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Best foods to snack on, the non-diet way

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

I often get asked about good snack foods.

When I prod a bit around the question, I have found that what most people actually mean to ask is “what can I eat that makes me feel as if I am eating but that doesn’t have the effect of having eaten? What can allow me to chew and swallow the most with no impact? How can I fill up my stomach without ingesting calories? What food is the most empty, the most deceiving, the most full of air, the least bang for my buck?”

This thinking reminds me of kids that have a great time with younger ones, that have not yet grasped the concept of value. “I’ll trade you three of my R1 coins for one of your R5.

A four-year old may think that they are making a good deal, swopping more coins for less coins, but anybody that understands value knows better. The question about low kilojoule snack-foods is like asking what the food equivalent of a 5c piece is, i.e. what will allow me to eat a large volume without accumulating much value?

We treat our body as if it is a simple four-year old that can be tricked with bulk, when, in fact, it is a highly sophisticated, intricate well designed organism. A basic understanding of the digestive system would show immediately that juvenile trick-tactics are bound to fail. We are not dealing with a four year old!

Fooling the body?

To extract and be able to internalize fuel and materials to run and sustain the body from something as complex as food, is really a very difficult thing to do. A whole lot of highly sophisticated chemistry has to take place to release what we need from what we eat. Then we have to transport those critical nutrients into the body, burn some as fuel and transform others into the very bits that constitute us - skin and hair and blood and bones etc. The human gut can do all of this - and we think we can trick it?

Picture it this way:

Imagine the digestive system is like a factory. There are workers running around everywhere constructing, maintaining, repairing etc. A red light goes on to indicate that stock levels of fuel and basic building material (carbohydrate, fat, protein) in the body have fallen below optimum levels and need to be replenished. Workers take note of the situation, but they don’t worry as they know they have enough to keep going for at least another hour. A messenger is sent to the control tower to alert the brain that stock levels are low. The brain acknowledges the message and sends hunger signals to get the body to do what it needs to do in order to replenish these stocks - i.e. eat. The body-owner is on diet, and responds to the hunger signal by eating a plate of low-kilojoule vegetables washed down with a diet drink. As soon as the first bits that are swallowed reach the stomach, everybody is called onto the floor to unpack the new food that has arrived, in particular to find the amino-acids (from protein), fatty-acids (from fat) and glucose (from carbohydrates) among the new delivery so that these can immediately be carried to the areas where they are needed. A great amount of energy is spent in this endeavor. After a time of hard extracting work, the workers get worried. They have found large amounts of water and vitamins and minerals and fiber in the delivery, but NO energy and NO building material! The situation is not optimal. The energy that was left has been spent unpacking the new delivery, and the levels are now even lower than they were before. They need to dip into the reserve tank to keep going.

This, of course, is the rationale behind low-calorie diets - put in less food than you need and you will have to use reserves to keep going (i.e. stored fat) and lose weight. In the short term, this makes sense … but, the body is not stupid and responds to what we do. It has not been fooled; it knows very well that it has not received what it needs from this snack.

If this type of thing happens repeatedly over time, the very way this factory operates can change. It starts to gear towards conserving every little bit of energy that does come in, storerooms are enlarged so that a bigger amount of reserve can be kept. The pace slows down so that energy is preserved. Appetite is increased, and the worker responsible for raising the satiety-flag when enough has been received, is told to hold off longer and allow for a bigger delivery before hoisting the flag.

Dieters end up with a seemingly insatiable appetite, and a body that is very good at storing everything that comes in. The typical step-ladder pattern of weight- gain is seen where dieters lose weight while they stick to their low-calorie diets, then gain back what they have lost and more when they stop the diet.

So, what makes a good snack food?

A snack is a small meal, to deal with small hunger.

Something that will provide what your body needs- energy: from carbohydrate and fat, and building material from protein, and nutrients. For the hunger signal to be turned off, you need to supply what your body is asking for.

Some of my favourite snack foods:

- toast with cheese and tomato

- apples with peanut butter

- fruit and nuts

- coffee with a rusk

Sound Bite

Limiting yourself to 500 calories a day "mimics" anorexia in the same way that injecting heroin every day "mimics" heroin addiction Paul Campos

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