Looking to step up your snack game? This post outlines how to choose a healthy snack, along with six easy, healthy snack ideas approved by a Registered Dietitian – me!
As an RD, people ask me all about snacks. Are they good for us? How often should we have them? What are some healthy snack ideas? Snacking is ingrained in American food culture – we are bombarded by snack advertisements in the media every single day. From fruit roll ups to 100 calorie packs, this post will help you weed through the media messages and give you nourishing, filling, and simple snack ideas.
Is Snacking Good or Bad?
Like most questions about nutrition, the answer to this one is not black and white. Snacking is neither inherently good nor bad, and it may benefit some people more than others. Remember that our nutrition needs are highly individualized, and what works for one person may not work for the next.
Snacking has been studied as it relates to weight status, blood sugar level, and hunger prevention. Overall, snacking is probably not necessary for the average person to maintain weight status OR maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. But, studies show that snacking may prevent hunger, and therefore prevent overeating at mealtimes later on.
Given this research, it is important to consider a few things when snacking. First, contemplate your motivation for snacking. Are you craving food because you are truly hungry, or does it relate to an emotion like boredom or stress? Second, snacking is highly individualized. A very active person will probably benefit from more frequent snacking, as they are naturally expending more calories than a sedentary person. Finally, it’s WHAT you snack on that really matters. Consuming balanced snacks, just like balanced meals, will have positive effects on weight, blood sugar level, and hunger prevention.
How to Make Healthy Snack Choices
Here are some of my tips for making mindful, balanced snack choices.
First and foremost, tune in to see if you are truly feeling hungry. Many of us, myself included, fall into emotional eating to satisfy a need that is not based on hunger! Take a step back before reaching for a snack to determine your motivating factor. If you find you’re not really hungry, do something to tackle the negative emotion you are feeling, such as taking a walk around the block.
Be mindful of portion size. Snacks are not meant to be as energy dense as meals. While I don’t count calories, a good size snack for most people is usually around 200 calories. This may vary based on age, gender, body composition, and health goals.
Start with fiber. Fiber is a nutrient many Americans don’t eat enough of. Since it slows digestion and absorption of nutrients, fiber helps keep us full. It also has a host of health benefits, which include promoting gut health, lowering cholesterol, and keeping our bowel movements regular. Use high fiber foods as your starting point for a balanced snack, such as whole fruit, whole grain products, or vegetables.
Add protein and/or healthy fats. Pairing your fiber-rich snack with some protein or healthy fats will further help slow down digestion and keep you fuller for longer. For those looking for snacks to help regulate blood sugar levels, choosing higher protein snacks seems to be best, based on research. Choose proteins like yogurt, egg, nuts/nut butter, and seeds, and healthy fats like avocado, olives or nuts/nut butter. The combination of fiber + protein/healthy fats makes us feel more satisfied, so we are less likely to keep reaching for more.
Make it simple and tasty. Snacks shouldn’t take you tons of time or energy to prepare – you’ve got other things to get done during the day! Keep it simple, and make sure your snack is enjoyable 🙂
Six Healthy Snack Ideas
Cut a small apple into wedges. Drizzle with 1-2 tsp nut butter, add 1 tbsp granola, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Serve with ¼ cup low fat yogurt for dipping.
Mini Protein Box
This is a totally customizable snack. Mix and match different sources of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Some examples include a hard boiled egg + small handful of nuts + 3-5 strawberries, or ½ cup grapes + 1 string cheese + 5 whole grain crackers.
Popcorn Trail Mix
2 cups air popped popcorn + ¼ cup of your favorite trail mix makes for a voluminous, portable snack that is great for munching.
1 cup of steamed and lightly salted edamame is the perfect snack, as it contains fiber, protein, and healthy fats!
Bell Pepper + Quick Guacamole
A refreshing snack to much on in warmer months. To make quick guacamole, mash ½ of ripe avocado with a squeeze of lime juice + a dash of both salt and garlic powder. Top bell pepper slices with guacamole and enjoy.
Chocolate Coconut Balls
These little bites are delicious, easy to make, and portable for on-the-go snacking. Filled with nuts, dates, coconut, and cacao powder, they only take 10 minutes to whip up. They taste incredibly decadent and dessert-like, so if you’ve got a sweet tooth, this is the snack for you!
What makes these balls a healthy snack? They’ve got fiber from the dates and oats. Healthy fats and protein come from cashews and coconut. Plus, they’ve got a boost of antioxidants from the cacao powder! One or two of these little guys will tide you over until your next meal.