Eating between meals is frowned upon by some people, but small healthy snacks can be a great way of managing your child’s hunger and boosting their nourishment during the day. Dairy snacks may be a smart choice. When compared with sweet biscuits, yogurt has beneficial effects on blood glucose, say the authors of this Canadian study.
The surge in unhealthy snacking may be partly to blame for the alarming rise in childhood obesity and diabetes. That’s because, to a lot of children, a snack can be something like a bag of crisps or a biscuit. The authors are calling for kids to turn up their noses at these typical snack foods, which are full of refined flour, fat, added sugar and salt that can damage their health. Instead, snacks should be the types of healthy, nutritious foods that children eat at mealtimes, say the authors.
To keep healthy, it’s important to maintain low, stable blood glucose levels throughout the day. Snacks high in carbohydrate and added sugar are a bad idea because they lead to spikes in blood glucose. In adults, eating dairy foods has been shown to improve blood glucose control. It has also been shown that adults who eat yogurt specifically are less likely to be overweight or obese and are less likely to develop diabetes.
We know much less about the effects of snacking on children’s health. In their study, the authors looked at blood glucose control in 9–14-year-olds after they’d eaten snack-sized portions of yogurt or sweet biscuits.
Biscuits or yogurt – which would you choose?
Two hours after eating a breakfast of cereal and orange juice, 18 children were given a snack of strawberry-flavoured low-fat Greek yogurt or sandwich-type sweet biscuits. Both snacks contained 25g of digestible carbohydrate.
At least a week later, each child was given the snack that they had not been offered previously. Overall, the children liked both snacks just as much, and they didn’t notice a difference in sweetness.
Two hours after the snack, the children were offered a meal of macaroni cheese. The amount they ate at this meal was unaffected by the type of snack they had eaten that day.
‘Overall, children did not perceive a difference in sweetness (P = 0.11) or pleasantness (P = 0.09) between the two snacks.’ – Gheller et al, 2019.
Effects of snacks on blood glucose
In the 2 hours after snacking, blood glucose levels were lower after yogurt compared with biscuits. Blood levels of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose, were higher after yogurt compared with biscuits.
Higher insulin levels after the yogurt snack did not seem to be due to increased secretion of insulin by the pancreas. It appears more likely that reduced removal of insulin by the liver was responsible, say the authors.
‘In both NW [normal weight] and OW/OB [overweight/obese] children consumption of a dairy snack caused a reduction in blood glucose concentrations and an increase in circulating insulin levels compared with a non-dairy snack.’ – Gheller et al, 2019.
Slim or overweight – the benefits of yogurt on blood glucose were the same
Before they ate their snack, the 11 normal-weight children had lower blood glucose than the 7 overweight/obese children but, in the 2 hours after snacking, this difference disappeared. Regardless of body weight, blood glucose levels were lower and insulin levels were higher after yogurt compared with biscuits. The combination of protein and carbohydrate in yogurt makes it a healthy snack for all children, say the authors.