Snacking can be a valuable part of a healthy eating plan. Regular munching keeps blood sugar levels stable and can help prevent overeating later in the day. But the extent of these benefits depends on one crucial variable: the kind of food you put into your mouth.
Down a sugar-coated doughnut midmorning or a greasy bag of chips at 3 p.m. and your “healthy” snacking routine is actually a belly-expanding, energy-zapping habit.
A better idea: Nibble on nutritionally balanced 100- to 200-calorie snacks that contain some carbs, protein and healthy fats. How much you eat depends on your activity level, but be sure to listen to your hunger cues. Read on for 15 quick and healthy ways to fuel your day.
1. Large Whole Grain Cracker with Goat Cheese
(1 large cracker, 1 ounce of cheese)
When you look at the cracker’s ingredients, you want to see “whole grain” or “whole wheat” flour. If the label says “enriched” it contains white flour. Unlike white flour, whole grain flour contains fiber, which helps you feel satiated. Smear your cracker with an ounce of goat cheese (about the size of a golf ball) to add protein, Bonus: Goat cheese — especially the spreadable kind — tends to be lower in total and saturated fat than most cheeses.
2. Greek Yogurt
(1 container, 6 ounces)
Mix plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit to take in several grams of fiber for a fraction of the sugar you’ll find in flavored varieties — which typically contain less than a 1 gram of dietary fiber and as much as 20 grams of sugar per 6-ounce serving.
An ounce of nuts packs tons of protein and fiber, as well as heart-healthy fats that can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and magnesium, which may help prevent Type 2 diabetes. You can nab all of these benefits without consuming too many calories if you stick to the proper serving size. Try 30 pistachios, 23 almonds, or a mix. The rule of thumb is that a serving is about the size of a shot class.
4. Nutrition Bar
Look for bars that contain fewer than 200 calories and compare the nutritional labels. You want to go with the bar that offers more fiber, less sugar, and adequate protein (about 5 to 10 grams). In the ingredients list look for more natural sugars — for example, evaporated cane juice or honey — than added sugars. Also, look for nuts to ensure the bar’s fat content is from a healthy source.
5. Hard-Boiled Egg
At only about 70 calories, an egg is a protein-rich, low-calorie bite. The yoke is high in choline, which may lower cardiovascular disease and breast cancer risk, and also contains leutine, which promotes eye health.
6. Dry-Roasted Edamame
A quarter-cup serving contains only 130 calories and packs about one-third of your daily recommended fiber intake and 14 grams of protein. And, unlike steamed edamame, it’s ready to go — you don’t have to take the time to peel each pod as you eat.
7. Glass of Chocolate Milk
Quench your thirst and stifle your sweet tooth with a glass of low-fat chocolate milk. It’s a perfect postworkout snack because of its mix of protein, carbs, sugar, nutrients and electrolytes.
8. Snack-Size Cottage Cheese and Fruit
Try snack-size cottage cheese with a banana. A number of brands sell single-serving 4- or 5-ounce cartons, which can help control portions.
9. 100 percent Fruit Pouches
An individual, squeezable packet of pureed fruit is better for you than fruit juice and is great on the go. Each portion is made from pureed whole fruit and sweetened with juice concentrate, so it contains no added sugar. Some pouches even contain vegetables. While you won’t get as much dietary fiber as you would from a piece of whole fruit or a serving of vegetables, a packet still provides a helping of vitamins and minerals at about 70 to 90 calories for a 3- to 4-ounce serving.
10. Chinese Snack Mix
(½ cup for a mix with in-shell pistachios, ¼ cup for a mix with shelled pistachios)
Mix pistachios, Asian sesame sticks, and wasabi-covered peas for a tasty and healthy treat to have on hand. It offers a nice balance of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates, and provides three different food groups. You’ll get several grams of protein from the pistachios, a serving of grains from the sesame sticks, and fiber and additional vitamins from the peas.
Sources: Keri Gans, author of “The Small Change Diet,” and Michelle Dudash, a professional chef and recipe developer in Phoenix.