Why you need to make sure you're getting the balance right when you snack
Snackfoods are traditionally associated with the energy-dense and nutrient-less kind. And overconsumption can lead to weight gain and deteriorating health.
Whereas really a snack should simply be an opportunity to eat a “mini meal”. Ideally, having a balance of all three main macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbs), as well as being a source of micronutrients.
Portable, quick, and filling snacks that are high in carbs and fats are easy to find. Granola bars, cheese on crackers, butter on toast are popular examples. Protein is often the missing link, yet it is important to try and include it with our snacks.
Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass, recovery from workouts and maintaining a healthy immune system. The importance of dietary protein, in terms of our physical health, cannot be overstated and it is essential that we get enough every day.
Not only is protein essential if we want to achieve optimum health, it is also plays a critical role in the weight-loss process. Including a source of protein each time you eat helps to balance blood sugars, to create a feeling of fullness, and to stave off hunger for longer.
Traditional protein sources, such as lean meats, fish and eggs, can be difficult to incorporate into snacks. As a result, health and fitness enthusiasts have sought out high protein Greek yogurts as a healthier snack alternative.
WHAT THE GREEK?
Authentic Greek yogurt is essentially strained yogurt. The liquid is strained out through a paper or cloth bag, and the result is a thicker and creamier yogurt.
Like all yogurts, it is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, protein, zinc, vitamins B6 and B12 and contains probiotic cultures. Unlike regular yogurt, it is lower in lactose (making it less likely to upset the lactose intolerant), it is lower in sugar, and has twice the protein content.
However, there is trickery at play and consumers can be misled into buying yogurts believing they are getting an extra benefit from a Greek or Greek “style” yogurt. In some cases, they are not, as not all Greek or Greek “style” yogurts are the same.
While some Greek “style” yogurts are identical to actual Greek yogurts, in terms of nutrient content, they were not manufactured in Greece so legally the term cannot be used.
On the other hand, there exist some unstrained Greek “style” yogurts that are thickened by additives, such as corn starch, and are no more Greek than a Frankfurter.
LEARN TO READ THE LABEL
To gain the health and nutritional benefits of Greek and Greek “style” yogurts then learn to read the labels. Here is what to look out for:
In the list of ingredients, look out for nothing added other than milk and live active cultures.
Most plain yogurt has about 5g of protein per 100g of product. In comparison to Greek yogurt, which has double this. Read the label and look out for 10g of protein per 100g.
However, not all brands of Greek or Greek “style” yogurt contains the extra protein hit. If it doesn’t have the protein content that you would expect, then it is no more beneficial than plain yogurt.
A decent serving size of Greek yogurt is 150-200g to provide you with 15-20g of protein (almost the equivalent of a small chicken fillet).
CARBOHYDRATES, OF WHICH IS SUGARS
Plain yogurt contains roughly 6-10g of carbohydrates per 100g of product, all of which are naturally occurring sugars in the form of lactose. Greek contains roughly half of this due to the straining process. Read the label and look out for 3-5g of carbohydrates per 100g.
If the sugar content is higher than this, then it is likely sweetened with added sugars. Ideally, opt for varieties with less added sugar.
Both Greek and regular yogurt, in their full-fat and non-fat forms, can be part of a healthful diet. Low fat natural dairy products still have protein, calcium, and most other vitamins and minerals. They just have less fat.
Full fat Greek yogurt roughly contains 5g of fat per 100g of product, with a total of 90 calories.
Non-fat Greek yogurt contains closer to 0.5g of fat per 100g of product, with a total of 60 calories.
If you are already getting a good spread of healthy fats elsewhere in your diet then there is no reason to avoid low fat natural dairy. If you fancy making some room for an extra dollop of peanut butter on your pancakes some days then it is perfectly ok to lower your fat intake elsewhere.
Greek or the right kind of Greek “style” yogurt makes for a super addition to smoothies or mixed with berries and other fruit. Top with a sprinkle of nuts or seeds, desiccated coconut, a dash of vanilla extract, a dusting or cinnamon or cocoa to transform it into a delicious and nutritionally balanced mini meal.
As always, be savvy about your food choices. Read the label and decide for yourself.
Karen is a nutrition coach and personal trainer and runs monthly online group nutrition coaching programmes and hosts nutrition seminars around the country.