What are simple, healthy, nutrient-rich snacks that you can eat during the day, as an alternative to a coffee and a muffin?
The most common type of mid-day snack in North America is usually a coffee and a sweet, e.g. a muffin, donut, cookie, scone, chocolate bar, etc.
We tend to choose this type of food because our energy is falling and a coffee (stimulant) with a sweet (sugar) seems like the right choice to quickly boost energy levels. As well, we’re rushed and maybe only have a 15-minute break to make it to Starbucks and back into the office, or we’re rushing between classes and we can sip and munch en route.
Of course you will get an immediate energy boost, but it will be short-lived. Having a coffee and a donut (high in sugar, with highly processed carbohydrates, and devoid of beneficial nutrients like vitamins and minerals) will spike your insulin to unhealthy heights and your blood sugar levels will look more like a roller coaster than a smooth and steady line.
When your energy drops after the sugar-rich, highly-processed carbohydrates (often full of unhealthy trans fatty acids), you feel even hungrier and may over eat at your next meal, or choose an unhealthy lunch or dinner, in the need to quench your hunger and low blood sugar.
However, eating a healthy, balanced, nutrient-dense snack mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and possibly before bed, will keep you energized and satisfied between meals.
Your insulin levels will be stable, you won’t feel tired or have trouble focusing, and you will have provided your body with the nutrients it needs to remain healthy.
What Do You Do When You’re In a Hurry and HUNGRY?
When you don’t have any snacks prepared (that you brought with you), this can can be the quickest path to eating the wrong thing.
You can stay on track by grabbing some healthy alternatives at the food court (if you work in an office tower complex) when you get the munchies. If you head down in the morning (maybe before work), get yourself a snack for the afternoon as well. If you don’t eat it, then you have it for the next day.
What Does Healthy Snacking Look Like?
All of these snacks can be bought ahead of time (or made by hand) and brought with you to work. Many can be found at a better super-market or at a deli counter that prepares meals and salads.
- A piece of fruit with a small handful of nuts, e.g. an apple and 8-12 macadamias;
- A meal replacement protein shake or protein smoothie;
- 1-cup 2-4% cottage cheese with fruit (try it with pineapple, mango, some almonds or filberts);
- 1-cup 2-4% cottage cheese with 1-2 tbsp. salsa and ¼-½ of an avocado (tastes like sour cream and salsa dip!);
- Plain yogurt (preferably organic, whole milk and non-homogenized) with fruit and nuts;
- Hummus dip with veggies like carrot sticks, cucumber or celery. Optional 1-2 small whole-wheat pitas;
- Celery sticks with all-natural (preferably organic) peanut or almond butter;
- 1-2 hardboiled eggs (the whole egg — don’t discard the yolk) with cucumber, carrots or a fruit; and,
- A meal that looks like lunch or dinner, just smaller. This will depend on your caloric and energy demands.
Alternatively, you could eat a smaller, balanced meal for a snack consisting of lean protein, healthy fats, and vegetables.
- Half of a healthy sandwich with a side salad, some raw veggies or an apple (eat the other half in the afternoon or save it for the next day);
- A prepared small salad with protein (chicken, fish, hard-boiled egg). If you’re buying at a food court, ask for plain olive oil and vinegar (or lemon juice). Avoid the individually packaged ‘creamy’ dressings like ranch or caesar. They’re filled with the wrong fats, sugar and unnecessary chemicals.
- Mini-tuna salad pre-made at home: 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. organic apple-cider vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon (optional 1 tbsp olive oil mayo or whole milk yogurt), salt & pepper, mixed with cherry tomatoes and one large celery stalk, finely chopped.
What Does a Healthy Meal Look Like?
A healthy meal is balanced, meaning it consists of a lean source of protein (chicken, turkey breast, tuna, salmon, pork loin, whey protein powder, etc.), healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado), vegetables and/or fruit, and potentially a starchy carbohydrate (quinoa, rice) at one or two of your meals, depending on your health and fitness goals.
If you eat starchy carbohydrates with your meal, chose healthier options, e.g. whole grain brown rice, whole grain breads (sprouted grains, stone-milled flour), quinoa, etc.
Portion Sizes and Counting Calories
I’m not a fan of counting calories. That may be useful in certain circumstance (e.g. you’re diabetic), but for most of us it’s a nuisance.
What useful to be aware of (for weight management and healthy energy levels) is both the percentage ratios — when reading nutritional info on food packaging (the % macronutrient split between protein, carbohydrates and fats) — and visual ratios for portioning food onto your plate.
Generally speaking and for optimal health you want all of your meals to be a balance of lean protein, healthy fats and nutrient-dense carbohydrates, predominantly from vegetables, then fruits and lastly whole grains.
The amount of fruit and grains you consume in a day will depend on your individual weight-loss goals and level of daily activity. The more sedentary you are, the less grains you should consume, if any at all.
If you are trying to lose body fat or maintain a healthy weight a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit is my recommendation. You might even choose to limit fruit to 1-2 servings per day, and eating these earlier in the day.
Even the choice of plate size and colour can have a positive influence on healthy weight-loss.
A good rule of thumb if you don’t want to count calories (which can be misleading), is to use the size of your fist as a measure: one fist-sized portion of protein and two fist-sized portions of vegetables on your plate. One fist-sized portion of a starchy carb is optional.
Strategies to Eat Healthier — Remove or Reduce:
Eliminate as much as possible the following:
- Unhealthy starchy carbs like muffins, pastas, cupcakes, white bread, white (quick) rice, white flour, granola, pre-packaged instant oatmeal or cereals (they are loaded with sugar), etc.
- Processed foods, fast foods, chips, junk food, candy bars, deep-fried foods, margarine, edible oil products (like cool whip), granola bars, crackers, and all soft drinks.
If you have any processed foods like the above at home, and if you want to lose weight and feel better, throw them out. Alternatively, put them behind healthy foods in your pantry (where you won’t see them), and enjoy them once in a while as a cheat meal or desert.
The Solution to Healthy Bodyweight, Healthy Eating and Snacking:
- Eat healthy, lean sources of protein like beef, turkey, chicken breast, pork tenderloin, fish, etc.
- Eat all types of vegetables.
- Eat all types of fruit.
- Eat a variety of nuts.
- Make every meal nutritionally balanced consisting of protein, healthy fats, vegetables and/or fruit, and possibly a starchy carbohydrate (depending on your weight loss goals).
- Limit starchy carbohydrates to whole grain brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, natural whole-grain oats, etc. Choose real.
Eat Healthy ~ Be Your Best!
© 2014 Darren Stehle. All Rights Reserved
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