With as much as one-third or more of your daily calories coming from snacks, choosing the right snack really matters. Today, I’ll share with you a checklist for evaluating the healthfulness or harmfulness of your snack choices. I’ll also give you specific examples, including healthy portion sizes. Here goes:
The Perfect Snack (drum roll please…)
To optimize your health and reduce your risk of disease, the ideal snack meets the following five criteria:
1. Provides Significant Nutritional Value
Think of your snack as a mini meal. Would you eat potato chips for dinner? I hope not. Snacks, like meals, should nourish your body with protein, carbs, healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and more. Foods that qualify include whole fruits and vegetables, low fat milk or yogurt, nuts, nut butters, seeds, 100% whole grains (cereals, breads, crackers, popcorn), beans, and bean dips. Foods to limit or avoid include candy, cookies, chips, ice cream, donuts, pastries, fries, most muffins, and sugary drinks (soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, vitamin waters, specialty coffees, and shakes). Even foods that many people think of as healthier options – like pretzels or 100-calorie-snack-packs – are not great choices. They may be lower in fat or calories, but they provide little in the way of nutrition. Good snacks are nutrient-rich.
2. Fills In The Dietary Shortfalls
If you’re like most people your diet may be lacking in vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fibre. Many females (prior to menopause) are also short on iron. Your snack choices should fill in the gaps and help you meet these needs. Many people, for example, get half of the recommended 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables – like carrots, broccoli, peppers, kiwi, mango, citrus fruits, cantaloupe, and berries – are great for snacking and especially nutritious. They help you meet your needs for vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and potassium. Low fat milk products (or milk alternatives like soy milk) are essential for calcium and vitamin D (although a vitamin D supplement is also necessary to optimize intake). Nuts and seeds, especially almonds, provide significant amounts of magnesium and vitamin E. Beans are an exceptional source of nearly all shortfall nutrients, fibre in particular. A small bowl of whole grain cereal (iron fortified) can boost iron intake significantly.
3. More Natural and Less Processed
The best snack foods are consumed just as they occur in nature and have a short ingredient list (ideally one ingredient – the actual food itself!). One whole fruit or vegetable, like an apple with the skin on, is the perfect example. No ingredients have been added and the apple has not been processed into applesauce, apple juice, or apple chips – none of which provide nearly as many health benefits as eating the whole apple. Nuts (whole and unsalted) are another great choice – fast, easy, portable, and packaged just as nature intended. Foods that are more processed, like nut butters, can still be healthy, but generally speaking, snacks that are the least processed, offer the greatest health protection.
4. Source of Protein and Fibre
A snack that contains both protein and fibre can help you feel full or satisfied for a longer period of time. Protein-rich choices include low fat milk or yogurt (especially Greek yogurt), nuts, seeds, and beans. Fibre-rich choices include whole fruits and vegetables (with the skin on where possible), nuts, seeds, 100% whole grains, and beans. Combine a protein-rich food, like Greek yogurt, with a fibre-rich food, like raspberries, to optimize your intake of both.
5. Not Too High In Calories, Sugar, Sodium or Unhealthy Fats
Many snacks today, particularly processed ones, are too high in calories, sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. Portion size is also important if you want to maintain a healthy waistline. Limit your snacking to two or three times daily and use the following guidelines to keep each snack in the healthy range:
Calories: no more than 100 to 200
Sugar: no more than 1 to 2 tsp added sugar (4 to 8 g sugar on food labels)
Sodium: 140 mg or less
Saturated Fat: 2 g or less
Trans Fat: 0 g
Healthy Snack Ideas…
Here are just a few examples of what a healthy snack might look like (including healthy portion sizes):
23 unsalted almonds (1 oz/28g)
164 calories, 6 g protein, 3.5 g fibre
• One ounce of most nuts or seeds is about ¼ cup or a small handful (this is a healthy serving size).
10 baby carrots and 28 peanuts (1 oz/28g)
196 calories, 7.6 g protein, 5.5 g fibre
• Most vegetables are low in calories and can be combined easily with other snack foods.
