Snack your way to better health

Resolved to lose weight or follow a healthier lifestyle? Then snacking is the way to go.

Let no more than three hours pass between meals or snacks. This way, you'll ensure a constant supply of glucose to your body's cells. More energy and less cravings for sugary and fatty foods will be the positive spin-off.

A few healthy snack ideas include:

1. A slice of rye kernel bread with peanut butter and honey
You've heard of the glycaemic index (GI), right? The term refers to the effect of carbohydrate foods on blood-sugar levels. Foods with a low GI ensure a slow release of energy; foods with a high GI release energy fast. For stabilising blood-sugar levels, a diet rich in low-GI foods is recommended.

Rye kernel bread is suggested here because it has a much lower GI than white or brown bread, for example. To lower the GI of this snack even further, you can add peanut butter, thinly spread on the bread. Both the fat and the protein in the peanut butter will slow down the digestion of the carbohydrate in the bread.

A small amount of honey, which is a source of fructose, can be added to make the snack more palatable. Research has shown that small to moderate amounts of dietary fructose can promote better blood-sugar control. This is also because fructose has a lower GI compared to many other carbohydrates, including sucrose (table sugar).

Apart from the GI considerations, peanut butter contains the phytochemical resveratrol, which has been linked to a significant decrease in heart disease. Peanut butter also has anti-cancer effects and can lower cholesterol levels if it's eaten instead of other high-fat foods.

2. Wholegrain crackers topped with avocado pear, tomato, black pepper and herbs
Good-quality wholegrain crackers can be a good source of fibre, which isn’t only necessary for regular bowel movements but which is essential for regulating glucose release into the bloodstream. These crackers are also a good source of several important vitamins and minerals, making it the perfect no-mess-no-fuss, on-the-run snack.

While several toppings could make a cracker both healthy and tasty, we recommend avocado and tomato. Research has shown that avos can cut cholesterol. This fruit also has antioxidant abilities, making it an excellent cancer fighter, and it contains vitamins E, C and B6, as well as potassium and omega-3 fatty acid.

Tomatoes can be coined a "super food", particularly because of its high lycopene content. Lycopene is a very powerful free radical scavenger. Free radicals wreak havoc in the body and have been linked to cancer and other chronic diseases. Tomatoes are also a good source of vitamin C and E.

A pinch of salt will probably do no harm – except if you suffer from high blood pressure or kidney problems. However, a generous sprinkling of black pepper and/or herbs is a healthier option. It's believed that black pepper aids the digestive process, while herbs are also a good source of antioxidants.

3. Vegetable bites (e.g. carrot sticks, celery sticks, baby tomatoes) with a humus or cottage-cheese dip
Veggies have so many benefits that it's hard to know where to start. Let's just focus on the veggies recommended here (although any other combinations will do the trick too).

Carrots have an extremely high beta-carotene content and have many health benefits, including giving protection against heart disease and several cancers, notably lung cancer. Carrots can also lower blood cholesterol and help guard against food poisoning.

Celery is a good source of potassium. It has a diuretic effect, can help control blood pressure and has anti-inflammatory effects.

As mentioned above, tomatoes have strong anti-cancer properties and are a good source of vitamins C and E. All vegetables also aid digestion as they're generally rich in fibre.

Unfortunately, veggies generally have quite a high GI. That's why it's not only more interesting to combine your favourite vegetable bites with a dip like humus or cottage cheese, but also important in terms of blood-sugar control. The chickpeas from which the humus is made, as well as the milk that forms the basis of the cottage cheese, are slow-releasing, low-GI foods. By using one of these dips, you'll lower the GI of your entire meal/snack.

4. Fruit salad with low-fat, plain yoghurt, sprinkled with a nut-and-seed mix and topped with a dollop of honey
Choose any of your favourite fruits (in season, of course) and combine them in a delicious fruit salad – the more colour, the better. Many of the good properties of fruit are locked up in the colour pigment. And different colours have different benefits. So, go wild!

Yoghurt has several benefits. Besides the obvious calcium injection that it'll give you, this tasty snack is also a source of probiotics. Probiotics are non-disease-causing microorganisms that play a positive role in immune regulation, the absorption of nutrients, and the treatment of diarrhoea. Go for the low-fat or fat-free options and choose a plain, Bulgarian yoghurt if you're planning to add honey to your snack.

The nut-and-seed mix will add crunch to your fruit salad. The bonus is that nuts and seeds are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats. Nuts and seeds are also a source of protein (along with the protein in the yoghurt, it will lower the GI of your salad), as well as countless vitamins, minerals and fibre. Add no more than a tablespoon if you need to watch your weight.

For a final touch, add a dollop of honey, and enjoy the benefits of a healthy, slow energy-releasing meal.

- (Carine Visagie)

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