late meal), this is your fourth meal of the day! Almost deep-fried, the paratha is made of refined flour to keep it crisp, fried egg adds even more fat and cholesterol (so does paneer or mutton), and red meat makes it worse for the heart. There are scant vitamins and minerals to balance it out. There is also often a danger of contamination from uncooked meat juices on raw onions, due to some serious issues of preparation hygiene (you rarely see the cook washing up between handling raw kebab, cooked kebab, onions and lime, and the paratha). Add to this the carcinogenic substances produced from charcoal grilling.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Calories: 330-375kcal

Two slices of white pre-sliced sandwich bread, 60g grated processed cheese, 2 tbsp butter (on both sides), salt and pepper and 2 tbsp mint chutney.

Why it is bad for you: White bread means low-nutrient carbohydrate calories (from refined flour). Processed cheese is 50%, or more, fat to which butter adds saturated fat. The minimal amount of fibre and vitamins from the chutney do you hardly any good. You will not feel satiated. Also, the effect on blood sugar is strong, leaving you hungry just a couple of hours later. The grilling process also produces potential carcinogens.

The Good Eats

Steamed Corn

Either cooked whole, on the cob or steamed as separated kernels, the substance is the same. The former can, however, be more satisfying because you can’t wolf it down as fast, giving your brain’s appetite centre time to register fullness before you overeat. Don’t add any butter if you can help it.

Why it is good for you: Get the goodness of healthy carbohydrates with fibre and a good bit of protein, too, in a snack sans any added fat or sugar that is naturally filling and savoury-sweet. Quite a few vitamins and minerals, plus it contains a little fat (not saturated) naturally, a good addition for satiety (and no, roasted ears of corn are not as healthy—the grilling itself produces carcinogens).

Fruit Chaat

Mixed, cut fruits, preferably without salt sprinkled on them

Why it is good for you: It is an energizing high-carbohydrate snack, but these are good carbs, with soluble and insoluble fibre that provide high satiety and heart protection, vitamins and minerals and protective antioxidants. Make sure the fruit is freshly cut after washing with clean water. The more variety you have with a wide assortment of colours and textures, the better it is for your health.


Plain unsweetened yogurt

Why it is good for you: A filling snack with a satisfying quantity of protein. Some types may have probiotic benefits. All types provide a good source of bone-building calcium. Choose a plain yogurt with a neutral flavour (acidity and texture differ across brands) and avoid the sweetened and flavoured ones—that’s more important than choosing between full-fat and Iow-fat. If you must, add fruits or nuts on your own for flavouring.

Roasted Grains or Lentils

Oats, bajra, soya, amaranth, Bengal gram, even mixed grains—the choice is wide now. Try to avoid masala, though a squeeze of lime can’t hurt.

Why it is good for you: A good option for those who eat out of boredom or need something to munch on. Negligible fat, high fibre and a large helping of protein make these a good option to munch on as an alternative savoury snack: Consider that a single small mathri (salty, fried snack made from refined flour) is about 45-50kcal, while half a cup of roasted grains will match that calorie count with much more satisfaction. Since it’s whole grain, there’s a feeling of being full longer, with the added benefit of getting fibre, minus trans fats. Roasted Bengal gram is much healthier than roasted peanuts since lower in fat and hence in overall calories too. It is also loaded with protein and iron—indeed an excellent source of both for vegetarians particularly—besides providing high satiety.

Vegetable Sandwich on Oat Bread

Calories: 190kcal

Two triangles of oat bread (or choose another wholegrain bread, though oat is particularly good for your heart) plus raw or boiled veggies (plus chicken, if you prefer). No mayo or other fatty spread; maybe hung curd for moisture if you need it.

Why it is good for you: A dose of very heart-friendly fibre from the bread, as well as the vegetables, which will keep you feeling satisfied for a much longer time than white bread and cheese. Plus, you should get a few antioxidants from the yoghurt and veggies.


Calories: 65kcal (per piece)

Steamed cakes of fermented lentil batter, typically cut into pieces 2-3 inches across. No added chutney or toppings.

Why it is good for you: Lentils provide a natural balance of carbohydrates and protein. Besides, as a fermented food, this is especially easy to digest. It is low in calories and hardly any fat too. It is also very widely available and not too messy, all good reasons to substitute it for chips and cakes and the like.

Steamed Momos

Calories: 60kcal for two vegetable momos

Steamed dumplings made of a thin flour wrapper filled with boiled vegetables such as carrots and cabbage.

Why it is good for you: Steamed momos are a fat-free snack if ever there was one. They are filling, thanks to the fibrous vegetables, and the refined flour wrapper is too thin to be too bad for you. A chicken version is fine too, but try to make sure you get a few veggies as well to balance them out.

Low-cal Bhelpuri (or Jhalmuri)

Calories: 100-120kcal for 30g (a small katori)

A mix of puffed rice and roasted lentils with salt and other dry spices.

Why it is good for you: When the craving for something savoury, salty and spicy strikes, this is an easily stored and easy to make option that is much better for you than chips, for instance, being somewhat lower in calories and much lower in fat. The puffed rice dilutes the calories and fat content considerably. Avoid the packaged kind where the calories can be deceptively high and the salt levels out of control. Making on your own is easy, with plain puffed rice and roasted lentils, and more hygienic than roadside concoctions. Avoid adding salt (the puffed rice usually has salt in it already). And if you can add in some chopped fresh vegetables (such as cucumber, tomato, green chillies), a squeeze of lime, and some sprouts, so much the better for protein and micronutrients, as well as satiety. Avoid adding chutneys, sauces, oil or peanuts.

