Peek inside a nutritionist's pantry PART IV: Snack Essentials
I love building up a good snack, letting my creativity flow using the few ingredients I listed below. A good snack that is balanced with protein, a little fat, and carbohydrate can help boost your energy from your afternoon slump and curb off your cravings well till dinner-time. See my favorites below!
Just in case you missed out the previous posts in this series:
Almost everyone enjoys the sweet taste of honey, whether in a cup of tea, stirred in porridges and yogurt, as an ingredient for salad dressing, spread on warm breads, as a marinade, or just on its own. (I also like to put a little honey and cream in my coffee!). But did you know that raw honey has its plethora of nutrition benefits as well? Talk about a win-win situation! Raw honey is honey that is pure, unprocessed, unheated, and unpasteurized, thus preserving its natural vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients (1,2). In addition, honey has been used to treat burns and wounds since the ancient times in Egypt, Greece, as well as in traditional Indian and Chinese medicines (3). You also are probably familiar with honey as a great soother for sore throats and coughs. Raw honey comes in solid or liquid form, from creamy to clear, and you might find some with bee pollens (a nourishing superfood that is conversation for another time) embedded within the honey. Before you go diving into that jar of honey, however, remember that it is still sugar, despite its nutritional benefits. Use honey in moderation as you would for any sweetener and sugar.
Nuts and Seeds
From walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, to sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds, nuts and seeds are as much diverse in their varieties as in their nutrient profiles. If you think about it, nuts and seeds contain the potential to give life. They are storage houses for minerals, vitamins, protein, and healthy fats so that, when given the right conditions, life can be born. Similarly, when we consume nuts and seeds, we are taking in plethora of of these vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. It is best to consume raw and soaked nuts and seeds for optimal digestion and absorption. Roasted, salted, and flavored nuts and seeds have gone through a lot of processing and heating that degrade antioxidant activities (4), not to mention the excessive amount of salt and sugar that are added. If you purchase raw nuts and seeds, soaking them overnight would increase their digestibility. Raw nuts and seeds enzyme inhibitors and phytic acids that are meant to protect the nutrient content of the nuts/seeds, but become a barrier to digestion for us. Soaking the nuts/seeds overnight can help neutralize the enzyme inhibitors and phytic acids, but will result in soggy nuts/seeds. You can dehydrate them for 12-24 hours or dry them in the oven at low temp (150 degrees) after soaking to draw out the moisture (5).
I usually enjoy my nuts and seeds directly or sprinkled in yogurt and oatmeal. I carry them in a small glass jar if I am on the run to make a satiating snack.
A steamy bowl of oatmeal has always been the perfect way to start my day on a chilly morning. Oats are hardy cereal grains that come in steel-cut, old-fashioned, and quick-cooking (ditch the instant oatmeal as they often come with added sugar!). Steel-cut oats are produced by running the grains through blades to cut them. The texture of cooked steel-cut oats are chewy and dense, which makes them my personal favorite. However, they do take a little longer time to cook, and you definitely cannot cook them by microwaving. Old-fashioned oats are grains that have been cut, flattened, and lightly-steamed. Quick-cooking oats are processed in the same way as old-fashioned oats, but are cut more finely before rolling, flattening, and steaming. Not only are oats high in soluble-fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar, they are also an excellent source of manganese and molybdenum (6). Besides having them for breakfast, I also love including oats into baked goods, or make overnight oats.
Yogurt is a fermented dairy product made by adding live bacteria to milk. As most of you might know already, yogurt, in particular the probiotic within the yogurt, is good for your guts (unless you are lactose-intolerant or sensitive to whey and/or casein). Each one of us have bacteria. In fact, recent studies show that our body houses 10 times more bacteria than our cells (7), and that our gut microbiome plays an essential role in our immune system! Probiotics are live bacteria that are actually beneficial to building a robust gut flora in our intestines for healthy digestion and absorption. In many studies, probiotics may help alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and constipation (8, 9, 10). Before you head out to your nearest store to stock up on your favorite fruity, dessert-like yogurt, however, make sure you buy plain, unsweetened, and full-fat varieties (I personally like Straus). Add some fruits, nut/seeds, a touch of sweetener, and there you have your healthier version of ice cream!
Other exciting new research on the gut microbiome and our health: