I’ve made an important personal revelation and it may help you too! Up until recently, I’ve been a huge supporter of eating fruits and high protein foods (like Greek yogurt) as snacks. But honestly, I never really feel full and satisfied for long after snacking on those items. I realized that the best snacks for me are high in carbohydrates, low in sugar, low in fat, and low in protein. For example, I’ll eat crispbread crackers, bread, or dry cereal as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. There is legitimate science to back up this observation too! Eating high carb (low in fat and protein) snacks in between meals is the basis for The Serotonin Power Diet and the take-home message from Columbia’s researchers, Judith J. Wurtman, Ph.D, and Nina T. Frusztajer, M.D.
How do carbs help you stay full and prevent you from overeating? It has to do with the interplay between carbohydrates and the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter which regulates mood, sleep, and appetite. Simply put, eating carbohydrates stimulates the production of serotonin! Are you on a low-carb diet right now and you’re noticing moodiness or depression? Your body may well be lacking it’s natural “feel-good” chemical, serotonin. Although eating carbs starts serotonin production, eating a significant amount of protein along with those carbs stops this process. This is because tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin, is the least abundant amino acid in protein. So when you eat a protein-rich meal, all the different amino acids (protein building blocks) floods into the blood. Tryptophan has to compete with all these other amino acids to get transported to the brain. If you eat a snack with little to no protein, tryptophan does not have to compete as much and will have more access to the brain where it has important effects. Snacks high in fat slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and therefore the production of serotonin. It keeps you feeling hungry for longer! For example, take the infamous chocolate chip cookie. Why is it so hard to have just one? It’s because it’s sweet and fatty at the same time. The fat in the cookie slows down absorption. What do you do in the meantime? You eat more cookies…
You can have carbohydrate-rich snacks and still eat a balanced diet that has a moderate intake of carbs overall. Just keep your snacks around 150 calories. For example, a typical day for me looks like (I’m back to eating vegetarian without dairy (I eat honey though!):
You’re sample menu can look like this:
Eating small snacks throughout the day really helps me be productive, stay alert, and not keel over from hunger. I’m usually up by 6:30am and have class, activities, labs, throughout the day. I also exercise and study during free hours and at night . I try to sleep before midnight. Eating small carby snacks keeps me satiated between meals, happy, and motivated. I really do feel a difference in my energy levels and positive emotional state after switching to carb snacks =)!
What you can try (Tips from Dr. Wurtman and Dr. Frusztajer, along with my own) :
Honestly, little high-carb snacks have helped me so much stay focused and full during these first few weeks of medical school and I urge you to try this method too! Please let me know how you are doing and if you feel a difference after a couple days of eating high-carb snacks! Also, I find the Serotonin Power Diet a very balanced way to prevent weight gain.
These are some of my favorite snacks: