The Knack Of The Snack
For all sorts of reasons - scientific research, improved transport, refrigeration, additives, greed - we are taunted and tempted day and night by fatty, sugary, visually enticing foods and drinks. They're everywhere and they can be hard to resist, but if you give yourself healthy alternatives during the day, you can turn your nose up at the sweets, crisps, muffins, cakes, chocolate and biscuits that seem to hit the spot but leave you with a severe case of buyer's remorse. And a funny taste in your mouth.
The Old Coffee-Shop Trick
Coffee shops would be proof of God's benevolence were it not for the fact that along with the beautiful beverage they tend to be heavily stocked with all manner of tasty, fat-filled foods that satisfy our morning cravings but do no good in the long run. Our systems are generally more acidic in the morning, which leads to an unconscious desire for fat and lots of it.
Buy some low-fat yoghurt to have with a banana or nuts and seeds for an energy-boosting range of nutrients. Or you could try one of these...
1. Buy a pot of low-fat fromage frais and throw in some dried apricots with some nuts and seeds. All of these have a low GI (Glycaemic Index), which means they release energy slowly and help prevent hunger pangs. The apricots contain fibre and vitamins, and nuts and seeds are also packed with protein, vitamins and minerals.
Of course, nuts are high in fat and there was a time not too long ago when we were encouraged to run a mile from them. But the truth is that the fat in nuts is mostly of the healthy, unsaturated variety, and nuts are therefore a healthy addition to your diet. Chestnuts are low in fat, but plopping them into your fromage frais or yoghurt is not a terribly appealing idea.
2. Spread low-fat soft cheese on a multigrain bagel and add sliced grapes, which are full of fibre and vitamins. This low-GI option should keep you going until lunchtime. The cheese also offers calcium, protein and vitamins. People often steer clear of dairy products when watching their weight, but a 2009 study from Curtin University in Perth, Australia, found that subjects who increased their daily servings of dairy products from three to five lost more weight than those who did not.
The Afternoon Slump
If your nutrition plan is going well you've had a healthy breakfast and lunch - but whether you work at a desk or do a more active job the chances are that your energy levels will need topping up by around 4pm. This is partly to do with what you've eaten - and you should have removed that factor - and partly to do with humans' natural sleeping and waking cycle.
Between about two and four in the afternoon your core body temperature drops slightly, which is a signal for the brain to release melatonin, one of the hormones that controls your sleeping cycle.
Don't give in to the lure of sugar and fat. Go for complex carbs that are rich in protein and healthy fats, plus fresh or dried fruit.
1. Keep a bag of nuts and seeds in a desk drawer or lunchbox. Research has shown that, in addition to their other benefits, they can help control your weight.
2. Dip vegetable sticks or breadsticks in tubs of guacamole and hummus. The sticks are healthy, easy to prepare and simple to store, while the dips are low GI and loaded with protein, monounsaturated fats, vitamins and fibre.
3. Spread peanut butter on Ryvita and top with sliced banana. Ryvita is low GI and low fat, which makes it a good base for the peanut butter, a concentrated source of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. The banana will supply carbs for that all-important energy boost before you head home. Bananas are also packed with vitamin C. When choosing them, avoid those that have very little stem, as they will deteriorate more rapidly.
Early Evening Appetite
It's been a long day at work, and if you have either run or cycled home, too, you may need to refuel before dinner without gorging on fatty foods. If you find it hard to resist temptation, just don't keep fat-filled quick fixes in the house. If you're made of sterner stuff, treat these treats as, well, treats, rewards for good behaviour.
Try a herbal or mint tea, or have a bowl of vegetable soup to stop you reaching for a bag of crisps. Whatever you have should be an energy booster to keep you going until it's time for dinner.
1. Make a sandwich using a low-GI pumpernickel loaf. Because it's quite dense, make it with either low-fat Edam cheese, for whey protein and calcium, or sardines for protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Then add either sundried or cherry tomatoes, which are packed with antioxidants, including beta-carotene for your immune system, which will take a battering if you are training or exercising hard and often.
2. To make a quick and easy low-fat soup, throw some leftover cooked veg and a tin of chopped tomatoes into a pan. Add water, stock and flavour with plenty of herbs and spices, to taste. Season and cook, then either eat it as is, nice and chunky, or blend it. You will get a range of vitamins and minerals, whatever the veg, and plenty of fibre, so you feel full until dinner without consuming many calories.
Midnight Munchie Madness
Some nutritionists believe that late-night snacking is a bad idea because your body won't be able to burn off the calories while you sleep. Others believe it doesn't matter what time you eat, but the fact remains that when we are slumped in front of the telly late at night the temptation is to reach for a chocolate bar or bag of crisps. Or both, to satisfy those damnable sweet and savoury cravings.
If you're going to eat chocolate, indulge in a small amount of the dark stuff, and have a warm milky (but not sugary) drink. Also, using ingredients you may normally have for breakfast will tide you over until morning, and help ensure a good night's sleep. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, which means you can continue the internal battle against potentially damaging free radicals while you rest.
1. For your late-night tipple, shelve the whisky (alcohol disrupts your sleep cycle) and whiz some of that calcium-rich low-fat milk with a few chunks of dark chocolate, which contains the mood-boosting, sleep-enhancing chemical serotonin, and/or cinnamon. Half a teaspoon or one stick will help regulate your body's insulin during the night.
2. Have a bowl of nuts, oats and clusters, which, on top of their other health benefits encourage the production of serotonin. Have it with vitamin-packed berries and low-fat milk.
3. Try a toasted Scottish pancake with mashed banana and a drizzle of honey. The banana contains serotonin, yet will keep your carb levels topped up for the morning without giving you an energy rush. Honey contains antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, as well as vitamins and minerals. It can also boost your immune system. All that from a mixture of nectar and bee saliva. Not bad.