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Snack or Treat?

How do you know when your afternoon tea has become a treat rather than a snack? Can you tell the difference?

Some of the biggest culprits for treats disguised as snacks include:

  • muesli bars
  • yoghurts
  • protein balls
  • most of the products in the health food isle
  • most of the foods claiming to be "high in" or "low in", "better for you", "baked not fried" and so on

Typically I find that many of these foods are too high in sugar or salt or too low in things like protein or fibre, which is an important component in a snack because it helps limit the amount you will eat. Think about something like rice crackers, a very common snack food which are notoriously low in fibre. Can you ever eat just a few? Or are you more likely to eat half a packet? Or you've had a couple of protein balls and you're wondering why you are still hungry?

So how do you tell the difference between a treat and a snack?

For the store bought variety, look at the sugar content a a start. Whilst nutrition labels don't yet differentiate between intrinsic and added sugars, it can still be a valuable guide for ruling out a large number of products very quickly. Intrinsic sugars are the sugars that naturally occur in dairy i.e. lactose or fructose in some fruits. There's nothing wrong with these because they are packaged up with a range of other nutrients. Look for products that are as close to 10g or less of sugar per serve. Also check the ingredients label to see whether sugar is one of the first few ingredients. Sugar has a range of names though so this includes honey, any kind of "syrup" a well as they are all added sugars.

I'd also encourage you to be wary of recipes claiming to be healthy, like protein balls. Looking at recipes for these, unless they have protein powder in them I am genuinely unsure why they have the name that they do. Not that I want you to add protein powder to your diet either. I caution you against these because first of all, they are usually quite high in calories - a significant proportion of the ingredients is typically honey or dates or other sweetener, with the rest being fat from nuts or coconut. That doesn't mean you shouldn't eat them but if 1 or 2 don't actually satisfy you then I recommend you don't snack on them.

I had this dilemma last week. I made peanut butter chocolate brownies. They are delicious, they are also made from black beans so they are very high in fibre, some dates and a bit of peanut butter. The recipe is here. But how do I classify them? I would eat one for afternoon tea, and I gave them to my kids for afternoon tea. However I am still reluctant to call them a snack. They are chocolate brownies, they are a cake and therefore I consider them a treat. Why? Well I wouldn't give them to my kids every day. I don't want to send them a message that cake is an every day food. So whilst yes, they are a healthier version than the ones I would typically make I prefer to make a distinction.

At the end of the day wholefoods are your surefire guaranteed way of knowing you're having a healthy snack. Greek yoghurt, fruit, nuts, seeds, veggies and so on are your best bet. I'm realistic though and I know that we are all just trying to do our best. So if you do need something a little less perishable that you can keep handy looking at the sugar content is a great first step for making a healthy choice. If you like to cook, then use wholegrains and healthy fat substitutes wherever you can, and watch out for the sugars - no matter where they are coming from.


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