Mid-day snacks. Are they necessary and what should you be eating between lunch and dinner?
A quality and nutritious afternoon snack has a few purposes: 1. To gently elevate blood sugars that have dropped since your lunch meal, 2. To prevent intense hunger at your dinner meal, 3. To create an opportunity to increase your protein intake for the day.
Are snacks necessary?
In my experience in working with individuals, a mid-day snack is necessary. However, not every single person is the same so there will be a population of individuals that survive fine without one. In order to identify if a mid-day snack is necessary for YOU, you must listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel your energy dragging 2 – 3 hours after lunch, if your ability to concentrate or to think and process information slows, if you become irritable and anxious, if you feel hungry, or if you’re ravenous as soon as you get home, these are signs that an afternoon snack will fit beautifully into your schedule.
Let’s take a step to the side and see what is happening inside your body as the clock hits 3:00pm. This is a given time based on a lunch time of 12:00pm. If your lunch was at 11:00am then you may feel the urge to snack around 3:00pm but if your lunch was at 1:00pm then the cravings may kick in closer to 4:00pm. As I mentioned, every body is unique and will metabolize food at varying rates so timing is not exact across the board. Generally speaking, roughly 2 hours following a balanced meal of vegetables, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, your blood sugar will be returned to a normal level and your body will begin to use stored energy (fat) to keep you on your feet. Continue on an empty stomach for another hour or and your blood sugar will begin to dip below normal. Since the cells require glucose (sugar) to keep your mind and body functioning, signals are sent from the cells to the brain to seek more sugar in an effort to raise the level of sugar in the blood again. The result: food-seeking activity begins. And the prime time to make a smart choice for your snack has been presented!
What should I choose for a snack?
About 3 – 4 hours after your lunch meal, the idea is to feed your body a snack that includes protein, carbohydrate, and/or fat. Which works best for you is only determined by doing trial snacks and taking your two previous meals into consideration.
If you lunch was skimpy on carbohydrates, such as a salad with grilled chicken breast and olive oil-based dressing, then I would suggest a snack such as a pear with 10 raw walnut halves, 1 scoop of protein powder blended with 1/2 cup of berries, or a can of tuna mixed with 1/4 cup of basil pesto hummus.
If your lunch included carbohydrates, such as two chicken tacos on corn tortillas or a flatbread sandwich, then I would suggest a protein and fat snack. Ideas for this snack are chopped chicken breast with 1/2 mashed avocado (photo below links to an awesome recipe), 2 hard-boiled eggs with sliced cucumber and zucchini, or beef jerky and 10 raw walnut halves.
If your goal is to shed a few pounds of body fat (as many people do) then smart snacking is the way to go. Some days you’ll have a super satisfying lunch that carries you over to dinner without the energy slump or ravenous cravings for chips once you hit home. Those days are fine. On the days where lunch is lighter and you know it will be hours before dinner time arrives, then plan accordingly and prepare time for a nutritious snack that will control your hunger and cravings so you don’t tear into the kitchen on a frenzy upon arrival at home. The majority of the time, when this happens, we begin snacking once we get home, overeat at dinner, and then continue to snack on more foods (i.e. desserts) until we head to bed. In this case we have consumed much more energy than we would have had a snack been eaten a few hours sooner.
Always remember to look at the big picture and stay away from white and black thinking when it comes to your dietary choices. Keep the Real Food Plate in mind when choosing your meals and remember the guidelines for choosing snacks based on your lunch meal. Try something and if it is great in managing cravings and hunger then you know you’ve found what works for you. If it doesn’t work, try to repeat the lunch meal again and experiment with a different snack. It takes a little effort and investigation to understand how your body responds to foods. You are your best detective and once you know your needs then eating well becomes a breeze!