A snack is a small amount of food intended to be a 'filler' in between meals to prevent hunger. Those who may need to eat snacks to get all the nutrients and energy needed to be healthy include children, older adults, busy teenagers, persons with diabetes on insulin, persons with loss of appetite (not eating enough food at mealtimes) - maybe as a result of illness, such as cancer or cancer treatment or kidney disease, persons with unintentional weight loss because of the ageing process, persons who have lost a loved one, or persons who are stressed.
Snacks should be healthy foods, not junk foods. Junk foods provide little or no vitamins, minerals, protein or fibre, just mainly sugar, fat and sodium.
Healthy snacks should provide extra nutrients or complement the three meals that are eaten throughout the day. Snacks are eaten to get extra nutrients such as protein, calcium, calories, fluids and iron. Snacks can comprise leftovers from previous meals. For instance, a finger of green banana and a piece of sardine from breakfast can be eaten as a midmorning snack with some water about two to three hours before lunchtime.
A snack is not a meal and should not be used to substitute a meal, because a traditional snack does not have sufficient vitamins, minerals and energy.
Here are some recommendations for healthy snacking based on the nutrient needs:
For extra protein:
Nuts and nut butters, such as peanut butter, almond, hazelnut spread;
Fruit or vegetable smoothies made with milk;
Egg (plain) or egg dishes such as egg custards;
Peas and bean spreads or pastes (mashed seasoned peas and beans served on bread or crackers).
For extra fluids:
Fruit or vegetable juices (unsweetened);
Fruit or vegetable smoothies (unsweetened);
Popsicles or frozen bag juice ('suck-suck') - made from unsweetened juice;
Plain or flavoured water.
For extra energy or calories:
Crackers and cheese or nut butters;
Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc.);
Nuts (preferably lightly salted or unsalted);
Low-sugar, low-fat cookies, cakes, puddings;
Low-fat milk or yogurt or ice cream;
Canned fruit in light syrup or water;
Fresh fruits or unsweetened juices;
Dried fruits (raisins, prunes, dates, apples or coconut);
Cereal with milk.
Just to satisfy the feeling to munch, try:
Popcorn (plain or with light butter and salt);
Fruit gelatin (sugar free with fresh fruit);
Fresh fruit or raw vegetables;
Water (plain or flavoured).
To be healthy, we all need to get into the habit of not snacking or, if we have to snack, doing so healthily. Have a healthy snack, starting today.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.