It’s summertime and we’re out and about more often. This means eating on the go and quite literally, on a hike, many times of the day. As a dietitian nutritionist, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is, “Do you have any suggestions for healthy snacks?”
Snacks provide fuel in the form of energy and offer a “pick me up” at low points during the day. In order for a snack to do its job well it needs to provide both quick energy and sustainability.
Carbohydrates are the number one source of energy for the body. They are easier to digest than fats and proteins thereby giving us a quick energy fix when we need it. There are different types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are the easiest to digest because they are lacking or have very little fiber; complex carbohydrates take longer to digest due to their higher fiber content. For this reason, complex carbohydrates can also help you feel fuller for a longer period of time. The type of activity you are doing will determine the type of carbohydrate you will need. Individuals who are hungry for a snack though not presently exercising should opt for complex carbohydrates paired with a protein. Athletes who exercise over one hour will require simple carbohydrates in order to maintain optimum performance throughout the remainder of their workout; snacking for athletes in these scenarios is an entirely different topic.
Protein offers the sustainability needed to maintain satiety throughout the next few hours. Protein is slower to digest than carbohydrates and cannot be stored as energy. Though it may not provide direct energy for the body, it is used to help maintain fluid and electrolyte balance throughout the day. By ingesting an adequate amount of protein, the body won’t need to sacrifice protein from your muscles and tissues in order to meet energy requirements.
A snack is meant to keep you satisfied until your next meal but it should not replace it. When determining how much you should eat for a snack try to keep it between 100-300 calories. Look for foods containing both fiber and protein in addition to the required carbohydrates. As a general rule, a snack should contain at least 3 grams of fiber and about 5 grams of protein. Some snack starters include: ½ whole grain peanut butter and jelly sandwich, hummus and carrots, cottage cheese and peaches, salsa and corn chips, banana and almond butter, 1 cup low-fat yogurt. Obviously, there are many other snack combinations out there and non-perishable snack ideas as well.
By following these general guidelines, you can create delicious and nutritious snacks for your next summertime adventure. Now go enjoy your snacking!