Healthy and tasty don’t always go hand in hand. Why not? With so many great options out there, it doesn’t make sense not to fill your gut and treat your taste buds with a single snack.
We get it, sometimes that bag of potato chips is irresistible or that midnight run to Popeyes for a chicken sandwich is inevitable. Yet, a big reason why so many don’t snack as healthfully as they could is that healthy snacks are put in a rather small box. Yes, healthy snacks include carrot spears and apples. But they also include hummus, edamame, popcorn, and delicious tinned fish.
Healthier snacks have fewer calories and/or provide nutritional value over traditional “junk food” snack foods, such as chips, cookies, fried appetizers like wings and french fries, and buttery microwave popcorn. They should still aim to satisfy the hankering for something tasty, hitting on either the sweet or salty note, or perhaps, the crunchy textural appeal of many snack foods.
Here are some of the best healthy snacks to buy, or make, as you look to nibble with intention.
Fruit can potentially satisfy your yen for something sweet while still offering much more nutritional value than something like a cookie or a snack cake. Fruit makes a particularly good snack to have before or after a workout, as it provides carbohydrates along with electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium.
You can have plain whole fruit, such as bananas, apples, pears, or peaches. You could make the fruit feel more “snack-y” and fun by choosing fruits like grapes, cherries, and berries that you can pop into your mouth the way you might do with popcorn or corn chips. You could also chop the fruit up and make a fruit salad with bite-size pieces of melon, peaches, bananas, pineapple, etc.
When it comes to making healthier snack swaps, you want the snack to feel as appealing as possible. Oftentimes, we eat with our eyes first. Putting a little prep work into the fruit to make it more fun and snackable can increase your pleasure and satisfaction with it as a snack.
Most people love some sort of dip with some sort of vehicle for that dip. Classic examples include tortilla chips and salsa or guacamole, french fries in ketchup, or mozzarella sticks in marinara sauce. A healthier dippable snack is hummus with vegetables. Hummus, which is made with chickpeas and tahini, is a great healthy snack because it has complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and a little bit of fiber. All of this makes it nutritious and filling.
Eating it with crudités like carrots, cucumbers, pepper strips, and celery boosts the fiber content and provides additional vitamins and minerals. Plus, veggies will not add very many calories (if any), so you can keep the calorie content low while feeling satiated.
Most people love a satisfying crunch with their snacks. Snap peas and edamame (soybeans) can be sweet, crunchy, and filling snacks that are much healthier than trail mix, combos, chips, etc. Snap peas and edamame are nutrient dense without being particularly calorie dense. These legumes also contain some fiber and a little bit of protein. Edamame in particular has antioxidants, vitamin K, iron, and calcium.
If you are looking for a particularly nutritious food or a high-protein snack that’s low in calories but filling, hard-boiled eggs or tasty deviled eggs can be a fantastic choice. Eggs provide a complete source of protein because they have all the essential amino acids your body needs, as well as iron, B vitamins, and vitamins A, K, and D. If you don’t like eating plain eggs, or if that doesn’t seem exciting enough, you can make deviled eggs with paprika or other spices.
Trail mix can be a much healthier snack than salty choices, even though it’s not great for calorie control. If your goal is weight loss, trail mix isn’t necessarily the best snack food choice unless you can be strict with your portion control. Trail mix typically contains nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and possibly some cereal and chocolate. You can make your own or buy pre-made trail mixes, but be sure to look for ones with lower sodium if you buy prepackaged trail mix.
If you love sweet snacks like Teddy Grahams, sugary granola bars, and cookies, you can make a substitute for a lower-sugar cereal. Look for cereals with less than 5 grams of sugar and at least 5 grams of protein and fiber. Particularly if you eat the cereal dry, you will still get the mouth feel of a crunchy snack but with fewer calories, less sugar, more fiber, and more vitamins and minerals.
Probably the healthiest you can get with your snack food is to munch on vegetables like cherry tomatoes, cucumber strips, broccoli florets, baby carrots, and button mushrooms. Of course, it can be quite a big jump to expect yourself to go from eating chips to eating cucumber strips, but you can ease the transition by pairing your veggies with dips like hummus, guacamole, or even salad dressing.
String cheese is usually made with low-moisture mozzarella cheese, so it is relatively low in fat and calories but high in protein and calcium. It’s also fairly salty, so it can satisfy that taste craving,
Another good option for when you like spreadable or dippable snacks is to have tuna fish with either whole-grain crackers or veggies like celery and carrot sticks. Tuna fish is packed with protein, so it will keep you fuller. It’s also relatively low in calories, meaning you can eat quite a bit of it without sabotaging your diet goals.
Depending on your diet goals and how bad your munchies are, rice cakes with or without nut butter can be one of the best healthy snack choices because you can eat a bunch of them without consuming a ton of calories.
Of course, if you are going to add peanut butter, almond butter, or some other topping, the caloric content is going to increase significantly. The advantage is that you will also feel much more satisfied and stay fuller for longer because of the healthy fats and proteins in the nut butter. If you really just want to snack on a large volume of food, plain rice cakes, including the flavored ones, can be a much healthier, lower-calorie snack substitute over chips and other packaged snacks.
Air-popped popcorn is low-calorie, but it will supply that satisfying crunch we often crave in a snack. Because the calorie density is low — only about 30 calories per cup — popcorn makes a healthy snack for people looking to maintain or lose weight. You can munch away on quite a large serving without inhaling hundreds of calories as you might with chips, nuts, or crackers. Popcorn also provides a little bit of fiber (about as much as an apple in a three-cup serving) and polyphenols, which are antioxidants that combat free radicals in your body. To boost the nutritional content, try sprinkling air-popped popcorn with nutritional yeast. This superfood has a parmesan cheese-like flavor and is packed with B vitamins.
Of course, it’s important to choose the right type of popcorn. Avoid the “movie theater“ style of buttery microwave popcorn or packaged pre-popped snack food popcorn like Smart Food. Instead, choose air-popped popcorn or low-fat, low-salt microwave popcorn. Alternatively, if you don’t like popcorn and you want to buy a pre-packaged, healthier popcorn alternative, you can try snack foods like Pirate’s Booty and other organic popped “puffs,“ which will be healthier than most packaged popcorn snacks.
Oven-roasting chickpeas or buying baked chickpeas is a great way to indulge in the crunchy appeal of most snack foods in a much more nutritious way. Roasted chickpeas provide fiber, protein, and carbohydrates while still giving the satisfying crunch of conventional potato chips or other popular junk food snacks.
If you like sweet foods, you can make popsicles or fudgesicles at home by blending up a smoothie or protein shake and then freezing it in popsicle molds. By making your own frozen treats, you can use whole, natural ingredients like berries, bananas, Greek yogurt, spinach, and chocolate protein powder, all of which will be much healthier than buying ice cream novelties or popsicles filled with sugary juices.
Granola is a great option, as it is both flavorful and you can snack on it all day long. Better, it’s full of protein, vitamin D, and minerals, and it pairs well with sibling healthy snacks like fruit, low-fat yogurt, and more. Just be sure to monitor the sugar content of store-bought granola and look for brands that also incorporate other healthy additions like flax seed. Or, make your own.
When it comes to good healthy snacks, it typically helps to think about the volume and nutritional content of the snack. If you’re looking for food that you can eat a lot of without consuming very many calories, look for foods high in water, such as fruits and vegetables, or voluminous, airy foods, such as popcorn and rice cakes. If you want a snack that’s very filling, choose foods with a fair amount of protein, fiber, and healthy fat, such as nuts and nut butter, cheese, and chickpeas.
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