Night Owls and the Art of Snacking

Hello folks – I survived my first day back at grad school 🙂 Actually, it was fun to be back and see familiar faces again, and dive right into a busy schedule. I had 2 of my 3 classes today and spent a good deal of time sorting out books and other administrative stuff. I also went to the gym, swam and spent another chunk of time putzing on the internet… as usual 🙂 Well – I’ll take some time off to putz while I still can and while my schedule isn’t too insane.

Moving on…I also realized that I’m dangerously slipping back into my days as a “Night Owl” – no pun intended. I keep telling myself that I should become a morning person…go to bed earlier and wake up earlier…but somehow that doesn’t seem to quite work for me. I must have been a vampire in my former life…hence my sudden burst of energy to write this post at 11:50pm instead of going to bed and getting up early to do it….Maybe I should just stop trying to convince myself that I should really be a “morning” person.

Jokes aside, when I came home today from class around 5:15pm, I was hungry for a snack – but not for anything big or “dinner-like” – and so I snacked on some apple slices, crunchy almond butter, baby carrots and some mashed roasted sweet potato, along with a cup of tea. It was an odd combination but it was really satisfying and gave me the energy to go for a late evening swim at the gym. Part of the reason that my snack was so satisfying was that it a combination of healthy carbs and fats from the fruit, veggies and the almond butter. However in addition to that, it was also very satisfying on a sensory level – in terms of flavor and texture.

One of the reasons that people don’t always feel satisfied with a mid-afternoon or a mid-morning snack is that it is only comprised of one food group – usually just a carbohydrate based snack (such as crackers, chips a piece of fruit, cookie…though the fruit is by far a better choice than the cookie!). Since our bodies use carbs as a primary source of fuel, we typically crave a carb snack when we’re depleted of energy (e.g. mid-morning or mid-afternoon) and need an energizing boost. Carbs can certainly provide that but as we’ve heard before, simple carbohydrates such as sugars, candy, cakes etc can lead to a “sugar high”/an insulin spike and then a crash – leading to more cravings. However, pairing a carb with a healthy source of protein and/or fat will not only make it feel more satisfying and hefty but will also delay digestion and promote satiety, tiding you to your next full meal.

Another often overlooked reason why people may not feel satisfied with a simple snack is that as individuals, we typically crave variety in life, and a single food item may not always satisfy all of our senses – of taste, flavor and texture; senses that we innately use in our appreciation of food. When we eat a full meal we usually have a variety of flavors, textures, colors, aromas and sometimes temperature on our plates – and that’s part of why we feel satisfied after a meal. We’ve engaged all our visual, olfactory and sensory receptors..and so we’re happy. (Of course, our stomachs are also happy because we’ve eaten a real meal and are full 😉 ). Applying the same idea to snacks, albeit on a smaller scale, may therefore help to promote a sense of satisfaction and satiety. In practice, this idea is not very difficult to do at all – and it works simultaneously with the idea of adding a healthy fat and/or protein to a carb-based snack.

So what are some examples of healthy snacks that provide a combination of carbohydrates and proteins/fats, and a variety of texture, flavor, color and taste?

  • Apple slices with 2 tsp of almond butter, and 1/2 cup of greek yogurt or cottage cheese, w/ sprinkle of additional almonds.
  • Baby carrots, sliced cucumbers or celery with almond or peanut butter, 1/2 cup yogurt, cottage or ricotta cheese
  • Baked tortilla chips with salsa, sliced avocado & 1/2 cup greek yogurt or cottage cheese
  • A hard-boiled egg, mashed onto a slice of toast with some crunchy, diced carrots or celery
  • 1/2 mashed banana on toast with almond butter and chopped almonds
  • Crackers and cottage cheese/greek yogurt or mashed soft tofu with chopped almonds and a tsp of almond butter
  • A small cup of broth based or vegetable soup (e.g. minestrone, tomato or butternut squash soup – without cream) with whole grain or rice-based crackers, chopped avocado and/or dollop of cottage cheese or greek yogurt
  • A small cup of tea or decaf coffee along with a 1/2 cup of yogurt and some sliced almonds and a couple of whole grain crackers.

Of course there are many other combinations depending on what specific foods you like and feel like having but the principle behind it is the same: aim for a healthy combination of carbs, protein and fats, and aim for a variety in texture, taste, flavor and color. (Just remember to keep your portion size in check – after all it is a snack and not a meal!) You may just find that your snack is so much more satisfying!

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Posted on September 6, 2012, in Food, Nutrition Tips and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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