Demons in your snack-cupboard

“I’m eating three balanced meals a day, but I’m still putting on weight! Why?” If you identify with this cry for help, the answer could lie in your snack cupboard!

You’ve given up sugar, you’re eating 3 healthy meals a day and you’re exercising regularly – but instead of dropping a pant-size, you’ve gained weight! You could be picking up a bunch of extra calories without even noticing it, and the culprits are often snacks.

Unconscious eating

If you ate an whole bar of chocolate at 11am this morning with your morning coffee, you’d definitely remember it! But a handful of trail mix here, a bowl of microwave popcorn there – maybe a couple of fruit juices and a flavoured yoghurt – it’s easy to miss how much you’ve had between meals. The key to healthy snacking is to remain conscious of what you’re eating, and when.

Bad snacks in sheep’s clothing

Some snacks look healthy, but don’t be fooled. Here are a few of the sneaky ones:

  1. Energy bars: while they aren’t all unhealthy, take time to read the label and you’ll be amazed to see how much sugar, salt, fillers and artificial ingredients they can contain. You don’t need any of it.
  2. Microwave popcorn: high levels of the chemical diacetyl and salt mean that this is not a healthy snack. You can pop your own on the stove or in the microwave using a brown paper bag, and it costs almost nothing!
  3. Fat-free flavoured yoghurt: it may be fat-free, but it can contain up to 15 grams of sugar in one small serving! Rather buy plain Greek yogurt and flavour it with a drizzle of honey or some fruit.
  4. Trail mix: dried fruit and nuts are healthy, but some mixes contain chocolate chips or dates, which means a lot of hidden sugar. Also, remember that nuts and dried fruit pack a lot of calories, so make your own mix, but stick to a handful at a time.
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Timing is important

Being bored, stressed or unprepared makes a perfect atmosphere for unconscious snacking. If you haven’t brought lunch or good snacks to the office, it’s easy to load up on whatever you can find in the vending machine or at the cafeteria.

Snacking well

Let’s clear one thing up: snacking properly is good for you and healthy snacking is simple:

  • Eat something good when your energy is flagging. If you hit an energy dip at 3 in the afternoon, that’s the perfect time to eat a whole fruit, a handful of nuts, a plain yoghurt with some fresh fruit, a hard-boiled egg or a piece of cheese.
  • If you’re working late on an urgent project or deadline, make some fresh popcorn or fill a small bowl with nuts and you have something to crunch on without going overboard. Do the same if you’re settling in for a series-watching marathon!

Make it easy

Clear the sweet, processed and refined snacks out of your cupboards and fridge. If you have chips, crackers, microwave popcorn, energy bars or chocolate hanging around, you’re going to be unconsciously snacking on them. If they aren’t there, you won’t. Instead, fill the jars with fresh nuts, raw popcorn kernels and fill the fruit-bowl with seasonal fruit. And – whatever you do – avoid those fizzy drinks like you’d avoid poison!

Joanne Hart for