Are you plagued by the 3pm 'brain drain'? How to SNACK your way through

YOU'VE had a filling brekkie, a satisfying lunch, and dinner is mere hours away. But then 3pm hits and you can’t stop yourself: it’s snack time! Research has found that almost 40% of Brits have snacked more in the last year.*

But while you probably beat yourself up about grazing between meals, we’ve got some good news. Experts believe that it can actually be good for us – if we snack smart.

Psychologist Ruth Kudzi says: “During the pandemic, we’ve felt sad, lonely, angry or frustrated more regularly, and that has acted as a cue to reach for the snacks more often.

"A common theme is boredom rather than hunger.”

Here’s how to break your bad snacking habits and make the most of your in-between munching.

Why your snacking is slowing you down

Take a year of WFH, Zoom fatigue, anxiety over new Covid variants and coming out of lockdown and what do you get? A desperate need for a pick-me-up, that’s what.

And it has fuelled a temptation to reach for something sugary and full of caffeine. But nutritionist Clarissa Lenherr warns that it’s not the quick fix you might think.

Instead, lots of your favourite treats just cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. “This results in slowed cognitive function and deficit in memory and attention span,” – otherwise known as an attack of “brain drain”.

So while a biscuit with a cuppa might be what you crave, you can bet your custard cream it’ll leave you feeling worse in the long run.

Break the habit

We might know that cake and sugary treats are just that: a treat. But like anything that’s bad for us, they’re hard to resist.

Breaking habits is never easy, but learning to hack your hormones can help steer you on to a healthier path.

“It’s important to understand that your brain leads you to snack for pleasure or emotional release,” says Ruth.

“When you do, you are rewarded with a surge of dopamine – a hormone that signals the event was positive.

Being conscious of when you are turning to food, and questioning why you do, is a good starting point.

When you’re standing at the fridge or kitchen cupboard, try counting back from five, as it helps us to access rational thinking.” Taking a brief time-out can give you a chance to decide if a snack is what you really need.

Snack smarter

If your thought process is “full snack ahead”, don’t fight it. Instead, learn to make smarter choices.

Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all had a wake-up call when it comes to our health, fuelled by studies that have linked obesity to a higher risk of dying from Covid. As a result, a shift is starting to happen.

“The past year has shone a spotlight on the importance of looking after ourselves, both physically and mentally,” says Clarissa.

“We know the pandemic isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so we’re seeing a trend in people investing more in their health to get through it, and a big part of that is the benefit that a good diet can bring to your brain.”

Ruth agrees: “I’ve started to see a shift to more conscious snacking,” she says.

“Smarter snacking is thinking about what will give you sustainable energy rather than quick fixes that cause energy levels to crash in an hour or two, sending you right back to the snack cupboard.

"Think about the reward you feel in the brain when you eat certain foods – not the short-term hit, but how you will feel the next day or the next week if you make smarter choices.

“A useful activity is to visualise yourself as healthy and to think about how you would act if this was the case. What would you stop doing and what would you start doing?

"When you do this, you can create a mental checklist to ask yourself: ‘Is this what my healthy self would do?’ By focusing on how you’re feeling longer term, you can make better choices in the moment.”

Love your gut

Contrary to popular belief, healthy grazing can steady blood sugar levels.

Rohini Bajekal, a nutritionist at Plant Based Health Professionals, champions conscious snacking, stressing the importance of gut-loving snacks, which have the greatest effect on brain power.

“Over 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut, so the gut-brain axis plays a significant role in our health,” she says.

“Colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds are all rich in fibre and contain plenty of vitamins and minerals.

For example, magnesium and zinc, which get depleted when we are stressed, are found in foods such as pumpkin seeds and cacao (or dark chocolate).”

10 foods to boost brain power

MAKE afternoon slumps a thing of the past with Clarissa's top snack choices

Egg: They provide good fats, protein and choline – a micronutrient linked to memory and mood. Eggs also help you stay full and energised, making them a great snack for the afternoon. Have one or two boiled eggs with oatcakes and cracked pepper.

Walnuts :These hefty nuts are filled with brain-healthy omega-3 fats. Enjoy a 30g serving a few times each week.

Blueberries: Often called a superfood, they contain an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which can be anti-inflammatory and support brain function and memory. Enjoy a handful of blueberries with a few squares of dark chocolate or on some live plain yoghurt.

Dark chocolate: It contains the plant antioxidants flavonoids, which have been linked to enhanced memory, increased blood flow to the brain and improved cognitive function.
Opt for at least 70% cocoa and have it as a snack with some almonds, which are packed with good fats and protein.

Pumpkin seeds: Full of zinc, which is vital for enhancing mental agility and memory, just
a handful of pumpkin seeds each day is all you need to get your recommended daily allowance of this vitamin.

Broccoli: A great source of vitamin K, broccoli can boost cognitive function and brain power. Eat it raw mid-morning with houmous, which is high in good fat and a great source of plant-based protein and fibre, for an energy-boosting snack.

Carrots: Not only are they good for your eyes, but they’re a great way to fuel your brain, as carrots contain high levels of luteolin, a compound that reduces age-related memory deficit and inflammation in the brain. They’re also great for dipping in houmous.

Kale: A study by Harvard University showed that eating lots of leafy green veg, especially kale, can help decrease your risk of age-related cognitive decline.

Sunflower seeds: They contain a rich mix of brain-powering protein, omega fatty acids, and B vitamins, as well as tryptophan, which the brain converts into serotonin to boost mood and fight depression.

Avocado: A great source of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, avos are known to increase blood flow to the brain, help reduce cholesterol, and improve antioxidant absorption. They contain vitamin E, which can help protect against free radical damage.

  • *Source: Oral Health Foundation Visit and

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