Roasted Gram

Calories: 90-115kcal (for 30g)

Roasted dried Bengal gram, with no added oil, with a squeeze of lime and a smidgen of chaat masala

Why it is good for you: Easily bought in a packaged form, this readily stored, non-messy snack is loaded with protein and iron—indeed an excellent source of both for vegetarians particularly—besides providing high satiety. Much healthier than roasted peanuts since lower in fat and hence in overall calories too. If you can develop a taste for munching them without salt or masala, so much the better for you.


Calories: 130-140kcals for two idlis, about 120kcal for a small katori of sambar

Steamed cakes of fermented rice and lentil (urad) batter, with a spicy dal often containing an assortment of veggies.

Why it is good for you: A balanced mix of protein and carbohydrates, plus veggies too if you’re lucky—more a light meal than a snack, really, so make sure you had a light lunch or plan a light dinner. The fermented batter is easy on the digestion, and makes more nutrients available. Very satisfying, yet quite low in calories for that satiety value. Typically served with one or more chutneys as well, but give those a miss—the coconut base is high in saturated fats and calories.


Calories: 60kcal for 200g

You can sprout your own grains and lentils at home or buy them readymade (they are available in small one-serving packets in many supermarkets, even Safal and Mother Dairy outlets in some cities). You can even try a different lentil each day, or a different mix. Serve with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Why it is good for you: Sprouted lentils and grains are a filling snack, easy to munch on, and an easy way to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals. Germinating seeds and grains increase their nutritional value. The vitamin C content of wheat, for example, increases 60% during sprouting.

Teatime Beverages

The good…

Doodh-chai or masala chai (small cup, 1tsp sugar), 40-50kcals

Soy milk or low-fat milk (1 cup or 250ml), 75kcals

Coconut water (1 glass), 36kcals

fresh orange or sweet lime juice (1 glass from about 2½ oranges), 100kcals

Fresh nimbu-paani (limeade, 1 glass), 20kcals

Green tea (no sugar), 0 calories

Buttermilk, lightly salted (1 glass), 60kcals

Buttermilk, sweet (1 glass), 100kcals

Tomato rasam (1 cup), 72kcals

Instant coffee (1 cup, with sugar, small splash of milk), 55kcals

The not-so-good…

Iced tea (1 glass), 60-150kcals (depends on recipe)

Cappuccino (1 cafe cup), 90-250kcals (depends on cup size and barista’s recipe) Carbonated beverages (300ml bottle), 110kcals


Beware of Trans-fats

Trans-fats increase “bad" cholesterol and triglycerides, reducing “good" cholesterol and raising the risk of cardiac diseases. “These are much worse than even the saturated fats found in butter and beef. (They) trigger cancer, diabetes, immune dysfunction, obesity and reproductive problems. They are almost everywhere," says Rakesh Sapra, consultant, cardiology, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon. In 2007, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, tested a variety of Indian cooking fats and found trans-fat levels 5-12 times higher than international recommendations in all seven ‘vanaspati’ (fully or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) brands tested. “(Trans-fats) are also in cookies, crackers, icing, potato chips, doughnuts, baked goods and other processed (check label for ‘partially hydrogenated oils’) or fried foods (‘samosas’, ‘pakoras’, ‘kachoris’, among others)," says Dr Sapra.

--Kavita Devgan

Easy snacks

Some options which can be rustled up easily and aren’t too messy to eat over a keyboard:

Sprouted pulses: Calories: 25-30kcal for 100g. Sprinkle salt, pepper and a little ‘chivda’ (beaten rice) or ‘sev’ (lentil vermicelli) over sprouted ‘moong’ (green gram), ‘masoor’ (lentil) or any another pulses.

Cup of corn : Calories: 120kcal for 100g. Microwave frozen corn; add salt and pepper to taste.

‘Chana chaat’: Calories: 100kcal for 30g (dry weight). Microwave soaked Bengal gram, and sprinkle lime juice, ‘chaat masala’ and a little chopped onion.

--Kavita Devgan

World Osteoporosis Day

Today is World Osteoporosis Day. “One in five Indians has osteoporosis, but most have no idea of the disease and remain untreated for this potentially life-threatening condition. And, one-quarter of these are men," says Surya Bhan, director of orthopaedics at Primus Super Speciality, New Delhi. Although osteoporosis is perceived primarily as a woman’s disease, one in three men over the age of 60 (and every second woman in that age group) is likely to suffer a fracture due to osteoporosis. Men are also more likely than women to incur a second fracture—the risk is four times greater after their first fracture (in women it is twofold). The problem with osteoporosis is that it often has no symptoms, other than height loss. “The only way to confirm the condition is through a non-invasive bone density test, similar to an X-ray," says Dr Bhan.

--Kavita Devgan

Note: All nutritional values and portion sizes are approximations.

Nutritional information courtesy: Ritika Samaddar, senior dietician, Max Devki Devi Heart and Vascular Institute, New Delhi.Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com