Snacking has a bad reputation, but it can play an important part in a healthy diet.
There’s this belief that snacks are for that mid-afternoon sugar crash, or for people who can’t watch a movie without chewing on something (forget “Netflix and chill”, call it “Netflix and chew”). When I say snacking is an important part of healthy eating I’m obviously not talking about piles of chocolate wrappers or Cheeto fingers.
Use healthy snacking to fill your nutrition gaps.
When I design my family’s weekly meal plan it’s a constant struggle to keep everyone happy. A large household with children – some more picky than others – means I have to try balance “yummy” with “healthy” otherwise some family members might end up not eating their meals at all. Sometimes I feel like planning a nice meal for me too! Because of this pressure towards yumminess it can sometimes happen that my meal plans have nutritional gaps, where we come in under our recommended daily intake (RDI) on one or more micronutrients for the week. And while we do supplement, my preference is to always try to get our needs met with real food over synthetic pills.
The Big Three
I have three go-to snacks I use quite often to help meet my micronutrient targets.
Hopefully you snack on these already, because they taste lovely and are incredibly nutritious. Packed to the brim with micronutrients, sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamins B1, B6, and especially vitamin E. They also contain a good amount of copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and selenium.
The one drawback with sunflower seeds is they are rather high in fat and saturated fat. Limit your intake to about 30g (one ounce) , and if you’re managing cholesterol or cardiovascular disease perhaps best to skip them entirely.
Cook some shelled edamame (boil, steam, microwave) according to package instructions, then toss with nutritional yeast, a crack of salt, and perhaps some chili flakes.
This simple recipe is a massively nutritious one. About 10g of nutritional yeast will give you almost all the B vitamins you need per day (that’s right, B1 through to B12), as well as a good amount of folate, calcium, fibre, and protein.
Limit to half a cup a of edamame per day as it is unfortunately quite high in phytic acid and oxalate – even after cooking.
Vitamin C is such a fundamentally important part of our diet, I try to get more than needed each day.
Other than the big three I also incorporate the following snacks into my meal planning rotation, depending on what’s lacking nutritionally.
Baked or air fried, kale will retain most of its (high!) nutritional value. Sprinkle with a dusting of nutritional yeast and you’ve got yourself a nutrition bomb that tastes delicious! Or, if you’re feeling a bit fancy, dust your kale chips with vegan furikake (an amazing Japanese rice seasoning) – simply delicious.
Snap Peas (Sugar snaps, or mange-tout)
Snap peas are a good source of vitamins A, C and K (amongst other things). Eat the whole pea pod but consider removing the stringy “spine” running across the back.
Baby Carrots + Hummus
A huge amount of vitamin A alongside a broad range of other nutrients. Refrigerate the baby carrots for extra crunch.
A single Brazil nut will give you your daily RDI of selenium. A couple of nuts a few times per week will be enough – don’t overdo it as selenium can be toxic when taken in large quantities.
It can be tricky to find a brand you like (look in the health food aisle at your local supermarket), but shiitake crisps are a great source of vitamin D, which is especially important if you don’t have easy access to at least 20 minutes of sunlight on your face each day.
A good source of a broad range of nutrients, especially magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. Limit to about 30g per day as they’re high in fat content.
When you’re in the mood for something a bit tart, dried apricots are a great source of vitamin A, potassium, and a wide range of other nutrients.
When you snack with intent it can be a really useful tool to help you meet your nutritional needs naturally, without having to lean too hard on supplements. It really just boils down to a few simple steps:
- Track your nutrition.
- Plan your snacks ahead of time.
- Be disciplined about your quantities.
- Keep things varied.
Gabrielle is an evidence-based vegan coach who believes that health transformation begins when you switch to a plant-based diet. Her mission is to help midlife women eat in alignment with who they are and what they value so that they can lead a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.
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Written by Gabrielle (hi!), these e-mails will help you on your plant-based journey with useful tips, tricks, facts and inspiration – and perhaps the occasional inappropriate joke thrown in for good measure.