Healthy snacking

Snacking is an important part of any daily diet, yet we often use snacks as a time to eat the naughty unhealthy foods especially in pregnancy when we experience cravings or feel we can get away with extra calories.

In the dietary dictionary the word “snack” refers to a combination of solid foods that are typically eaten with utensils, with or without a beverage. These should form part of their own habitual meal and should be of lower calorie content than a main meal.

What role do snacks play in my diet?

Healthy nutritious snacks play an important part in your daily diet by:

  • Providing the body with a continual supply of fuel throughout the day, helping sustain your energy levels.
  • Help meet the additional nutrient recommendations during pregnancy when packed with goodness such as essential protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • Ensure that you are consuming the extra calories needed towards the end of pregnancy, during the second and third trimesters.
  • Gives structure to your daily eating plan, making it easier to follow a healthy pregnancy diet and help control weight gain during pregnancy.
  • Ensures you don’t reach ‘starvation’ point during the day, which can often lead to overindulging at main mealtimes.
  • Pre-planning meals, in particular your snack foods for the day, will help ensure more positive healthier food choices and reduce temptations by other unhealthy refined foods.

In particular snacks are also good for the following reasons:

1. Glucose

Carbohydrates are essential to the diet as the body digests and breaks these down into glucose, your body’s preferred energy source. Your growing baby also receives glucose from your stores for its own energy requirements during the growth period.  The type, amount and frequency of carbohydrates in your diet is particularly important as it has a major influence on your blood sugar levels, and can increase your risk of developing Gestational Diabetes and excess pregnancy weight gain.

The best way to obtain glucose in your diet is by eating complex carbohydrate sources such as fruit, starchy vegetables, bread, rice, pasta, cereals, lentils, legumes, milk and yoghurt. In particular those with a low Glycaemic Index are preferred as they are digested at a slower rate, providing a slow and constant glucose source for both you and your baby’s energy needs. Refer to the blog ‘Dietary Recommendations in Gestational Diabetes’ for a more detailed explanation of the Glycaemic Index.

Carbohydrates must be spread evenly throughout your daily diet over your 3 main meals and 3 snacks. The correct and healthy way to first incorporate snacks into your diet if you haven’t usually consumed snacks before is to reduce the amount of carbohydrates at on of your main meals by one quarter, and then shifting this to a snack.

2. Morning sickness and heartburn

Many women during their pregnancy suffer from symptoms such as nausea or ‘morning sickness,’ and heartburn. This is explained further in the topic ‘Nausea and Vomiting – how diet can help.’

Snacking can help alleviate these symptoms, as small snacks will ensure that your stomach is never empty, which contributes to these symptoms. Eating good quality snacks can also ensure that you are not consuming anything to sugary, fatty or acidic which will worsen any nausea.

3. Fat

Snacks should be low in fat and fat tends to interfere with your body’s ability to digest and process glucose, making it harder to control blood glucose levels.  In addition full-cream dairy products are high in saturated fats, which in large amounts will raise your blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. Too much fat in your diet will also mean a much greater pregnancy weight gain, making it harder for you to lose weight in the postpartum period.

What defines a healthy snack?

Snacking in pregnancy should be based on the following principles:

  • 3 small snacks a day, which should be consumed between main meals.
  • Each should provide 1 serving of carbohydrates, be of low Glycaemic Index, and low in fat.
  • Fat content should be less than 10%, or less than 10g fat per 100g of the food product. This information can be found on the food label.
  • Eat your snack to hunger cues – try to not snack immediately after a main meal, but rather wait a couple of hours and eat when your body tells you more energy is required.
  • Avoid high calorie and fat-dense snacks such as biscuits, cakes, crisps and chips.

What are some good snack suggestions?

The following is a compilation of various snacks that are not only delicious, but are of high nutrient quality and follow the above recommendations. Make sure you have a plentiful stash of these in your cupboard so you aren’t tempted to stray off the healthy straight-and-narrow!

  • Homemade Fruit smoothie – Combine 200mL ice cold low-fat milk, handful of ice cubes, ¼ cup frozen berries and ½ banana and 8 small almonds in a food processor. Blend until of smoothie consistency.
  • ½ English Wholemeal muffin, 4 Wholegrain Vitawheats, 2 Ryvitas, 1 slice multigrain or Wholemeal bread with a topping – Toppings can include a low fat spread such as Light Cream Cheese, a boiled egg with tomato, slice of low fat cheese and tomato, ¼ avocado with sprinkle of lemon juice, low fat cream cheese with ¼ sliced pink lady apple, banana and ½ tsp peanut butter.
  • Vegetable sticks with dip – Chop into long straws a mixture of carrot, celery sticks, snowpeas and capsicum. Serve with either hummus or homemade low fat tzatziki.
  • 10 plain rice crackers with dip – Make your own low fat tzatziki by combining 1 cup of low fat natural yoghurt, ½ tsp minced garlic, ½ cup finely sliced cucumber and sprinkle of dill.
  • Handful of mixed nuts – Mix together in advance dry roasted almonds, cashews, brazil nuts and …. Each snack serving should equal approximately ¼ cup.
  • 1 Small tub of Low fat natural yoghurt (200g) or fruit flavoured (100g) 1 serve
  • Wholegrain muffin with banana or cream cheese and sliced apple
  • Serving of fruit – Choose from 1 medium apple, pear, peach, orange, banana, 3 apricots, 2 mandarins, 1 cup grapes, 1 circle pineapple
  • 1 cup reduced fat milk (200mL) with 2 tsp milo
  • 1 cup of homemade popped popcorn

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