Healthy munching, when timed well, boosts energy levels and allows the body to burn fat

We all simply love munching something — with evening tea, in a movie, in front of the TV, and many times as an outcome of boredom or stress. Clinical Health and Wellness Specialist Namita Jain shares her client Sheela’s situation — she always plans her breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, but not in between munches. She gets so caught up with meetings, briefings, or looking into the next office crisis, that eating is not on her list of priorities. You can guess what happened next. She started ordering pakoras and cheese puffs from the office canteen and eating oily food on the run. Before she realised it, her weight was spinning out of control.

This is exactly why eating in between meals has such a bad reputation, because our minds associate it with notorious unhealthy treats. We should know the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy treat. A healthy one provides nutrition and helps you feel full whereas an unhealthy treat doesn’t — think chocolate. When done right, munching in between meals can actually manage appetite and bridge one meal to the next so you don’t get too hungry.

While juggling million commitments, it may seem like there’s no time for healthy eating. It’s hard enough working to maintain our three main meals, let alone think of between meals. But when you are starved at mid-day, you are tempted to opt for that naughty samosa or the cookie in the canteen, and before you know it, you are in an unhealthy treat fest. A little planning to carry healthy options will lead to good health, saving a lot of guilt and calories.

How it helps

“Munching something between meals is beneficial with the right choices, helping to evenly distribute your calories to avoid spikes in blood sugar levels and thereby reduce cravings. Healthy munching, when timed well, boosts energy levels, helps in concentration, and allows your body to burn fat. Choose low-calorie nutrient-dense items in small portions — sprouts, popcorn, fresh fruits, nuts and seeds, dry fruits, yogurt and sandwiches are all good options. Excessive intake of high calorie items can result in sluggishness,” says Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist and founder, The Weight Monitor and founder – Whole Foods India.

Research shows that eating the right combination of nutrients in these small meals can enhance gym performance, fat-burning, muscle-building and recovery. “I recommend munching something every 2 to 3 hours. The longer your gap between meals, the hungrier you get, which means the more you are likely to overeat next,” says Namita.

Stock up and carry zip lock bags (easy to fit in purses, briefcases) of healthy edibles for home, travel, car and office so you can have instant access. Shonali Sabherwal, certified macrobiotic health counsellor/chef advises, “ take five minutes to plan your break for the next day, for e.g., it could be a handful of nuts and raisins or veggie sticks with pastes like hummus or baba ghanouj —this will give you an idea of what you need to carry and what you need to buy or make.”

Before you see visions of yourself raiding the refrigerator or feasting on medhu vadas, understand that eating should be smart, and portions should be controlled. It’s called disciplined munching. “Today, the market is flooded with items promising health benefits. Read the fine print and figure out how best you can adapt the nutrition to your needs. Choose items that have a lot of fibre content. Preserved items often have a lot of salt, a factor that can lead to water retention and high blood pressure. Some other red signals to look out for are the levels of saturated fats, trans-fats and cholesterol which increase the risk for cardiovascular disease,” shares Namita.

“Look out for colouring agents and stabilisers or emulsifiers and also hidden sugars. Homemade items are the healthiest options, as you can make sure there is no added sugar in anything and can control what goes into the sauces and pastes when you make them,” adds Shonali. With practice, munching should be seen as an additional opportunity for your nutrient needs instead of an indulgence which invites unwelcoming weight gain.