How Healthy Are Your Wellness Wednesday Snacks?
Since Wellness Wednesday became a thing, hump day has got that little bit easier to get over.
Because at some point in the afternoon the kitchen in your office will get loaded up with all sorts of delicious food which means you don’t need to make the usual run to M&S for some Percy Pigs or a tub of Rocky Road mini bites for that mid-afternoon hunger pang.
In fact if you’re lucky and your employer’s very generous you could even skip lunch altogether knowing that if you hold out for a couple of hours you can load up on an amazing variety of snacks and dips that are only second to Pizza Fridays for food enjoyment, but much, much better for you. And that money you’ve saved on buying lunch can go into your holiday savings pot.
But just how healthy are the snacks that your employer provides? We take a look at 10 favourite Wellness Wednesday snacks to assess just what they’re doing for your body.
Nuts are a tasty and convenient snack that can be enjoyed on all sorts of diets from keto to vegan. They are packed with protein, fibre and essential fats and a depending on the variety, they are a great source of various vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium.
Although nuts are high in fat, most of it is of the healthy-heart variety. Nuts may help lower levels of “bad” cholesterol, while boosting levels of “good” cholesterol. And studies have shown that your body doesn’t absorb all the calories found in nuts which may help promote weight loss.
Nuts are also high in fibre, which can reduce your risk of diseases, help keep you feeling fuller for longer, and improve your gut health.
Many people struggle to eat their recommended intake of protein which makes the convenience of protein bars appealing.
Protein is not only critical to lean muscle mass but also to your metabolic rate, satiety levels, and even hormonal health. Protein bars will also include carbs, fat, and fibre that all work with protein to increase the levels of amino acids that are available to your muscles and keep your energy levels up.
However, protein bars can contain a lot of sugar, sometimes more than a regular chocolate bar. And one US study found that a third of protein bars contained more saturated fat than a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut. You may also find that protein bars contain lots of artificial ingredients such as food colouring, artificial sweeteners, palm oil, and sugar alcohols.
Popcorn is a whole grain food making it naturally high in a several important nutrients including Vitamin B, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc. It is also low in fat and high in fibre.
Popcorn is high in polyphenol antioxidants which can help prevent our cells from damage from free radicals. Phenols are also linked to other health benefits such as better blood circulation, improved digestive health and they may reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Unfortunately, when popcorn is cooked in oil or flavours are added, it can start to become a fairly unhealthy snack. Flavours such as chocolate or toffee may have a lot of added sugar as well as artificial ingredients. So choose plain or lightly salted popcorn and stick to a healthy snack size of 25-30g.
Fresh vegetables are one of the healthiest snacks you can have. They are low in calories and high in fibre and loaded with vitamins and minerals. You want to eat a variety of vegetables to see the benefits so although it may be tempting to chomp your way through a whole bag of raw carrot sticks, you should really be mixing things up.
Vegetables as a snack start to get unhealthy when they’re offered with dips on the side. Dips can help those celery sticks seem a lot more appealing but it’s easy to eat much more than the recommended serving size which can increase your daily calorie intake without you realizing. Avoid dips that are high in fat and added sugar and stick to vegetable or legume-based dips like low-fat hummus or tzatziki. Store-bought dips often have a lot of hidden ingredients so it’s much better to make your own.
Fruit can again seem like a healthy snack but fruit is high in sugar and it’s easy to graze your way through a bowl of cherries when you’re needing some distraction at work. Having said that fruit is packed with all sorts of heathy nutrients; berries are full of antioxidants, kiwis are great for your digestion, figs are a great source of fibre, and bananas are packed with potassium which can help keep your blood pressure in check.
Eat fruit with protein to help keep you feeling fuller for longer and for a more balanced snack. Try peaches with Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, apples or pears with a piece of cheese, and bananas with peanut butter. If you struggle getting enough of your daily fruit recommendation then you could blend them up into a smoothie but be aware of the sugar content. And shop-bought smoothies and fruit juices can be very high in sugar.
Also be aware that the acid in fruit can damage the enamel on your teeth, particularly if you are snacking on them regularly. Either take a toothbrush to work, drink plenty of water, or chew sugar-free gum to help minimize the damage.
Beef jerky has had a bit of a bad reputation for being a processed meat, high in salt and other preservatives, so can seem a bit of an odd choice for a Wellness Wednesdays snack. However, jerky is high in protein and low in carbs so an ideal snack for anyone following a Paleo or Keto diet or who just wants to reduce their carb intake.
