Last week i was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph for a health feature in their newspaper.  I was “interviewed” over the phone on the question “is there really such a things as a healthy snack?“,  and had a professional photographer visit my home for the photoshoot.  All very exciting at the time.  Look mum, I’m a professional nutritionist, look at me!!

For one reason or another, my input and photographs were not used in the feature. Bah!  Initially, i was a little disappointed even though a broadsheet Tory newspaper is not really in-line with my core values, it’s still nice to be treated as an expert in your field and all publicity is good publicity, even if its only your family that might hear about it, right?

However, i had no reason to be worried, I narrowly escaped having my name attached to some pretty poor journalism. For clarity, here is the piece mentioned.  It was feature created to ask the question:-

“Is there really such a thing as a healthy snack?”.

A good question on the face of it.  The article then went on to discuss with various input how snacking maybe contributing to the obesity crisis.  It started off well, but then lost its way and thats what inspired me to write this post.

Go and have a read and see what you think, then come back to hear what i think.

Posing this question is a great question.  We have, as a nation, lost sight of hunger and snacking plays a huge part in this.  It’s blatantly obvious looking around that we eat too much food, but worries me more as a nutritionist is the stark ignorance the media is playing along with whilst writing these “thought provoking” pieces.  They are as much to blame in this area and this article is a great example of why.

Firstly, they forget to define a healthy snack.  What is healthy? What is a snack? They don’t even realise that “healthy” isn’t even a medical term, it is completely subjective.  What is “healthy”? Something that we all aspire to, but clearly most of us have no idea how to get there.  Optimal health means different things to different people.  A low to middle bodyweight (BMI) is possibly healthy, but not always (rugby players for instance, people with eating disorders etc).   You can have “healthy non-vegans” and “unhealthy vegans”, so food choice isn’t a guarantee of good health, is it someone without disease? “Healthy” isn’t really a medical term.  Moreover, someone with cancer who eats a lot of fruit, are they unhealthy, what about someone very lean with low levels of body-fat, no outward appearance of illness, but eats a snickers bar?  Is that un-healthy?

If we cant even define what we are discussing the whole article will ALWAYS fail to address the question at source.  FIRST FAIL.

Secondly, they mention in the header about obesity, so let’s assume that they mean unhealthy means obese (thats another topic in itself and not for this post).  They are talking about the continuation of obesity levels to increase over time, with this lovely little chart.

Now we are getting somewhere.  But they fail to explain how snacking might affect weight gain and in turn obesity.  It’s very simple science.  If you consume more calories than you expend, then you will gain weight.  It takes a surplus of around 3500 calories per week to gain 1kg of body-fat.  It would be really great if these writers took the time to explain this simple process.  If you break that 3500 calories down into 7 days per week, thats, 500 extra calories per day.  Split that over 2 snacks and you can ascertain that its 250 calories per snack to gain weight.  If you multiply that 1kg of body fat by 52 weeks that 25 kg in body fat.  Which equals obesity. [ONE] SECOND FAIL, no explanation of what creates weight gain.

And lastly, now we have defined healthy, and what constitutes being overweight, how might we address it?  By taking responsibility for explaining how to manage snacks of any kind. How to incorporate food into your daily life so that you can not gain weight and not die of hunger or malnutrition, So in a nutshell the answer is simple.

If you eat normal meals that fulfil your hunger and meet your calorie requirements 1800-2000ish then you don’t need snacks between meals.  if you are very active all day, then you might need those snacks and this is where the article should have gone.  People who are sedentary, ie they sit a t a desk for 8 hours, will not need to snack.  They aren’t burning energy.  However everything about sitting at a desk creates boredom and therefore what have we turned to, eating snacks to relieve boredom, or stress, or anger, or sadness. We have to start a dialogue about why people are so bored of their jobs, the long hours sat stationary.  or the shift worker who never gets to sit down (nurse) and therefore needs more calories but ends up buying chocolate from the vending machine.

Now this is where it gets more complicated and how the article could have provided some guidance.

We basically eat our emotions.  All day every day.

“A healthy snack can be defined as one that keeps you within your allotted calorie allowance for the week, if it helps you to adhere to your restrictive diet, then great, if it doesn’t, then it will result in weight gain.  If you eat too many snacks, healthy or otherwise you will gain weight”

There are 3 things i want you to take away from this article:-

  1. Meal frequency is less important than total calories in and out for weight management, ie weight-loss or gain or staying the same.
  2. You need to truly understand what your total calorie allowance is,  You may have 2 or 3 different types of day.  busy day, quiet day. Exercise days.  Exercise portion control at all times for the win.
  3. Nutrient density.  If weight loss or gain is not a goal, then optimal health comes from eating things with lots of nutrients.

And thats it. Nothing more nothing less.  All foods can fit into one of these three categories.

I digress, back to the article, citing “experts” from people with diabetes who can control it, nutritional therapists, wittering on about insulin, cardiologists (who have a book out about low carb diets) and authors who also sell snacks (diet doctor).  I found the article rather than being thought providing and asking tough questions, just to be a meandering load of adverts for people that sell snacks. Dressed up as is it healthy

So in summary, the article was the usual tabloid article full of links to diet plans, authors books, “experts” who like public speaking, etcetc.  We all know this to be true.  They had a whole section of recipe ideas (for children (off topic) but didn’t once mention portion sizing or control.

And this is where things go wrong, people can still over eat “healthy” food.  Eating a whole tub of humous in one sitting might not be healthy.  Eating a snickers maybe,  One might argue that the snickers has no nutritional value, but if dinner was a nutritions mixed plate of fibre, greens, proteins and fats then the snack is irrelevant. Completely.

Think about it.

Nutrition is a lot simpler than we make it.


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