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The benefits of snacking for men

By Hugh Wilson
The benefits of snacking for men
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Snacking regularly receives a bad press, but for many men it can be a day-saver.

You've probably heard the old adage that snacking between meals ruins your appetite, or the newer one that non-stop snacking is one cause of the obesity epidemic.

But if you're an active man, neither is necessarily true. On average, men need to take on board about 600 calories more every day than women, and factors like height, weight and activity levels can all push that figure higher still.

As Carolyn Pallister, dietician and Slimming World public health manager says, "snacking isn't a bad thing - the important thing is the type of snacks you choose."

The fact is snacking can be a good way to make up the extra calories. It can give you the nutrients you need right when you need them. Here are the basics.

The benefits of snacking
Snacking is pretty much essential if you miss a meal, as busy men are liable to do. Many of us regard meals as a low priority when we've got a hundred other things to do.

It's also great to give you energy for specific occasions, like a workout or game of football. And, if you snack on the right things, it's also a good everyday way of helping to avoid the energy slumps that can arise as blood sugar levels fall between meals.

In fact, many experts now say that having three large daily meals is a mistake for many of us. Instead, we should have three smaller meals and a couple of snacks.

Digesting large meals is hard work for your body and makes you feel lethargic. Eating five or six times a day isn't for everyone, and could be a disaster for people who are prone to overeating. But if you live an active life it's a good way of maintaining energy.

Indeed, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) suggests that, if you're truly hungry, a small snack could be a good way to tide you over till a bigger meal. If you don't snack at this time and your blood sugar drops sharply, it could be a lose-lose for your good intentions. You could feel too lethargic to exercise, and be ravenous by the time you do come to eat, which increases the temptation to eat badly and eat too much.

"The best time to snack is two hours before your next meal, or two hours before exercise," says nutritionist Teresa Dupay, founder of website Snack Check. "This will give you enough time to head off hunger pangs and keep you full enough to avoid a meltdown at mealtime. And enough time to digest the snack before a workout."

The dangers of snacking
The dangers of snacking are real and obvious. If you snack on the wrong things, it could damage your health and see you piling on pounds - exactly the opposite of what you want it to do.

"Busy men are always looking for nutritious snacks to eat when they are on the go," says Dupay. "Unfortunately, many of them end up grabbing high-fat, high-sugar and high-sodium snacks from the newsagent or petrol station, which are terrible nutritional choices."

They're also unlikely to help in the long run. A cake or a couple of sugary biscuits will satiate your hunger for a little while, but it will cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. When the inevitable slump follows, you'll end up feeling groggier and less energised than before.

Which leads to the inevitable question...

What should men snack on?
There are a few rules for snacking. First, your snack should have a low Glycemic Index, which in effect means it shouldn't be the sort of sugary, carbohydrate-heavy treat that will send your blood sugar levels soaring, then crashing.

Of course, what you're probably expecting us to say is that you should snack on fruit and diced carrots, and you certainly wouldn't be far wrong if you did. Try dried fruit for convenience and something different. But men are not machines.

"Swapping crisps, chocolate bars or fast food burgers for healthier snacks doesn't have to be boring or see men forced to tuck into foods they wouldn't usually eat and don't enjoy," says Carolyn Pallister.

"Enjoying a bowl of high-fibre cereal topped with fresh fruit, picking at slices of lean ham, turkey or beef, or dipping into a punnet of cherry tomatoes throughout the day will keep hunger at bay."

After that, if you're going to be working out or playing sport later, oatmeal is a great snack. It has a healthy balance of protein and good carbohydrates (which releases glucose into the bloodstream more slowly, avoiding peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels), and a packet of instant oatmeal is light on fat and calories and high in fibre. If you favour energy bars, go for ones that are low in fat and sugar and made from whole oats.

Homemade or virtually fat-free microwave popcorn is a surprisingly healthy snack too. It's packed with fibre - which gives you energy as well as keeping your bowels moving - and good carbohydrate.

Smoothies are a fabulously healthy way to see you through the afternoon. A mix of low-fat yoghurt, banana, berries and - say - fruit juice or soy milk fulfils so many nutritional requirements you'll feel better just by turning the blender on.

And then, of course, there's chocolate. Yep, you heard that right. But it has to be the dark stuff, rich in heart healthy flavonoids. Milk chocolate is too high in sugar and fat.

Get snacking
Contrary to what you may have heard, snacking can be beneficial for most men - giving extra energy and helping you to avoid low-sugar slumps that turn some afternoons into a slog.

It's only true if you snack on the right things, though. If you do, you may find that the boost in your energy levels allows you to work harder and play longer.

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