Is it three o’clock where you are yet? If so, how are you feeling? A bit snoozy? Because the mid-afternoon energy dip is a regular feature of our natural circadian rhythm – and one that often has us reaching for a sugary mid-afternoon snack.
Steph Geddes from Body Good Food is a registered nutritionist specialising in culinary nutrition and recipe development. She says the mid-afternoon slump is often exacerbated by an unbalanced lunch that lacks the key macronutrients – fats, proteins and carbohydrates – we need for energy.
“That can leave you with a blood-sugar drop in the afternoon, and that’s when we get fatigued, we feel lacking in energy, sometimes we get a foggy mind and it can be hard to concentrate,” Geddes says. “Naturally, when that happens we tend to look for another sugar hit to get those sugar levels back up, but it’s not always the best way to go about it.”
Yes, a chocolate bar filled with simple sugars will deliver us a boost in energy, but it’s a short-lived spike. “You will get an initial hit of energy as your blood-glucose levels rise, but very quickly that will come crashing down again,” Geddes says. “Not long after you consume it, you will find yourself back in that state of feeling tired and lethargic.”
A better option is “a snack that can sustain blood-sugar levels with a slow, gradual rise”, Geddes says, avoiding the “sharp drop off that you get from simple sugars”.
Geddes shares with Broadsheet five of her favourite snacks to help ride out the post-lunch slump without the destabilising blood-sugar highs and lows.
Fresh fruit, nut butter and cinnamon
A simple snack that hits the right nutritional notes is fresh fruit – Geddes recommends in-season apples – with peanut butter or tahini and a pinch of cinnamon.
“The fruit is a great natural source of sugar, the nut butter provides some protein and fat, and the cinnamon is great at helping balance out your blood-sugar levels,” Geddes says. “Even though you’re getting the natural sugars from fruit, you can get more of a slow-release kind of energy when you pair it with protein and healthy fats.”
Chickpeas are an excellent source of plant-based protein and fibre, which is essential for our gut health.
“Roasting the chickpeas means you can make them nice and crunchy,” Geddes says. “They’re a moreish snack that you can eat mindfully while you’re at your desk.”
They’re easy to make at home. First, preheat the oven to 180°C. Next, open a tin of chickpeas, rinse them, drain and pat dry. Drizzle the chickpeas with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with spices such as paprika or cumin and season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven until they’re crisp and crunchy.
Guarana, a plant native to Brazil, has long been prized for its energy-giving properties.
“What it provides you is slow-releasing caffeine,” Geddes says. Guarana “gives you sustained energy – as opposed to regular caffeine, where sometimes people get that initial hit but they will get that slump afterwards as well”.
Guarana is a common ingredient in energy drinks, which tend to contain high amounts of sugar and other additives and preservatives. You want to try to avoid those.
A healthier source of guarana can be found in herbal infusions. Uplift is a cold infusion from Twinings that contains guarana as well as raspberry and rosehip, both rich sources of antioxidants, including vitamin C. Drinking herbal infusions in the afternoon has the added advantage of hydration.
“Sometimes, even though we feel like we need a snack and we reach for food, it can often be that we’re dehydrated,” Geddes says.
Kefir, a fermented milk drink, packs a hefty nutritional punch.
“[It’s] similar to yoghurt in its nutritional profile but with more probiotics, which are great for our gut health,” Geddes says. “Not only that, but from kefir you also get your calcium and B vitamins, and it’s also a good source of protein. It’s a good all-rounder.
“It’s a pourable consistency, so you can either drink it, or you could mix it with nuts and seeds or some seasonal fruit and have it with a spoon.”
“The reason I love these is that you can eat them mindfully,” Geddes says of the fresh green soybeans. “The whole process of having to peel them and taking them out one by one means you have to pay attention to what you’re doing.”
Edamame beans are also a good source of protein and fibre.
“I love to put a little sprinkle of sea salt and chilli flakes over the top, too.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with the new Twinings Live Well Uplift: Raspberry, Rosehip and Guarana herbal infusion.