The FUTURE WOMAN guide to snacking

FUTURE WOMAN guide to snacking

Did you know that Brits snack a lot more than our European counterparts? More than half of us admit to snacking ‘often’ and this has only increased since the pandemic. 

But can snacking ever form part of a healthy diet? And is it good for our hormones?

What we recommend

At FUTURE WOMAN, we usually suggest that women eat three main meals a day with no snacking for blood sugar balance and healthy insulin sensitivity. We also recommend eating within a 10-12 hour window.

However, there are some exceptions to this which we’ll cover in this article.

Why we usually recommend no snacking

Research shows that eating fewer meals may improve insulin sensitivity. This is because snacking can lead to blood sugar spikes. Every time we eat (or drink something other than water, black coffee and herbal tea), we release insulin. 

If we’re eating too often, we don’t allow our insulin levels to return to normal and over time this can contribute to decreased insulin sensitivity. This in turn can lead to poorer blood sugar control!

Poor blood sugar control has a knock on effect to our health and hormones. It can lead to:

  • Day-to-day symptoms such as low energy and anxiety;
  • Inflammation, oxidative stress and glycation, which can in turn drive disease and dysfunction;
  • Insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for many diseases and health conditions, such as diabetes and PCOS and which can worsen all symptoms of perimenopause; and
  • Increased stress on the body, which can in turn cause dysregulation of the HPA axis.

We suggest leaving 4 hours in between meals – so it’s important to eat balanced meals with plenty of protein and fat in order to carry you through to your next meal.

When we DO recommend snacking

There are a few instances when we would definitely recommend including some healthy snacks into your day.
  1. You’re recovering from an eating disorder.
  2. You are pregnant (especially in the first and second trimester when smaller more frequent meals will most likely suit you better).
  3. You are breastfeeding.

Also, in general, we never want you to go too long between meals – where you might become too hungry and your blood sugar can get too low. This can happen even if we have good blood sugar control! If you feel dizzy or shaky during the 4-hour gap between meals, then you should certainly have a snack. 

Snacking during the 'healing phase'

There are some additional circumstances where we would suggest you eat more often, and this is generally during the ‘healing phase’. Two circumstances in particular that may require more regular snacking include:

  1. Dysregulated cortisol
  2. Dysregulated blood sugar/insulin resistance 

While we suggest avoiding snacking for better metabolic health, in these instances we might need a transition period while we gain better blood sugar control. Just know that we’re working towards not needing to snack so often.

1. Dysregulated cortisol

Many of our clients at FUTURE WOMAN struggle with dysregulated cortisol and it’s one of the main drivers of hormone imbalance.

For this reason, our Advanced Hormone Test and Advanced+ Hormone Tests look at cortisol (and cortisone – the inactive form) in some detail. In particular, we look at:

  • Free cortisol: the active form of cortisol, which can bind to receptors and turn these receptors on. This represents only 1-3% of your total cortisol output.
  • Metabolised cortisol: This represents the total levels of cortisol metabolised through the liver, and provides the best representation of total glandular output of cortisol across the day. 
  • Cortisol awakening response (CAR): Your CAR is a measurement of how your cortisol moves throughout the day and provides us with insights into how your HPA axis and adrenal glands may be coping with stress.

If any of these 3 markers are outside of the optimal range, it can indicate that you have dysregulated cortisol. 

Symptoms of dysregulated cortisol levels include weight gain, acne, anxiety, depression, fatigue, missing or irregular periods, fertility issues or poor memory. And a dysregulated daily cortisol pattern may look like waking up with no energy, energy crashes, feeling wired in the evening or waking up with racing thoughts and anxiety.

If you are struggling with dysregulated cortisol, one of our nutritionists may recommend some scheduled snacks as part of your personalised health plan.

2. Dysregulated blood sugar control

Day to day symptoms of dysregulated blood sugar control are quite common and include:

  • Fatigue and poor energy regulation or energy dips throughout the day (when we often need to eat to bring our energy back up again)
  • Hunger and cravings
  • Anxiety, low mood, and feeling ‘hangry’ (hungry + angry)
  • Apple shaped weight gain
  • Disrupted sleep and more.
Chronic blood sugar dysregulation is a risk factor for conditions like PCOS, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia and fertility issues. 
 
If you are struggling with dysregulated blood sugar, one of our nutritionists may recommend some scheduled snacks as part of your personalised health plan.

 

Our recommendations for healthy snacking

So, if you fall into any of the categories listed above, then you may wish to incorporate some healthy snacking into your day. But what does it mean to snack healthily?

1. The importance of mindful snacking

Our first tip for healthy snacking is to schedule your snack! A scheduled snack means you’re more likely to choose healthier options. Wait until around 4 hours after your lunch and then have a high-protein/fat snack to carry you through until dinner. 

The type of snacking we want to avoid is constant grazing, snacking through boredom or mindless snacking while we’re watching TV. Pay attention to your hunger signals – if you’re not hungry, don’t snack.

Why britons snack
When snackers tend to indulge (UK)

2. Choosing the right type of snack

The second tip for healthy snacking is to choose your snack wisely.

Worryingly, most of the UK are snacking on things like candy, chocolate, crisps and biscuits, which are high in sugar/simple carbs. These will spike your blood sugar and insulin – which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. Plus, snacks such as these are usually devoid of nutrition.

Choose the right snacks to balance your blood sugar which are high in protein and fat – we’ve provided some examples below.

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat sweet treats, just enjoy them as dessert (after a balanced meal) rather than as a snack on an empty stomach.

Snacking trends in the UK
Most common snacks in the UK (YouGov 2022)

FUTURE WOMAN approved snacks

Our favourite snacks are high in protein and fat, for example:

  • Flaxseed crackers with chicken liver pate
  • Cottage cheese or full fat greek yoghurt and berries
  • Hummus and carrot sticks
  • Apple and nut butter
  • Cucumber sticks with taramasalata
  • A handful of nuts and seeds
  • Boiled eggs with spinach
  • Protein smoothie
Snacks which are often marketed as ‘health foods’ but will still spike your blood sugar. These are best avoided:
  • Dried fruit or trailmix
  • Cereal bars
  • Popcorn
  • Muffins and other baked goods
  • Flavoured yoghurts

Key takeaways

  • At FUTURE WOMAN, we recommended women eat three balanced meals a day with no snacking within a 10-12 hour window.
  • However, if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or recovering from an eating disorder, we DO recommend snacking at regular intervals.
  • In addition, if you are in the ‘healing phase’ of dysregulated cortisol or dysregulated blood sugar, a scheduled snack between lunch and dinner may be best for you in the short term.
  • Healthy snacks should be scheduled and be high in protein and fat to keep blood sugar stable.

Want to speak with an expert?

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