2 clementine oranges and 7 walnut halves (½ oz/14.5g)
186 calories, 4 g protein, 4.5 g fibre
• Fruit has two to three times the calories of vegetables. One piece of fruit (or two smaller fruits) pairs well with ½ oz. of nuts (14 g or about 2 tbsp of nuts or seeds).
1 medium apple and 12 almonds (½ oz/14.5g)
175 calories, 3.5 g protein, 6.2 g fibre
• Apples are not rich in nutrients like vitamin A or C, but they are rich in fibre and loaded with health-protective antioxidants.
¾ cup (175 mL) plain, low fat Greek yogurt and (1 cup/250 mL) raspberries
164 calories, 18.5 g protein, 8 g fibre
• Plain yogurt that you sweeten yourself with fresh fruit is always a better option that pre-sweetened yogurt. If you buy pre-sweetened yogurt for convenience sake, look for brands that are lower in sugar.
Homemade Yogurt Parfait – ½ cup (125 mL) plain, low fat Greek yogurt and ¼ cup (125 mL) low fat granola and ½ cup strawberries
176 calories, 14 g protein, 4 g fibre
McDonalds Fruit & Yogurt Parfait
200 calories, 6 g protein, 3 g fibre
One piece of 100% whole-grain toast (or half of a whole-grain bagel) with 1 tbsp/15 mL peanut or almond butter
180 calories, 7 g protein, 4 g fibre
• Choose breads that are 100% whole grain, smaller in size/calories, higher in fibre, and ideally lower in sodium.
• Spreads like Nutella are very high in sugar and not a healthy choice (nuts, not sugar, should be the first ingredient on the ingredient list).
¾ cup (30 g) bran flakes cereal with ½ cup (125 mL) low fat milk
140 calories, 7 g protein, 5 g fibre
Edamame (per ½ cup/125 mL of beans once removed from pod)
135 calories, 12 g protein, 8 g fibre
½ cup (125 mL) honey-roasted spiced lentils
159 calories, 8 g protein, 5 g fibre
• recipe on p.223 of my latest book
½ cup (125 mL) rosemary roasted chickpeas
200 calories, 10 g protein, 8 g fibre
• recipe on p.221 of my latest book
¼ cup (60 mL) hummus and 5 Triscuit Crackers (thin crisps)
185 calories, 5 g protein, 3 g fibre
• Very few crackers on the market today are 100% whole grain (Triscuit crackers are!).
¼ cup (60 mL) hummus and 1 small red pepper (sliced into strips for dipping)
163 calories, 4.75g protein, 3.6 g fibre
Cocoa beverage – 1 cup (250 mL) low fat milk mixed with 1 tbsp (15 mL) cocoa powder
105 calories, 10 g protein, 1 g fibre
• Use natural cocoa powder (not dutched cocoa) for more antioxidants.
• Sweeten with one teaspoon (5 mL) sugar or honey or use a sugar substitute like stevia.
• As for smoothies, be wary of most that are store-bought, as they are often high in calories and sugar. The best smoothies are homemade – mix Greek yogurt or low fat milk (not fruit juice) with whole fruits and vegetables.
Small, low fat latte and 2 small squares of dark chocolate
175 calories, 11 g protein, 1 g fibre
4 cups (30g) Skinny Pop Popcorn
160 calories, 2 g protein, 3.2 g fibre
• Low fat microwave popcorn and air-popped popcorn are other good choices.
California Almond Valley Bar (made by Taste of Nature)
190 calories, 5 g protein, 3 g fibre
• I’d rather see you reach for plain whole nuts (along with some veggies or fruit) over a nut or granola bar. If you do choose a bar, look for those that have nuts or whole grains as the first ingredient, are lower in sugar, and higher in protein/fibre.
Healthy snacks are nutrient-rich, fill in the dietary shortfalls, are more natural and less processed, contain both protein and fibre, and are not too high in calories, sugar, salt or unhealthy fats.
P.S. As always if you like this post, please share it with friends. I am very grateful when you do!