Healthy snacking as substitute of cigarettes
I’m going to be just a little bit controversial and say that snacking is not all bad. Take just one example: snacks are an alternative to puffing on cigarettes. There’s a well-known ‘law of popular science’ that says if someone is trying to quit smoking, then they will eat more and, conversely, if someone is on a diet then they will need more cigarettes. Conclusion? Snacks are good for your health.
I know, it’s naughty to think like this, especially because everyone seems to have been told ‘not to eat between meals’ as a child, and grand public health bodies today invariably target snack foods when they tell us what NOT to eat.
Actually, I remember recently that one Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at something called imposingly ‘Public Health England’, had called for the implementation of ‘practical solutions’ to the snacking tendency, by which he meant a sneaky and totally obligatory de-sugaring of foods like cakes, biscuits and puddings! But these foods aren’t sugary by accident, they’re sugary because that’s what we like about them. It’s like salted crisps having salt removed… but yes, the health industry has pushed that one too.
Let’s be realistic. We aren’t going to stop snacking anytime soon. John Nihoff, a professor of gastronomy at the Culinary Institute of America, has noted how snack foods long ago won the war of eating convenience- because what kinds of meals can you eat while walking down the street – or indeed while driving? The list is quite short: The French nibble on their white bread sticks, the famous baguettes, Americans chomp on bags of doughnuts, and the British, when they’re not hungry enough for a ‘sandwich’, are chocoholics. ‘We’re grazers. We’re snackers,’ as Nihoff put it. ‘We don’t have time to sit down and eat a big meal.’
Now what you might notice about those three example snacks, is that they give a quick sugar rush. Yes, that’s right, even baguettes, because modern, highly processed white flour is quickly converted into sugar in the blood stream. Snacking is all about sugar dips during the day, and our ability to immediately ‘feed them’ rather than wait a few minutes for the body to naturally re-adjust its balance. Although they are starches rather than sugars, foods like white bread and white rice have been stripped of their dietary fibre and act more like sugar in the body, easy to digest and rapidly ending up as sugar in the bloodstream. And what about crips? The most widely consumed kind of potato today, called Russet, is actually quicker to turn into glucose than pure sugar itself! This (along with salt) is why crisps are so successful and tempting a snack.
However, beating sugar dips is only part of the story about snacks. The truth about them is that, yes we do get peckish, but that’s not really why we do it, just as smoking a cigarette hasn’t really anything to do with regulating appetite. Sometimes eating, like smoking, is just a way to relax, to de-stress. But if it’s a craving for a very particular snack, then likely it is the promise of ‘something more’ that makes the bag of crisps, or the square of chocolate, grow immeasurably in importance.
The revolutionary leader of yesterday, Karl Marx, gives a possible insight into this snacking tendency. He once said, (or rather, laboriously explained in one of his long rambling philosophical treatises) that any commodity serves not merely a particular need, but also the promise of ‘something more,’ something unfathomable, indeed fantastical.
So be aware of the capitalist forces compelling to make you snack – and pre-empt them by packing your own healthy alternative in the morning.
Here, for example are three foods that are very convenient for snacking and yet contain many of the nutrients of a healthy meal.
Salted, definitely. Because it is salt cravings that drive a lot of snacking. Pistachios are one of those paradoxical fatty goods that are not fattening. They contain instead ‘heart-healthy’ unsaturated fats, and minerals like potassium. Each nut provides four calories of useful energy which somehow, by the wonders of our complex metabolism, is reluctant to convert into fat stores in the body. Of course, buy the nuts in the shells.
Yes, apples can seem boring, but there are actually many different kinds – just get unusual varieties and you won’t mind snacking on them – and indeed cooking with them For example, slice them into salads or with fish or cheese. Stew them with raisins for a sweet pudding. If the apples are organic and fresh when you get them, they should stay good for weeks and so they are really a convenient food.
Now veggies, and these days ecologists too, will not really approve, but herrings – ‘the Little Fish That Feeds Multitudes’ as the National Geographic once rather nicely put it, is a very healthy snack. As well as being very calorie-friendly, herrings are one of the best food sources of vitamin D, the vitamin that our bodies can ‘in theory’ make for itself in sunlight, but in practice, given lousy weather or overwork, may still not be getting enough of. And there seems to be a lot more to vitamin D than merely strong teeth and bones.
Herrings (like many fish) are also loaded with certain fatty acids which help prevent heart disease and keep the brain functioning properly. For the same reason, it also seem to be able to combat inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and arthritis. In fact, it is probably because herring have for centuries been considered the food of the poor, that they are still often undervalued as part of a healthy diet.
Maybe a similar prejudice applies to snacks more generally. If so, we should resist it!