I came across this on-line piece today, which highlights a poll conducted by people from a campaign called ‘Seasonal Berries’. It purports to show that a major reason individuals fail to stick to a new ‘healthier’ dietary regime is that they succumb to none-too-healthy snacks, particularly in the mid-late afternoon.
I have to say, my experience does bear this out: I have spoken to literally hundreds of people over the years that find the mid-late afternoon can bring with it hunger and specifically cravings for carbohydrate rich foods that can make healthy eating nigh impossible. Some people imagine they are just weak-willed and lack self-control. But if that’s the case, how come they often exhibit these issues at quite specific times during the day, but at other times have no issues at all?
The timing of food cravings points to some sort of physiological imbalance. As the nutritionist quoted in the piece alludes to, this is often said to be related to low levels of glucose in the bloodstream (hypoglycaemia) at this time. Other symptoms that are common at this time and support the idea that hypoglycaemia is the underlying problem include fatigue, sleepiness and loss of mental focus and concentration.
Some people dispute the role of blood sugar as a factor in afternoon fatigue and food cravings. However, here’s two things that make me think that stalling sugar is usually the issue:
- eating something sweet or that liberates sugar quickly into the bloodstream usually improves symptoms very quickly.
- taking steps to stabilise blood sugar levels often gets rid of or at least significantly reduces the symptoms.
So, I reckon the nutritionist quoted in the piece is probably right regarding her thoughts on blood sugar, but I’m not convinced about the value of berries as a snack. First of all, they are really not that convenient (an apple or pear, for instance, is much more easily stored and eaten).
But my main issue with fruit has to do with why a snack might be eaten in the first place. Hunger is the usual trigger factor, so I’d say an essential component of a truly healthy snack food is not only some nutritional value, but also an ability to sate the appetite properly. My experience with people tells me that fruit falls down badly regarding the latter criterion.
Many people who are peckish or hungry who attempt to use fruit to ‘keep the wolf from the door’ will generally find hungry again (perhaps even hungrier) about half an hour later. In other words, fruit tends to give very limited respite from hunger.
This is why, as far as snacks go, I tend to recommend nuts and seeds: these generally do a much better job of controlling appetite for extended periods of time. Other snacks that tend to work well here include cold meat and hard-boiled eggs.
Another thing worth bearing in mind that low-blood sugar is more likely to be a problem some time after eating something that causes substantial surges in blood sugar. Many people choose sandwiches at lunch, and this appears to be where problems often start. Better lunches that help to ensure more sustained levels of sugar through the afternoon include salads containing a decent quantity of protein (in the form of, say, meat, fish, seafood and egg) or a meaty or fishy soup.