If you’re older, the habit is even more entrenched, according to the Healthy Ireland Survey 2016. More than half (51%) of the over-55s eat up to six snacks every day. The top choice is confectionery (21%), followed by crisps (15%) and then fruit (12%).
And while we snack at all times of the day, the so-called afternoon slump remains the most popular time to reach out for a little pick-me-up. Our eating habits are changing, however, and there is a growing demand for healthy snacks.
Bord Bia says consumers are becoming much more discerning about what they eat in between meals and now consider snacks as ‘health-boosters’ rather than something to fill a gap.
It’s a trend that prompted Co Armagh-based snack-manufacturers Forest Feast to launch two ranges to respond to growing consumer concerns about sugar intake.
There is also an increased demand for snacks that contain protein, says Ann Woods, product development manager at the family-run business.
“Protein’s popularity has rapidly increased in the past year, with it now being the fashionable must-have meal addition,” she says. Is there any need to snack in the first place?
Ciara Wright, senior nutritionist and director at Glenville Nutrition, thinks so. She says it is very important to fuel the body regularly and recommends small healthy snacks, ideally at three-hour intervals.
“We often see people, either in clinic or in the corporate setting, that have long gaps between meals. Breakfast could be before leaving the house at 7am. While lunch is usually fairly set, sometimes dinner might not be until 8pm, leaving hours of the day where you are running on empty.
“Given that these hours are a demanding time of the day, being physically and mentally challenged at work or school and coping with the commute, we are asking a lot of our minds and bodies to soldier on five and six hours after we last filled up,” she says.
However, it is vital to choose the right kind of snack to give your body the energy it needs.
“Complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats are slower to digest and release energy steadily over time,” says Wright. “Great snacks that will keep you fuller for longer include wholegrain crackers with hummus, cheese or nut butter; fruit and a handful of mixed nuts or natural yoghurt with fruit.”
She warns that the quick-fix offered by, say, a cup of coffee and a biscuit might give you a quick burst of energy, but it doesn’t last. “Within 30 minutes to an hour of a rapidly digested or sugar-filled snack, your blood sugars may be dipping again. You may find that your concentration and focus wanes, you get headaches or become irritable.
Then the carb cravings kick in,” she says.
The best way to avoid the energy rollercoaster is to prepare your snack intake for the week ahead and make sure you have healthy snacks within easy reach wherever you are.
“Bring a bag of fruit with you at the start of the week and leave it at your desk. Have a bag of mixed nuts in your car, your bag and in your drawer. Keep oatcakes in your desk — they are wrapped in packs of six meaning they won’t spoil,” she advises.
She also says many so-called healthy snacks contain a large amount of sugar. The best and cheapest way to make sure you know what you are eating is to make your own. Here is her recipe for protein powerballs, which are very low in sugar.
You’ll need a cup of peanut, almond or hazelnut butter; 1 tbsp of maple syrup; 1 cup shelled hempseeds (or milled flaxseeds if not available); 1 tbsp cocoa powder/raw cacao powder; half a cup of chopped nuts (any combination of peanuts, sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, chopped cashews, toasted coconut). Mix the nut butter and maple syrup in a large bowl until smooth. Add the rest of ingredients and mix well.
Roll into small balls and eat! n Glenville Nutrition’s 12-week ‘Lose Fat Around the Middle’ courses start in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kilkenny this month.