Jerky also contains lots of healthy minerals like iron and zinc which help produce blood cells and give your immune system a boost. Of course due to the way it is preserved jerky is high in salt but you can find low-sodium brands if you are concerned about your salt intake.
Jerky today tends to have fewer artificial preservatives, nitrates and MSG – the same chemical found in Chinese food which targets the part of the brain that makes you want to keep on eating. Look out for grass-fed beef jerky so you’re sure you’re not going to end up eating some ‘mystery meat’. And for the vegetarians and vegans, meat-free jerky is also available.
We’re assuming your employer isn’t providing giant bars of Dairy Milk, but instead is offering something darker and rather more refined. Dark chocolate has some surprising health benefits, so it makes sense that it’s included in Wellness Wednesday.
The seed of the cocoa tree is one of the best sources of antioxidants. These help neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress which over time may contribute to diseases such as diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
The flavanols in dark chocolate can help improve blood flow and lower blood pressure although the effects are fairly mild. Observational studies have shown that people who eat chocolate more than 5 times a week have a reduced risk of heart disease. Flavanols can also protect your skin against sun damage and increase skin density and hydration. And because dark chocolate improves blood flow it can even improve brain function.
However, chocolate is high in calories and it’s easy to overeat. You want chocolate that has at least 70% cocoa content which will have less sugar but still consume it in moderation.
You may wonder why your employer’s laying out a cheese board (lucky you) for Wellness Wednesdays. Cheese and crackers something you have for dinner when there is literally nothing else left in the fridge right? However, just like most foods, when eaten in moderation, cheese can actually be good for you.
Cheese is a fantastic source of calcium which is essential for healthy bones and teeth and helps with blood clotting and wound healing. It is also high in protein which is needed by cells for maintenance and repair. And if you’re worried about the levels of saturated fat in cheese then the jury’s still out. Recent research has called into question the link between saturated fat and heart disease. In fact a 2016 study which followed 960 men in France for 15 years showed that those who ate 50g of cheese a day had a 38% lower chance of dying during the study. Yes – cheese can help you escape death.
Processed cheeses are a no – they are full of added ingredients such as flavour enhancers and emulsifiers and you will get little nutritional benefit from them. Soft cheeses such as brie and camembert are high in fat so fine in moderation, while blue cheeses, such as Stilton or Danish Blue have a high salt content. Quark and cottage cheese are low-fat options for those looking to watch their calorie intake.
So pick at that cheese board. Just don’t expect your boss to offer you a glass of red to accompany it.
Isn’t granola just a less earnest name for muesli we hear you ask? Although they are often used interchangeably there are a couple of differences. The main difference is that granola is baked with added sweeteners and an oil, whereas muesli is not. And while muesli can be served hot or cold, granola is almost always served cold, usually in milk or yogurt, or eaten straight from the hand as a snack.
The ingredients that make up granola – oats, seeds, chopped nuts, fruit – are by themselves healthy. It is a good source of iron, zinc and magnesium, as well as vitamins E and B. However, with the additional sugar and fat, granola can be high in calories and if you’re eating it by the fistful then you’ll soon find yourself upping your calorie intake fairly quickly. Granola has around 200 calories per average 45 g serving.
If granola is part of your Wellness Wednesday snacks then eat it in combination with fresh fruit or add it to some yogurt. You could also ask your employer to provide muesli instead. It may invoke the spirit of the 1970s but it’s much better for you.
Do not eat rice cakes. There we said it. Despite their huge popularity in the 80s and 90s when they were the latest fad in diet foods, rice cakes offer almost nothing in the way of nutritional value. Although rice cakes are fairly low in calories, they are lacking in any nutrients due to the way they are made.
During the manufacturing process rice is subjected to intense heat and pressure, which strips out most of the goodness of the grain, resulting in a crunchy snack that is full of refined carbohydrates that are quickly converted to sugar in the body.
Even rice cakes made with brown rice have a high glycemic index rating ie they convert to glucose quickly, which may be great for muscle recovery after a session in the gym, but is also one of the contributory factors to diabetes.
Rice cakes will also contain preservatives, and flavoured rice cakes will include artificial ingredients as well as sugar and salt.
Rice cakes are basically empty-calorie foods with no fat, fibre, vitamins, or minerals. In fact, after eating a rice cake on an empty stomach the spike in blood sugar that they induce will soon have you craving another snack.
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