Do you hit the “wall” around 3pm? Find yourself craving something—maybe a cupcake (with loads of frosting), a chocolate chip cookie (or five), chips, crackers or ice cream?
The problem with sugary treats or processed snack foods is two-fold: they’re chockfull of additives, preservatives, sugar, salt, stabilizers and artificial colors; and, they’re addictive—once you start munching, it’s hard to stop! Snack foods out of a box or bag are devoid of real nutrition, and they cause insulin spikes. The result? What tastes like heaven, giving you a feel-good high in the moment, sets you up for an inevitable energy crash that leaves you tired, moody, anxious and hungry later.
A real food snack, however, will stabilize your blood sugar and give your body real nutrition, an energy boost and true satiety. As “snacks”, the following five nutrient-dense superfoods deliver on all three fronts. Click here for my easy superfood snack recipes.
Kale: Trying to kick a sugar habit? Eat more kale—bitter-tasting foods can balance out sugar cravings. A member of the Brassica family, which includes cabbage, collard greens and Brussels sprouts, kale is a nutritional powerhouse with anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Kale is a rich source of glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds, which help prevent and fight cancer. Abundant in carotenoids, especially zeaxanthin and lutein, which are beneficial for eye health, kale is also an excellent source of vitamins A, C, K (diets rich in Vitamin K have been shown to reduce cancer risk), and minerals, like calcium, magnesium and iron.
Weight watchers…take note: kale contains anthocyanin flavonoids, which may decrease fat accumulation. If, however, you are deficient in iodine, selenium, or you have been diagnosed with—or suspect—a thyroid problem, a word of caution. Cruciferous vegetables, including kale, contain goitrogenic substances, which can suppress thyroid function, especially when eaten raw—and in excess. If you have thyroid issues, cooked kale is a better way to go since cooking will render most goitrogens inactive.
Almonds: An ancient food harking back to Biblical times, almonds are a concentrated source of protein and healthy mono saturated fat. Almonds are also a very good source of vitamin E and manganese and minerals, such magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. Eating almonds—and other nuts—has been linked to having a protective effect against for diabetes, lowered risk for heart disease and improved cardiovascular health. For maximum nutrition, soak almonds for 8 hours and dry at low heat. Skip the store-bought “honey roasted nuts”; it’s cheaper and tastier to roast and season raw almonds yourself.
Chocolate: Feeling stressed? A little blue? Need an energy boost? Dark chocolate—at least 70% cacao or cocoa—is a trusty friend with benefits.
Studies have linked daily consumption of dark chocolate—rich in flavonoids and antioxidants—to improved heart health, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol. Dark chocolate is also one of the best sources of magnesium, an otherwise hard-to-get “calming” mineral; which may explain why women crave it before their periods (magnesium is at its lowest level around menses).
Chocolate may even help reduce belly fat, according to a recent study published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Science. Women (aged 20-40) who were of normal weight but had high body fat, consumed approximately 3 ounces of dark chocolate (70% cocoa) every day for a week. The results? Improved markers of cardiovascular disease, including a significant increase in HDL (good) cholesterol, decrease in total cholesterol and a reduced abdominal circumference.
Quality, however, is key: choose a chocolate that’s high cacao (I like Green & Black’s Dark, 85% Cacao), high fat and low sugar (as in 6g to 8g sugar per serving).
Avocado: Botanically considered a fruit, avocado is a highly nutrient-dense food that is low in carbohydrates and sugar. It high fat content promotes satiety and helps stabilize blood sugar.
Creamy and dense, avocados are high in fiber and packed with folate, B5, B6, vitamin K, vitamin C and potassium. It also contains magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.
Avocado is rich in oleic acid, a monosaturated fatty acid—also found in olive and olive oil— which has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease. It also contains diverse anti-inflammatory nutrients that may play a role in preventing osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Plain or seasoned, avocado is delicious and satisfying as a “tide-over” snack.
Beans: Properly prepared beans are wonderfully versatile and nutrient-dense—a quality source of protein and minerals, like magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, as well as B vitamins, like folate and thiamine.
Once in a while, when I’m craving something with a starchy-carb mouthfeel, a scant one half-cup cup of pureed navy white beans—high in fiber and rich in complex carbohydrates—does the trick. It stabilizes my blood sugar in a good way: I feel full and sated, without feeling tired.
When I don’t have time to soak beans, myself, I use only one brand of canned beans…Eden Organic because they do not use BPA (bisphenol-A), an endocrine-disrupting chemical found in epoxy resins that line most cans. In keeping with the traditional preparation of legumes, Eden soaks their beans in a soaking tank for 12 hours with kombu (a mineral-rich member of the kelp family), which helps minimize those flatulence-causing oligosaccharides in legumes.
What’s your favorite real food snack?