What’s the best ever snack?

After last week’s HEB about replacing chips with nuts, I received a deluge of questions from people with nut allergies. The crux of their questions was: what’s the best thing to snack on if you can’t eat nuts?

The best thing to snack on — even if you love eating nuts — is exercise! Not food, but movement.

Let me explain.

Snacking between meals is not a natural human imperative — it’s an invention of snack food companies. We are bombarded with advertising urging us to eat all day, every day. Yet our bodies were not designed for a constant influx of food.

The more frequently we eat, the more often our pancreas produces insulin, and the more likely we are to become insulin resistant and develop type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease and a multitude of other insulin-related afflictions such as dementia.

If you get hungry between meals, the most common reasons are:

  1. Not eating enough protein at mealtimes eg eggs, chicken, meat, nuts, soybeans, tofu. (Click here for a list of protein rich foods.)
  2. Not drinking enough water.
  3. Eating meals that are high in sugar and refined starches.
  4. Stress
  5. Emotional eating
  6. Eating ultra processed food (UPF) that is deliberately engineered to leave you craving for more.

So instead of reaching for food, reach for your sneakers.

‘Won’t that make me even more hungry? Won’t exercise increase my appetite?’ I hear you protest.

No! Physical exercise actually decreases hunger. How is this possible?

When we exercise we produce a cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters that act in various regions of our brain to reduce hunger. An evolutionary reason for this is that when we were hunter-gathers chasing prey, or foraging for edible plants, we needed to be fast, focused and undistracted by hunger pains.

Many people nonetheless insist they eat more after exercise. This is most likely due to the belief that we need to eat more because we’ve been burning calories, or the feeling that we deserve to eat more because we’ve had a workout.

Meanwhile, researchers at Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre found that just four and a half (4 1/2) minutes of daily vigorous activity that gets you out of breath (eg running to catch the bus) reduced the risk of 13 different cancers by 32%.

The scientists came up with the acronym VILPA — Vigorous Intermittent Lifestyle Physical Activity — to describe very short bursts of intense activity that we do throughout the day without thinking. Each VILPA might only take 30-60 seconds but they add up to produce lasting health benefits. VILPA  include running up a flight of stairs, doing strenuous housework, carrying heavy shopping bags or moving furniture.

People who accrued at least 3 1/2 minutes of VILPA each day reduced their cancer risk by 18% compared with people who did no VILPA, and the more VILPA, the better. The cancers most responsive to VILPA were breast, bladder, liver, lung, kidney, stomach, oesophagus, colorectal, uterine, myeloid leukaemia, myeloma, and head and neck. VILPA also contribute to heart health, insulin sensitivity and lower levels of chronic inflammation. In other words, every part of our body benefits.

So whenever you feel like a snack, do a minute of star jumps, run down the block, or vacuum the room with gusto. A minute here and there, 5 times a day, can cut your cancer risk by one third!

Please share this Health-e-Byte with anyone who believes they can’t live without snack foods, or don’t have time to exercise.

Photo credit: I took this photo during my recent book promotion tour in vibrant Manhattan, New York. The message in the photo is Swap the snacks for sneakers!

To read the other HEB in this series click below:

Are you crunching on carcinogens?

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