By taking control of the choices you make between meals, you can transform your handbag into the ultimate health partner.


Find out what to eat when...

You’re craving something crunchy

1. Enjoy a small handful of raw nuts, such as almonds. Stick to 30g of nuts a day, as they are still high in energy. If you want some extra crunch, choose the roasted kind but always look for dry-roasted nuts with no added oils, flavours or salt.    
2. Avoid anything toasted, like crunchy muesli bars, which are often baked in nasty vegetable oils and added sugars.
3. Kathleen Alleaume, nutritionist and author of What’s Eating You?, recommends munching on a trail mix. “These are packed with protein and good fats – enough to satisfy the 3pm slump.”

You’ve got PMS and are hankering for something sweet after dinner

1. Avoid grabbing those refined sweets, which will only cause tooth decay and insulin spikes, and enjoy something with natural sweetness, such as fresh fruit.            
2. After dinner, enjoy a cup of hot liquorice root tea, which gives you a double whammy of goodness. The natural sweetness satisfies, and thanks to phytoestrogen compounds found in liquorice root, it may assist in soothing symptoms such as irritability and cramps.
3. Go for quality not quantity. Something like “dark chocolate-coated strawberries, is the perfect indulgence and comes with a nice antioxidant hit”, says Alleaume.

You’d be amazed if anything filled you up – you’re about to eat your leg off

1. Always fuel up and fill up with protein-rich snacks. Protein keeps you fuller for longer and also maintains your blood sugar levels. A tub of natural yoghurt with a spoonful of LSA meal is a great high-protein snack, which is sure to banish any hunger pangs.
2.  Start your day right. Protein-rich breakfasts have been shown to reduce snacking throughout the day and prevent weight gain. Alleaume recommends “poached eggs for breakfast, fruit smoothie for a snack and a chicken wrap for lunch. Protein will stave off hunger and settle the rumbling stomach”.   
3. If you are always on the run, why not keep a good quality protein powder and shaker in your office drawer or car? These are a quick and easy way to fill up your empty tank. Simply add water, shake and you have a high protein snack or meal!

You’re going out for dinner and don’t want to ruin your appetite entirely, just take the edge off

1. Alleaume recommends “a light snack, such as a piece of fruit, so you don’t attack the bread basket or inhale canapés before the main meal arrives.”              
2. Thirst is commonly mistaken for hunger. Always check you are hydrated before diving into a meal and ruining your dinner date. Drink a large glass of water and chances are, you will be satisfied until the meal.
3. Take the chance to boost your antioxidant and fibre content for the day with a nutrient-dense, fresh vegetable juice. This will give you a nice energy kick without ruining your appetite.

You’re about to hit the gym for a serious Zumba class

1. The general rule of thumb is to have your last meal about three to four hours before exercise or a lighter snack about one to two hours before exercise.
2. Avoid snacking on foods high in fat or fibre, which take longer to digest and may cause some stomach discomfort during exercise.
3. If you are absolutely starving and running out of fuel to dance your butt off in Zumba, then choose a low GI carbohydrate meal that is digested easily, like a fresh fruit smoothie or milkshake. Low GI foods are the best choice for a pre-exercise snack, as they provide a slower, sustained release of glucose, maintaining blood glucose levels throughout your workout.

It’s late and you want something to nibble while you watch TV

1. A warm herbal tea with a teaspoon of honey is delicious and will also calm you before bedtime, preparing you for a restful sleep.
2. Protein-rich snacks in the evening have been shown to improve the quality of sleep by balancing our blood sugar levels before fasting through the night, and also providing the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed for melatonin and serotonin production, both important in sleep health. Warm up a glass of milk with a touch of cinnamon as your after-dinner treat.  
3. Avoid sugars and high-carbohydrate snacks before bed. They will raise your blood sugar levels and delay your sleep. Your sleep may also be disturbed later on by dropping blood sugar levels, which often wakes people up.

You’ve just got home from pumping some heavy iron

1. Protein requirements are increased for strength training athletes to about 1.2–1.6g per kilogram of body mass per day. Aim for protein-rich snacks with about 10g of protein, such as two small eggs, 300mL milk, 30g cheese, 200g yoghurt or 60g nuts or seeds.
2. “To help your muscles recover, eat a carbohydrate-containing meal within two hours of your training,” Alleaume says. “During your workout it is likely that muscle protein has been broken down,” Alleaume explains. Including protein in your recovery meal can increase protein building – try brown rice, corn, rye or whole grain bread with fish, lean meats and salads or vegetables.               
3. Dairy snacks like milk, yoghurt and smoothies make an ideal post-workout meal. Milk naturally contains water, carbohydrate and electrolytes for effective rehydration. Whey proteins found in dairy have also proven to specifically increase lean muscle mass.

You need focus and know the jelly beans in your desk drawer won’t do it

1. Munch on a handful of walnuts, which are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids – great for brain health and memory.
2. Try a cup of ginseng tea. Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries as a natural herb to boost brainpower and memory.
3. A small tin of tuna provides a decent serve of protein power as well as essential fatty acids, which are great for improving mental alertness.

You’re going out for drinks and haven’t got time to eat first

1. Choose a carbohydrate and protein-rich snack to fuel your body before you hit the town, like a whole grain muesli bar.
2. If you are literally on the run, then you cannot go wrong with a quick liquid meal like a fresh vegetable and fruit juice. If you are planning on having a few drinks, why not try a nice liver-cleansing juice like beetroot, carrot, celery, ginger and lemon.
3. Alleaume’s rule is to “always stash healthy snacks in your bag and desk drawer”. No excuses.

You’re hitting the sales for a day of retail therapy and don’t want to spend your shopping money on snacks.

1. Never leave the house without a large bottle of filtered water in hand to stay hydrated throughout the day.
2.  Alleaume’s shopping tip is to “pack nuts, trail mix, wholegrain muesli bars (no chocolate or yoghurt-coated ones), or whole grain crackers with peanut butter”.
3. If you need something more substantial or don’t want to stop for a meal, then pop some vegetable sticks in a container with hummus or even make your own tuna salad wrap to enjoy between Topshop and Zara.

Amanda Powell is a nutritionist and health writer. Visit her online at

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