What we eat during the day can affect our moods, energy levels, and productivity, and there are certain foods that can be sabotaging our health efforts. It's important to take note of what you are eating and craving during the day, and to keep healthy afternoon snacks on hand to satisfy the stomach and appetite right when hunger hits.
As a certified health coach, I help my clients target their afternoon cravings (which are high around 3:00-4:00 p.m.), and keep healthy snacks on hand to avoid reaching for mood-busting eats. By understanding which foods are filled with nutrients and those that are void, they are able to make wiser decisions during the day and even wire their brains to want to eat the healthier snacks, naturally, over time. Packaged, processed, refined and artificial foods can all suck energy, and sugary and caffeinated foods can lead to a crash shortly after consumption. By carrying wholesome foods in your bag or stocking your office drawers, you'll be able to avoid the temptation of a donut or salty snack.
Here are eleven ways your afternoon snack could be hurting your health and what to do about about it. You'll be eating better in no time!
1. Too Much Sugar
If a "snack contains too much sugar, " says certified holistic health coach and personal trainer Jen Bruno with J.B. Fitness and Nutrition, over email with Bustle, it will be "followed by an energy crash." Sugar is hidden in many processed foods, such as condiments, canned goods and soups, bakery items, breads, and beverages. Check the labels and stick with natural, whole foods instead. "When you find yourself reaching for something like M&M's, reach instead for something that is a little sweet, but has staying power, like cocoa roasted almonds and a fizzy water," advises running coach and personal trainer Susie Lemmer, over email with Bustle.
2. It Lacks Protein
Studies show that protein can boost energy and productivity during the day, so if an afternoon snack is unable to supply an adequate amount, it can interfere with your appetite, hormones, mood and performance. High-protein foods include fish, meat, beans and legumes, whole and ancient grains, such as quinoa, and dairy products, such as cheese and Greek yogurt. Avoid processed meats when you can!
3. Eating Too Large Of A Snack
Eating too much can actually make us feel sluggish and weighed down, which can suck energy levels and concentration. "Too many calories can spoil an appetite for dinner," says Bruno. "You made it a mini-meal instead of a small snack," she adds. Try and stick with a snack that won't overwhelm the body.
4. Eating At The Computer
Eating at the computer can lead to mindless eating, suggests Bruno, which can cause us to eat too many portions and not enjoy the flavors and textures of our foods. If at the office, step outside for a snack or eat in the lounge. Or head to a co-worker and see if he or she can have a quick chat while you snack. Studies show that mindful eating can make healthier and more productive.
5. You Had Too Much Caffeine
Snacks that contain too much caffeine can make us "jittery and shaky," says Bruno, and this can have a negative effect on our ability to focus and have a stable mood. If caffeine effects you in this way, avoid it later in the day. Plus, too much caffeine can affect our sleep and lead to an energy crash later in the day.
6. It Lacks Healthy Fats
Studies show that healthy fats can boost brain health and mood, and so it's important to consume those during the day to keep your emotions stable, appetite suppressed, and mind focused. "One of the pluses of choosing healthy fats as a part of a snack is the satiety fats can bring to that snack. A snack of walnuts and fresh or dried fruit meets energy needs but provides enjoyment," says Connie Diekman, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, who is the former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, over email with Bustle. "A snack of a smoothie with low-fat yogurt, flax and crushed walnuts provides that same good nutrient package."
7. You Don't Have Portable, Healthy Snacks Available
"Things like nuts are portable and travel well. Beef jerky is another great travel food," says Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, and Reebok Fitness & Nutrition Expert, over email with Bustle. Snacks are also a great opportunity to sneak in nutrients. "Swap your normal snacks for a piece of fruit," Mohr advises. "Use veggies as the base of your meal, meaning build the rest of the nutrients around those." Items like canned tuna or salmon, nut butters, and popcorn are also great, as they don't require refrigeration.
8. They Don't Reflect A Proper Nutrient Ratio
"For good afternoon snacks, you want a combination of protein, fiber and fat," says Mohr. "Most people turn to high sugar, high carbohydrate, low-protein snacks, and it tanks their energy or doesn't give sustained energy," he continues. Mohr recommends consuming a handful of almonds with a piece of fruit or an apple with two mini cheese rounds or sticks, such as Babybel or a brand of that portion size and quality.
9. You're Not Getting Enough Sleep
Studies show that inadequate sleep can lead to cravings and increased appetite, as well as low energy and mood imbalances. "Many people overeat trying to keep their energy going," says Mohr, as a way to deal with the chronic fatigue and stress on the body and mind. "That's what I call a "snacksiddent," he adds. Aim to sleep between seven and eight hours nightly for better afternoon snacking!
10. It Lacks Fiber
Fiber is essential for filling us up and keeping us regular. If we do not consume fiber-rich foods throughout the day, we will more likely to stay hungry and we may become backed up, leaving us fatigued and bloated. Eating fiber is also great for cardiovascular health, as it regulates blood sugar and keeps your mood stable.
11. It Has A High-Glycemic Rating
Studies show that high-glycemic foods can spike blood sugar and lead to a crash later on, when eaten on their own without adequate protein to stabilize levels. The glycemic index can be tricky, as for instance, bananas are rated high, but are a great afternoon snack. To achieve a proper balance, pair the banana with protein, such as nut butter or a cheese stick. Avoid high-glycemic foods that are refined carbohydrates, such as pastas, white flour, baked goods, and chips.
What you eat to fuel yourself in the afternoon can affect your performance, mood and blood sugar levels for the rest of the day, and these effects can even carry over into the night when it is time for bed. If poor snacking becomes a habit, chronic fatigue and impairment can occur, and this pattern might become challenging to break free from. Stick with healthier foods for health and happiness benefits, and start being more productive.
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