Are your healthy snacks making you overeat?
Snacking can be tricky. We usually feel peckish and want something small to keep us going till the next big meal comes around. Unfortunately some otherwise perfectly healthy snacks make us overeat, and so a small in-between-meals-snack can turn into a meal-sized portion.
So what are the foods that are likely to make us overeat and why is it so easy to mindlessly munch away on them?
Dried fruit is a very popular snack as dates, figs and friends are easy to grab on the go and give a quick sugar boost to get through the 3 pm slump. They are nutrient dense and known for their high fibre content – overall a healthy choice. But anyone who has ever opened a packet of dried figs and tried (and most likely miserably failed) to stop at one or two pieces knows how much will power it requires not to overindulge these soft treats.
The reason for this lies in the high fructose content of dried fruit. Fructose is getting an increasingly bad reputation. While what we call ‘sugar’ (i.e. ordinary white table sugar) is half glucose, half fructose, it is the latter which has been associated with serious health concerns, including obesity and diabetes. Furthermore, recent research published in the Journal of American Medical Research has shown that fructose unlike glucose has little effect on brain regions that curb appetite, failing to produce feelings of fullness. This has the result of one being more likely to overeat on foods high in fructose as the brain simply fails to signal ‘I’ve had enough’.
While fresh fruit contains fructose as well, the process of drying fruit basically turns fruit into something more akin to (nature’s) candy. Compare this: half a cup of fresh cranberries contain two grams of sugars, whereas the same amount of dried cranberries contains an astonishing 37 grams: more than 18 times as much, and equivalent to nine teaspoons of table sugar. On top of this, dried fruit is often additionally sweetened, which raises the sugar content even more.
If you simply love dried fruits as a snack, try to have some protein and fat (for example some nuts) with it. This slows down the digestion of the sugar and triggers the satiety signals in the brain giving a sense of being full.
A similar rationale applies to fruit juices or smoothies. The amount of fructose in one piece of fresh fruit is something our body can easily cope with. However, to make one cup of apple juice you need at least three apples. When fruit is juiced another problem occurs: the fibre of the fruit is taken out. It is the fibre that acts as a natural brake to overeating fruit, as it fills the stomach triggering a feeling of satiety. You can easily drink a glass of apple juice in a minute without feeling full but you will most likely feel like your stomach is at full capacity after chomping down 3 or 4 whole fresh apples in one sitting.
Health food bars
Health food bars are very en vogue at the moment – I am sure you have noticed them popping up in the health food shelves at your local supermarket. Most them are made of a mix of dried fruit, nuts and grains. Some are also featuring additional sweeteners such as agave syrup, honey or even high fructose corn syrup on their ingredients list. All these sweeteners are very high in fructose and so there is a good chance that you will nibble on these health food bars without your brain realising you are actually full. Try to go for a brand that has no additional sweeteners and one that has a lower content of dried fruit.
If you are looking for a snack, which satisfies both the taste buds and the little hunger in between meals, try to go for foods high in fat and protein such as unsweetened natural yoghurt (or coconut yoghurt), eggs, half an avocado or nuts and seeds. Not only are you less likely to overeat on these foods, they also keep you full for longer and will keep you going until the next meal.
Larina also says:
"Any pre-packaged products that are low fat, and/or low in fibre aren't going to give your snacks the staying power you need. Opt for foods as close to their natural state as possible, especially snacks! As once you start going to bars and slices and dehydrated versions of fresh produce, you can easily over it do before you brain realises you've had too much! Fill up on the whole varieties to get the filling power of the water and fibre content, and opt for full fat. Regardless of what you eat, take a little time to eat it as well. If you scoff it down without paying much attention to what you actually ate, chances are, you'll be back in the kitchen very shortly. If you're still hungry after a decent sized snack, you're probably thirsty instead. Have a glass of water or cup of tea to test."
As another healthy alternative - you may also like to make twelve healthy muffin snacks using these Baking Mixes..
Page KA, Chan O, Arora J, et al. 2013, ‘Effects of Fructose vs Glucose on Regional Cerebral Blood Flow in Brain Regions Involved With Appetite and Reward Pathways’, JAMA, Vol. 309(1):63-70. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1555133
United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods
Ludwig, SD, Majzoub, JS et al 1999, ‘High Glycemic Index Foods, Overeating and Obesity’, Predriatics, Vol. 103 No. 3: 66. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/103/3/e26.short