Smart Snacking

In today’s fast-paced world where there is often no time to prepare snacks and meals, it is important to learn how to snack smartly using readily available food items and to combine them correctly. If you have children to look after, it could be worth checking out some of these toddler snack ideas. Smart snacking stabilises blood sugar levels, which promotes effective cognitive function and good health. Stable blood sugar levels help to manage inappropriate food cravings, maintain metabolic rate, and therefore promote weight management.


  • A smart snack should fit into your hand. After all, it is a snack and not a meal.
  • Each snack should contain about 120 calories for women and 180 calories for men.
  • The carbohydrate content should be no more than 25g for women and 35g for men.
  • The fat content should be about 10g per snack (although for weight loss closer to 5g is better).
  • The fibre content should preferably be at least 2g fibre per snack.
  • A smart snack should be slow release (low GI<62) as well as low GL (GL 7-10).


  1. Check the weight of the snack portion you will be eating.
  2. Turn the snack over to find the nutrition analysis.
  3. Look for the list of ingredients, usually in small print.

Step 1 Determine the weight of the snack you will be eating. Remember to check that the actual weight of the snack is the same as the weight per serving given in the nutritional table. If it is not the same, you will have to calculate the nutritional values of your snack from the per 100g column.

Step 2 Look at the nutritional analysis table and compare the nutrients per snack with the criteria for a smart snack. Ideally all the criteria should be met. The fibre content may not always be attainable. Many health bars weigh 40g or even more, which is too big a portion for women.

Step 3 This last step will enable you to determine the impact the snack will have on your blood sugar levels. In order to get an idea whether the snack bar is slow release (low GI) or not, you need to check the list of ingredients. Since all ingredients on foods in South Africa are listed in order of mass with the heaviest one listed first and the lightest one listed last, the first third of the ingredients on the list will give an indication of what the GI of the snack will be.


The GI gives an indication of how fast a food that contains carbohydrate, affects our blood sugar levels. All carbohydrates are not equal. There are those that are digested and absorbed slowly over about three hours and those that spike blood sugar levels almost immediately. Low-GI foods take three hours to be digested and absorbed and therefore supply the body with a steady source of fuel (glucose) for up to three hours.

High-GI foods, on the other hand, will invariably spike blood sugar levels, resulting in higher insulin levels that encourage fat storage and irritability and reduce cognitive function as the body tries to rectify the high blood sugar levels. Slow-release foods include vegetables, most fruit, seed breads, legumes such as baked beans and hummus, and many other unprocessed foods.

The GL by contrast, gives an indication of the glucose load the body has to deal with in order to keep blood sugar levels within normal limits. Snacks are meant to keep body fuel levels in a steady state, rather than push blood sugar levels up. The bigger the portion, the larger the glycemic load, and the harder it is for the body to correct the glucose surge. A glycemic load of less than 10 is easily metabolised by the body and that is why snacks should have a load of around 10.

GL = Carbohydrate per serving x GI/100.


  • Plan ahead – use the smart snack criteria to choose smart snacks. Keep a laminated copy of these smart snack criteria with you when shopping.
  • Shop ahead – on most days you would need a morning and an afternoon snack. While doing your normal grocery shopping buy a variety of perhaps 10 or 20 non-perishable snacks such as dried fruit, nuts, mini health bars, low-GI rusks, crackers, and so on.
  • As fresh fruit is perfectly packaged, nutritious and the ideal snack, buy a bag of apples at the start of the week and leave it in the office fridge. Make sure you finish the apples by the end of the week. The next week try naartjies, then pears, peaches, and so on.
  • When fresh fruit is not available, stew a whole packet of dried fruit and store in the refrigerator. Use half a cup of stewed fruit as a snack.
  • Your fresh snacks can then be interspersed with the non-perishable snacks.
  • Make sure your smart snacks are close at hand; in your desk drawer, the cubbyhole of the car, your briefcase, gym bag, or handbag.
  • Many fresh snacks such as boiled eggs, chicken fillets, fruit salad, home-made low-GI muffins, biscuits and rusks can be made in larger quantities and used throughout the week.
  • If needed, a meal can be replaced with two or three snacks for a woman and three or four snacks for a man.


All the ideas listed below meet the criteria for smart snacks for women. Men could have 1.5 times these amounts.

  • Biltong – about 30g leaner biltong such as ostrich or game.
  • Biscuits – two biscuits, home-made low GI and low fat
  • Boiled egg with three or four crackers.
  • Cereal – mini packet of high-fibre cereal such as muesli, about 30g.
  • Cheese and crackers – buy the individual packs of three or four crackers and use two wedges of processed cheese.
  • Cheese and fruit – one matchbox of low-fat cheese with one fresh fruit or two pieces of dried fruit, for example brie and kiwi slices.
  • Cheese and fruit skewers – for example, two black grapes per mini mozzarella ball threaded alternately onto a skewer.
  • Cheese and vegetable skewers – for example, two cherry tomatoes per mini cheese cube threaded alternately onto a skewer.
  • Cold meat and fruit – one strip of Parma ham wrapped around a melon wedge, or four shaved turkey slices with four prunes or dried apricots.
  • Cottage cheese – three tablespoons with five dried mango strips or fresh kiwi slices.
  • Crudites and dip – one or two cups of vegetable crudites with up to six tablespoons of fat-free flavoured cottage cheese, tzatziki or reduced fat hummus.
  • Dried fruit – serving of about 40g.
  • Drinking yoghurts – fat-free, sucrose- (sugar-) free versions of no more than 300ml.
  • Fresh fruit – this is the best choice. Single pieces or fruit salad – no more than two tennis balls in size.
  • Fruit bars – one dried fruit bar (maximum 40g).
  • Fruit rolls – to meet the smart snack criteria.
  • Health bars – to meet the smart snack criteria.
  • Muffins – one home-made low GI, low fat muffin.
  • Nuts or seeds – one small handful about 30g.
  • Peanut butter – one tablespoon with fresh apple wedges, pear or any other piece of fruit.
  • Pretzels – the smallest packet you can find, no more than 30g.
  • Rusks or biscotti – one or two home-made low GI, low fat rusks or biscotti.
  • Salad – one cup of assorted salads from a salad bar; stick to those with-out dressing.
  • Stewed dried fruit – half a cup.
  • Tuna and fruit – half an easy-to-open packet or mini tin of tuna with one fresh fruit.
  • Yoghurt – one small tub of flavoured or plain low-fat or fat-free yogurt (maximum 175ml), with berries if desired.

Source: Eating for Sustained Energy by Gabi Steenkamp