Snacks are part and parcel of a person’s diet. Irrespective of age, everyone has a favourite snack.
For some, it can be an unhealthy but guilty pleasure: Packets of salted chips, multiple bars of chocolate, or sugar-packed smoothies. Others may snack in moderation: A bowl of fruits between breakfast and lunch, or the traditional evening teatime snack before dinner.
An individual’s snack preferences can vary based on convenience, taste, and family preferences. With a multitude of snack options available, the challenge lies in finding those that are healthy and wholesome.
But before we dive deep into the world of healthy snacking, we must first define what a healthy snack option is. The parameters that define it, and the nutritional value of each.
What is a healthy snack?
“A healthy snack is something which is either high on proteins or high on fibre,” says Ritika Samaddar, Regional Head, Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Max Healthcare, Delhi. Examples would include fibre-rich snacks like a bowl of fruit, or makhana, she said.
Samaddar recommends snacking on something with between 150-200 calories and 10 grams of protein per serving.
Some common healthy snacks
“Healthy snacks are nutritionally balanced, instead of giving you just empty calories and sugar spikes,” said dietician Nidhi Nigam, clinical nutritionist, health coach and founder of Nutrify, Bengaluru.
The National Health Service, UK, recommends lower-fat kinds of milk, water, or drinks with no sugar added to them. If the children are having packaged snacks, then the recommendation is to have just two per day, fruit and vegetable snacks being the preferred choice.
Nigam recommends the following healthy snacks that are readily available in India:
- A plate of roasted chana makhana
- Poha with vegetables and peanuts
- Moong dal dosa or a ragi dosa
However, snacks with an excess of salt should be avoided.
Five healthy snack options and their nutritional benefits
- Makhana, also known as Gorgon Nut or Fox nut, is an important aquatic crop with several medical and religious connotations. India grows as much as 70-80% of the world’s Makhana, which is often used in Ayurvedic preparations. These include preparations to treat and manage renal failure, chronic diarrhoea, excessive leucorrhoea (white discharge) and spleen hypofunction.Makhana is comprised of 11.16% digestible protein, 75.04% carbohydrates (considered to be the healthiest levels in a food source) and is a rich source of dietary fibre. It helps bring down the levels of cholesterol in a person’s blood and is also a rich source of vital amino acids like glutamic acid, leucine, and aspartic acid, among others.
- Peanuts are one of the most important plant-based sources of protein.
“Peanuts are good in protein and PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids), which is good for hormone release. These are the good fats that the body needs,” says Nigam.
Peanuts are also an important ingredient of foods given to wean infants off their mother’s milk. Provided the infants have already been screened for peanut allergies, the National Health Service, UK advises that peanuts be given to children when they start eating solid foods, and at the pace the infant is comfortable with. The regimen advised is adding peanut butter to their diet [equalling a grain of rice on day one], mixed with fruit or vegetable puree. The amount of peanut butter is gradually increased to a whole teaspoon by day seven. Peanuts should always be powdered to a fine powder with no lumps beforehand.
- Moong dal or Mung Bean is a rich source of protein and iron, with concentrations of 14.6%-33.0 g of protein per every 100 gram serving of the same, and 5.9 to 7.6 mg of iron, in every 100 grams of moong dal served. Healthy snack options made from this protein rich source include moong dal dosa, moong dal sprouts among others.
- Ragi or finger millet has one of the highest concentrations of calcium (344mg% or 344 milligrams per 100 ml) and potassium (408mg%). Studies have indicated that this millet plays a role in the lowering of blood glucose, and cholesterol, and can prevent ulcers. Healthy snack options using ragi include noodles, vermicelli, Indian snacks, papads, and soups, among others.
- Boiled Eggs are rich sources of albumin, the most abundant protein in blood. In addition to being a rich source of Vitamin D, they give a daily value of 6.3g of protein per day. Egg yolk is also an important source of choline, a protein necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis.
Healthy snacks for children
A healthy growth into a well-balanced adult is only possible if the child’s diet was well-balanced and packed with proper nutritive content. Snacks are no exception to this rule. By making sure that the child has regular snacks, ones not loaded with empty carbohydrates and sugar like fizzy drinks but that are high in protein and fibre like a salad or yoghurt.
Studies show that 27% of the calorific intake in a child’s diet comes from snacks. Snacks that are high in fibre and proteins have been shown to help curb hunger, and contribute to satiety, providing valuable nutrients to the child’s diet.
“Peanuts, roasted chana, roasted chana makhana, a poha with vegetables and peanuts are all examples of healthy snack options,” says Nigam.
Some other foods which fall under the list of healthy snacks include –
- Poha with vegetables and peanuts
- Roasted Chana
- Roasted Chana Makhana
- Chestnuts and other tree nuts
Healthy snacks for Diabetics
Type 1 Diabetics are immunocompromised, with the immune system attacking its pancreas, leading to the production of little to no insulin. “For a type 1 diabetic, the regimen advised is three major meals with two mini meals in between. An entire calorie distribution is done for the individual as per their insulin requirement,” says Samaddar. “A diet is prescribed, where one third of the calories come from the major meals, and one fifth from the mini meals,” she said.
A mid-morning snack and a mid-evening snack in between the three major meals is what constitutes a healthy balanced diet, she said.
“A diet comprised of just empty carbohydrates or just fibre causes a type 1 diabetics sugar levels to drop, because of the insulin they are taking. This makes the protein content of the snack they consume very important,” she said.
Studies have shown that fluid snacks like whole milk, and sports drinks designed for quick and long-lasting nutrient replenishment help avoid late onset postexercise hypoglycaemia (LOPEH) in individuals diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
“People with Type 2 diabetes have to undergo lifestyle changes to live a healthy lifestyle,” Nigam said.
“In type 2 diabetes, your food must be wholesome. There has to be a lot of emphasis on protein and complex carbohydrates.”, she said. Complex carbohydrates mostly come from cereal grains and their products.
“There is a mechanism of carbohydrate counting. One’s overall carbohydrates of the day have to be counted. And accordingly, the insulin dosage is given,” says Nigam.
Snacking in moderation
Binge eating on snacks or eating snacks irregularly will have adverse effects to the normal functioning of the body. Snack in moderation, and in the regimen advised. Two mini meals between three major meals, and if you are a type 1 diabetic, spread the calorie distribution according to the insulin requirement.
“Binge eating (usually) happens when you go on a restrictive or fad diet, (and after) your body is deprived of necessary nutrients. This leads to hormone release which forces you to binge eat,” says Nigam. “If left uncontrolled, it can turn into an eating disorder,” she adds.
“The way to treat your binge eating is to have an inclusive diet where there is diversity. It is balanced, and it has protein, fats, and carbs. You cannot omit any particular food group,” she says.