I often hear people say they struggle with having healthy snacks. Their main meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner are often okay, well planned and nutritious, but when it comes to snacking, they tend to eat mainly sugary foods such as chocolate, biscuits, cake, or salty foods such as crisps. Does this sound familiar?

I used to know someone who had at least 6 packets of crisps for her afternoon snack, and then another few packets just before bedtime (and she wondered why she couldn’t lose weight).

Snacks are an important part of your diet. Used wisely, they can help keep your blood sugar levels steady between meals, which is good not only for your overall health, but also your performance at whatever you do during the day.

In addition, and rather counterintuitively, smart snacking can help you avoid overeating. This is because it prevents you from getting too hungry at mealtimes, which could result in overestimating the portions you need.

On the other hand, many of the most popular snacks — the ones people tend to reach for without thinking — are packed with sugar or unhealthy trans fats. These can have the opposite effect, causing spikes in blood sugar that mess up your healthy eating patterns.

The key to smart snacking is doing it deliberately. One of the main traditional problems with snacking is that we tend to reach for snacks automatically, and we’re barely aware of what we’re doing. This could be in any situation from being absorbed in work to sitting in front of the TV.

To snack smart, plan your snacks just as you plan your meals. Choose in advance what will make a good snack and either prepare it to take with you or know where you’re going to get it from. Similarly, choose the times when snacks will be most beneficial — not just when you’ve “got the munchies”.

Make sure you eat your snacks slowly and mindfully. That way, you’ll know exactly what you’re putting into your body and be aware of when you’ve had enough.

As always, concentrate on healthy options from the main food groups, but in forms that can be conveniently carried and eaten on the go. Also, make sure your snacks contain plenty of fibre, which has a role in controlling both cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as aiding digestion.

Remember, though, that smart snacking should still be a pleasure, not a chore, so choose snacks you’re going to look forward to.

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