Written by O2X Nutrition Specialist, Tiffany Batsakis (MS, RD, LD)
If you’ve attend an O2X Nutrition workshop, you’ve heard one of the specialists talk about incorporating all 3 macronutrients at meal and snack time in order to stabilize blood glucose levels. We can compare this to the current coronavirus pandemic, you hear people talk about “flattening the curve.” In a way, we want to do this with our blood glucose as well.
When we incorporate all three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) at meal or snack time, instead of eating only carbohydrates, they work together to keep blood glucose levels from spiking and quickly dropping. When this happens, people often feel hungry and sluggish shortly after eating something high in carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates. As you can see in the graph above, refined carbohydrates increase blood glucose levels quickly, but then they quickly fall. If those simple carbs are replaced with something more complex, they take longer to digest. When a lean protein is added to that meal or snack, the blood glucose curve flattens a bit more, keeping us more satiated. When a healthy fat is added to the mix, we can stay full for up to or even longer than three hours. Lastly, when we add some fiber rich vegetables to our meal, our food breaks down more slowly and can keep us fuller, longer. I always tell people to incorporate lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and vegetables at every meal. That is a recipe for fullness success. Additionally, those are nutrient dense foods that provide our bodies with quality fuel. If we feel satiated, we can reduce the amount of less nutritious foods we may otherwise snack on throughout the day.
Another reason to choose all three macronutrients is to adequately fuel the brain. For various reason, people often feel they need to eliminate carbohydrates from the diet, but this is not the case! They are the body’s preferred source of fuel. Both the muscles and brain rely on glucose for energy and furthermore, while the human brain comprises only 2% of our body mass, it utilizes 20% of the total energy we get from glucose. That makes it the body’s main glucose consumer. And to get more scientific, glucose provides the fuel “for physiological brain function through the generation of ATP, the foundation for neuronal and non-neuronal cellular maintenance, as well as the generation of neurotransmitters.” We need proper regulation of glucose metabolism for brain physiology! If you have ever skipped a meal or cut carbohydrates, you may have felt the side effects of low blood glucose: lethargy, “brain fog,” a headache, etc.
What are some snacks that provide proper fuel? Snacks that last…
Here is a list of snacks that are nutritious, portable, energizing, and filling. These foods go the extra mile and can be incorporated in an overall healthy eating plan. It is by no means all-inclusive, and you may already know of some snacks that work for you, but if you want some variety, check out some of these options. You may not be able to find some things in your area, but if something piques your interest, you can find it available on line.
Note: This list is not written in any particular order!
There is an endless variety of bars on the market. Some of these bars are high in calories and have protein, carbs, and fat, which, as you have read, work synergistically to fuel you for a few hours. While bars and other snacks don’t fill and activate the stretch receptors in the stomach in the way a complete meal would, these ideas are portable and appropriate in-between your nutrient dense meals.
1. Perfect Bar: Calories: 330; Carbs: 26 g; Protein: 17 g; Fat 18 g
-This bar is high in calories and could serve as a meal replacement if need be. It does have added sugars because it is made with honey, but the fat from the peanut butter can help flatten the glucose curve. Additionally, these bars are made with added dried vegetable powders*, so they have an additional boost of nutrients. I said this list wasn’t in any particular order, but if I’m being honest, this is one of my favorite bars! Nutrition facts vary by bar.
2. Wella Bar: Calories: 280; Carbs: 21 g; Protein: 13 g; Fat 19 g
-Similar to the Perfect Bar, Wella Bars are high in calories, but also have a good ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. They are also tasty and have a variety of flavor combos. Nutrition facts vary by bar.
3. RX Bar: Calories: 200; Carbs: 25 g; Protein: 12 g; Fat 7 g
-Many people prefer RX bars because of the minimal amount of ingredients used in each bar. They keep it simple and place all ingredients on the front of the package. The sweetness of the bars comes from dates, which pack a carbohydrate load for when you need some glucose on the go! Nutrition facts vary by bar.
4. 88 Acres Protein Bar: Calories: 280; Carbs: 15 g; Protein: 12 g; Fat 21 g
-The main source of protein in these bars comes from seeds. They are a dense bar and very flavorful. After you eat one, you will feel fed! These bars come in chocolate brownie and banana bread flavor. Nutrition facts vary by bar. Fun fact: 88 Acres is a Boston based company and they have a line of seed bars, butters, and granola.
5. Kind Bar: Calories: 200; Carbs: 16 g; Protein: 6 g; Fat 15 g; Fiber; 7 g
-These bars are a good snack option in between meals. The different nuts serve as a source of fat and fiber and the different bits of fruit and honey will provide energy in the form of carbohydrates. Nutrition facts vary by bar.
6. Made Good Bar: Calories: 90; Carbs: 16 g; Protein: 1 g; Fat 2.5 g
-These bars offer a small, quick snack of mostly carbohydrates via oats, so a complex carb. If you need a quick burst of energy to get you through a small task or a quick workout, they can do the trick. They are also made with added vegetable powders, so you get a little bit of extra nutrition compared to some other products on the market. Nutrition facts vary by bar.
* Added vegetable powders are not intended to be used in place of a healthy meal, but on the go, or in pinch, products with these additions can provide an added source of nutrients. Continue to eat your fruits and vegetables as recommended!
Once again, there are many bars on the market. Check your local grocer to see what is available in your area or check on-line. Many companies are offering on line specials during this time of social distancing.
Let’s take a look at a few other foods and snacks that fuel our brain and body. I recently took a walk around my local grocer in search of some healthy and unique foods.
Go Raw: Go Raw is a company that makes quality grain, seed, and nut based snacks with minimal ingredients and processing. They have granola, bars, and snack “chips.” These products pair well with fruit, nut/seed butters, and/or yogurt.
Sonoma Creamery: This company makes a savory cheese crisp bar that comes in a variety of flavors. The main ingredient is cheese, so they make for a crunchy snack with this as the source of protein. These crisps pair well with tuna packs, rotisserie chicken, or even hummus.
Rhythm Superfoods Kale Chips: Looking for a crunchy, savory alternative to your typical bag of potato chips? Kale chips can do the trick and provide some nutrients in the process. While some people may shy away from this green snack, they are quite tasty and almost addictive! Throw them in your bag for a healthy alternative, or a nutrition upgrade to the standard fried potato.
Lebby Chickpea Snacks: These roasted chickpeas are a great snack idea. They have a good crunch and provide complex carbohydrates and fiber, a quality shared by all beans.
Biena Chickpea Puffs: Once again, a nutritional upgrade, and a twist on a classic, cheese puffs, but this time, from chickpeas. If you’ve ever attended any of my nutrition workshops, you know that I am the “bean queen.”I recommend beans and legumes as a part of the daily diet. These puffs provide the crunch you crave, along with a few grams of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber.
Try some of these snack ideas to “flatten the curve.” Not only will you be adequately fueled in between meal times, but you will get added nutrients with some of these nutrition upgrades. Stay fueled, stay focused, and try some new things.
1. Mergentaler P. et al. Sugar for the brain: the role of glucose in physiological and pathological brain function. Trends in Neuroscience. 2013; 36(10): 587-597.