The Post-Lunch Blues
We all know that three o’clock feeling: you can’t remember the things you’re sure you know, everything seems to move sluggishly and concentrating on one thing for five whole minutes is impossible. Yes, that’s called low blood sugar (usually).
The remedy most of us choose is to reach for something – anything – to kick-start our energy levels, but while this is the body’s automatic response, choosing an unnatural snack worsens the situation. You see, insulin is what controls how many of these newly available calories are made available in the bloodstream, and how many are converted to fat as quickly as possible. If you choose to consume a can of soda (9 teaspoons of refined sugar, 150 calories), you might well feel energized for a few minutes, but you will be worse off than before as soon as your pancreas catches up!
Not only does this prevent you from operating at your peak efficiency when working or studying, this glucose roller coaster can eventually cause damage to your nerves and kidneys and even lead to diabetes. On top of that, eating unhealthy snacks can make your skin look puffy and inflamed, and will almost certainly lead to gaining weight.
Optimum nutrient absorption takes place when different types of food are combined into one meal. Therefore, the ideal healthy snack would contain some complex carbs, some protein, and some fiber; the latter of which slows down digestion to keep you feeling satisfied for longer. Not these snacks meet this criterion, but we hope to present a range of healthier options that will suit everyone’s tongue. Most require some sort of preparation: this is really the only way to avoid putting huge quantities of preservatives and other artificial chemicals into your body. If even mold rejects the packaged food on your supermarket’s shelves, can eating that be good for you? The amount of work required really is minimal, however, and you can prepare treats for the whole family simultaneously the night before. Doing this will also turn out to be much cheaper than buying factory food (not to mention dodging future medical bills).
Candy Bar vs. Fruit
“Empty” calories are fats, sugars and refined carbs that come with no additional nutrients (minerals, protein, vitamins and many other types). You should know that your body uses up these nutrients when it digests empty calories, so not only aren’t you gaining anything, you’re giving up nutrition you’ve already taken in! Eating a diet high in sugar can deplete your body of important stuff like iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C, even to the point of damaging your immune system and inviting conditions like anemia.
Sugary candies often consist of pretty much sugar and coloring, so they fit this definition perfectly. Chocolate candy bars may include a few healthy ingredients such as nuts or oats, but the rest will amount to sugar and fat that you don’t need, will mostly be absorbed as new body fat and takes up the place of healthier alternatives. A single large candy bar can contain over 500 calories or as much as a quarter of the energy an average person needs daily.
The calorie equivalent of that greasy, sugar-stuffed snack is five apples or bananas, but the nutritional impact is completely different. You’ll gain a hefty amount of potassium, antioxidants, fiber and vitamins without a bunch of added fat, while still quieting your hunger pangs. Combining fruit with a protein such as a few unsalted nuts or a slice of cheese results in a perfectly balanced snack.
If fresh fruit is too boring or difficult for you to eat, try one of the following recipes:
Drying Fruit in the Oven
Though this might seem like something only medieval housewives would do, it’s very simple, and you can make and store huge batches at a time. Choose ripe, seasonal fruit for best results. Pineapples, peaches, bananas, apples and berries are all good choices, but any fruit will do.
Simply wash, peel, and remove any stones or pits. Cut them thinly and evenly so that they will dry out faster and all at the same rate – which takes no time at all with a mandolin. For easy peeling offa large number of fruit, get a pot of boiling water and a bowl of iced water. Just cut a shallow cross into the skin at the bottom of the fruit and immerse in hot water for half a minute, followed by the cold water – you should be able to pull the skin off with your fingers. As your pile of slices grows, keep putting them in water with a few squirts of lemon juice added.
Place the fruit on trays lined with parchment paper, without any pieces overlapping. Drying them out should take several hours at 140°F (60°C), but you don’t need to spend your whole Saturday watching the process. When they feel chewy but still soft, remove them and store in an open container for a week to get rid of excess moisture. There’s no need to add sugar.
Nutrition: around 350 calories per 4 oz. (100g), with almost all the natural goodness still present.
Baked Fruit Snacks
If drying your own fruit seems a little too DIY for you, try the following for a delicious, nutritious, portable snack the whole family will enjoy.
Ingredients for 3 servings:
- 2 bananas
- 2 peaches
- 2 apples
- 3 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tbsp. brown sugar
Just pre-heat the oven to 370°F (190°C), slice the fruit, place on a baking tray lined with wax paper and sprinkle over the sugar and cinnamon. Bake for 15 minutes and serve either hot or let cool before putting into a lunchbox. There’s nothing to stop you from including nuts, honey or any other healthy addition.
Nutrition: around 120 calories for every whole fruit, and way more nutrition than any other nibble that will satisfy the sweetest tooth.
Ramen vs. Salad
Often enough, with a deadline drawing closer, we just want to get full and keep working, while spending a minimum of time on preparing a quick meal. Unfortunately, this is no good in the long term. Eating only refined carbohydrates will noticeably affect your mental acuity over the long term, since your brain also needs a healthy diet to function at its best. Equally badly, you’ll have to eat junk food much more frequently just to maintain your energy level. Without some fiber and protein to back up the carbs, the snack is practically digested all at once, soon leaving you hungry once again.
Of course, I say “only carbohydrates,” but a look at the packaging of the typical ramen will quickly show a long list of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce. The side effects of many of these additives are not really known but are unlikely to include lower blood pressure and unexpected superpowers. A simple salad takes almost no increased work and yields a meal that will be tastier, healthier and keep you going for much longer. You should know that a store-bought salad can contain just as many calories as a fast food hamburger – they just love to load up the dressing with unnecessary fat, sugar, and salt.
Simple Lentil Salad
Unless you are truly addicted to chicken-flavored noodles (which don’t taste anything like chicken), you will prefer this crunchy, fresh-tasting salad which will take you no more than five minutes of actual work to prepare.
- ½ cup brown lentils
- 1 small stick celery
- 1 apple
- 1 carrot
- handful shredded fresh basil leaves
- 1 lime or lemon
- ¼ tsp salt
- black pepper
In a saucepan, add 2 cups of (unsalted) water to the lentils and turn up the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes, drain and let cool. Just chop the celery, carrot, and apple, squeeze out the lemon over the apple, and combine everything. You’ll have to wait for the lentils to cook and cool, but this isn’t time you have to spend away from whatever you were doing. Any excess can be kept in the fridge for one or two days.
Nutrition: 450 calories for basically a full meal, which will keep digesting slowly and feed your blood sugar for hours. Also, 30g of protein (half or more of your recommended daily intake), heaps of fiber and many other nutrients. Compare that with 380 calories for a packet of ramen, which offers no additional nutrition except a ton of sodium.
Two-Minute Tuna Salad
If you really can’t be asked to cut a vegetable, just toss the following together in a bowl:
- 1 bag of pre-washed salad leaves
- 1 can sweetcorn
- 1 can tuna in brine
- pickles of your choice
- herbs, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste
It’s still quicker than preparing ramen, is infinitely more appetizing and healthier and tastes great served with bread.
Nutrition: 300 calories (plus the bread) for one huge bowl of salad, 30g protein and a stack of nutrients. Lettuce is one of the most under-rated nutrient-dense foods and contains virtually no calories so you can eat as much as you want.
Fizzy Drinks vs. Iced Tea
Many people have the habit of sipping soda while they work, believing that the added caffeine and sugar will keep them more alert. This will work in the short run but loses its effectiveness when it becomes no more than a routine. Aside from regularly messing with your blood sugar levels, the caffeine becomes less effective as you become addicted, and you’ll suffer withdrawal symptoms whenever you’re not guzzling that unnatural stuff.
The canned soda industry is simply a triumph of marketing over every kind of logic; there’s literally no reason to drink it. The high levels of sugar are unhealthy for you all the way from your teeth to your colon, artificial sweeteners can be even worse, the phosphoric acid sucks out calcium from your body, and the amount of bad stuff it contains makes it dehydrate you while you’re taking in liquid!
Still, if you’re used to having a drink on your desk, there’s no reason to change that. Simply substitute something you can make at home for a tiny fraction of the price of a can of rubbish; you’ll be just as satisfied and live slightly longer, too.
Ginger Cinnamon Tea
Even though the amount you consume is tiny, research increasingly shows that eating spices have great and unexpected health benefits. You can prepare this iced tea in the morning and hand out a bottle to each family member, or just keep a jug in the fridge for as needed.
Ingredients for one gallon (4 liters):
- a little more than 1 gallon (4L) water (some will evaporate)
- 8 cinnamon sticks
- 2 inch (5cm) fresh ginger, peeled and crushed
- 3 Fl. oz. (90ml) honey
- lemon juice to taste
Just drop everything in a saucepan, turn on the hotplate and allow to come to the boil. If you want to, strain after cooling.
Nutrition: 17 oz. (500ml) of this refreshing drink contains only about 30 calories – that’s a little over a tenth of commercial sodas, without any nasty additives, and the price of the ingredients is less than a percent of what you would have paid for a can of soda.
Potato Chips vs. Homemade Granola Bars
If you look on the back of the packet, you’ll see that potato chips typically contain an unbelievable 20 to 30% fat! Seriously, try it. What makes it worse is that much of this will be saturated or trans fats, which are in no way healthy for you, resulting from using the same frying oil for long periods.
Easy Homemade Granola Bars
- 1 cup chopped nuts
- 1 cup dried fruit
- 2 tbsp.wholewheat flour
- 1 cup oats
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/3 cup unrefined sugar
- 2 tbsp. butter
- pinch salt
Melt the butter in a pan over low heat and just mix everything together. When it starts to come together, drop the mixture onto a baking tray lined with wax paper and use another sheet of paper to press it into a solid sheet. Bake at 270°F (130°C) for about half an hour, allow to cool and cut into strips.
Nutrition: depends too much on what kind of nuts you use to say, but that’s not really the point. Nuts are a good source of protein, fiber, and UN-saturated fats, all of which make you feel full quicker and for longer. Unhealthy fats are a major cause of heart disease, so cutting them out of your diet is always a good idea.
The Healthy Lifestyle
There is really no excuse for cramming unhealthy snacks down your throat when so many healthy, tasty options are available, which take little more effort than a walk to the vending machine. Ignore what your TV tells you! The benefits are constant and life-long, you’ll save money, and you’ll soon feel more alive and productive.