We want our crunchy snacks to satisfy, but which is the most nutritious nibble to fill the gap? Dietitian Jennifer Low takes a close look at two popular favourites
The nutrition lowdown
Oatcakes are a filling snack option, whether on their own or as a base for toppings, from hummus to cottage cheese. Their appetite-quelling properties come partly from the fibre they contain. Some is insoluble – the type that boosts gut health – and some is the soluble beta-glucan found naturally in oats. This beta-glucan helps give them a low glycaemic index (GI), which keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
While fat is seen sometimes as ‘bad’, small amounts of the right type of unsaturated fats, such as those in oatcakes, can contribute to a feeling of satiety, not harming artery health. Although higher in calories, weight-for-weight, than rice cakes, they’re more filling and higher in nutrients, including iron, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
The nutritional lowdown
Rice cakes ‘win’ on their headline-grabbing low-fat claims, but they’re full of highly processed carbohydrates. This means they have a high GI and are digested very rapidly after eating, giving you a quick rise in blood sugar, often followed by a dip that leaves you feeling peckish again. So, although they’re low in calories, there’ll always be a temptation to keep munching because they don’t fill the hunger gap.
A topping with protein and fat, such as peanut butter or reduced-fat cheddar, will help to lower their glycaemic effect, but you do need to watch the total calories of your snack. Salt is also a factor – many plain versions are low in salt but, compared gram for gram, some flavoured rice cakes match the salt levels in crisps.
On balance, oatcakes take the trophy for being a nutritious snack that will fill you up and add useful amounts of minerals and fibre. However, if your main goal is to find a low-calorie base for your favourite topping, rice cakes are the better option in the short-term. Just remember, as they’re very rapidly digested, they’re unlikely to take the edge off your hunger for long.