What Snacks are Healthy
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
To snack or not to snack that is the question? And what snacks are healthy? These questions have probably crossed your mind many times as you’ve reached for the fridge door after a long day at work or as you headed towards the pantry during a relaxing evening at home. Is there a right answer?
First, let’s define snacking.
Snacking is anytime you consume food or beverages between regular meals. However, the word snack often conjures up thoughts of fast food, high sugar, salt, and not particularly nutritious items. While I believe all foods can be eaten in moderation, I encourage consuming nutritious snacks over junk foods the majority of the time.
Is snacking recommended? Or is it better to have larger meals and avoid snacking?
As to whether or not snacking is recommended, that varies from person to person. Some bodies work best when they eat small, frequent snack-like meals to keep them going throughout the day. This is especially true for folks who have long days and go for several hours between their main meals. Other bodies do just fine having three square meals a day.
People who are very active typically need a snack after a workout. This is especially important for refueling the body with the carbohydrates and protein that it needs to rebuild.
How do you know if you need a snack?
If you typically feel ravenously hungry or get low blood sugar between main meals, it may make sense for you to include a small nutritious snack between meals to prevent these problems.
How many snacks should I have a day? And when should I have them (i.e. is snacking after dinner okay)?
Again, the answer to this question is the amount that is right for you so that you don’t feel too hungry or too full either. Typically you can include 2-3 small snacks per day as long as you adjust your portion size accordingly when time comes to eat your main meals.
There are various opinions about snacking at night. Most studies show that it does not affect weight or metabolic rate. However, if you are just snacking as a pastime and not because of hunger, then you really don’t need to eat. Also, for those with acid reflux, it is usually recommended that you don’t eat for a few hours before lying down. Those with Diabetes should check with your doctor or dietitian about the plan that is right to help control your blood sugar levels.
How to snack in One word: mindfully. Treat each snack as a mini meal by taking one serving and, if possible, putting it on a plate, says Marissa Lippert, a registered dietitian in New York City and the founder of Nourish, a nutrition-counseling company. She recommends keeping a salad plate in your desk drawer at work. Why? We tend to associate a clean plate with satisfaction and a feeling of fullness (something an empty 100-calorie–pack wrapper may not supply).
Also, don’t multitask when you eat; simply enjoy the flavors of the food. Try to apply this strategy at regular meals, too. A 2009 study conducted at the University of Birmingham, in England, showed that when you’re distracted during mealtime (watching old episodes of Mad Men, say), you may be more likely to over snack later on. “When we eat, we encode information about a meal, including the flavors, the textures, and how satisfied we feel, which is called a meal memory,” says Suzanne Higgs, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Birmingham and one of the study authors. So Don Draper might be preventing us from forming proper meal memories, says Higgs. That can trick our brains, leading us to pick later, even though we may not be physiologically hungry.
What foods should I snack on? And why?
Snacks should be enjoyable, easy to prepare, filling, and nutritious. Foods that are high in fiber, which contain carbohydrates for quick fuel, or which contain protein for satiety are good choices. Make it a habit to check the label (whenever possible) to get a better sense of the ingredients in the foods you are eating.
Here are Great Health Snack Examples:
Nuts are an ideal nutritious snack.
They’re linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and may help prevent certain cancers, depression, and other illnesses .
Despite being relatively high in fat, they are very filling. Several studies suggest that eating nuts in moderation can help you lose weight.
Nuts provide the perfect balance of healthy fat, protein, and fiber. They contain 180 calories in a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving, on average.
Because they don’t require refrigeration, they’re perfect for taking on the go.
Red bell pepper with guacamole
Red bell peppers are extremely healthy.
Although all bell peppers are nutritious, red varieties are particularly high in antioxidants like beta carotene, capsanthin, and quercetin.
They’re are also rich in vitamin C. In fact, 1 large red bell pepper contains over 300% of the daily value (DV) for this nutrient.
Pairing 1 large red bell pepper with 3 ounces (85 grams) of guacamole adds healthy fat and fiber while keeping this snack’s calorie count under 200.
Greek yogurt and mixed berries
Plain Greek yogurt and berries make a delicious, nutrient-dense snack
In addition to being a great source of calcium and potassium, Greek yogurt is also high in protein.
Berries are one of the best sources of antioxidants around. Eat a mixture of differently colored berries to get an array of these powerful compounds.
Combining 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of plain, full-fat Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup (50 grams) of mixed berries provides about 10 grams of protein and under 150 calories.
Apple slices with peanut butter
Apples and peanut butter taste fantastic together.
Apples are high in fiber and polyphenol antioxidants that improve gut health and reduce heart disease risk.
Peanut butter may have additional benefits for heart health. It has been shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.
That said, peanut butter is fairly high in calories. Although it generally hasn’t been linked to weight gain, it’s best consumed in moderation.
A medium apple with 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of natural peanut butter provides a nice balance of sweet flavor with crisp and creamy textures at under 200 calories.
Cottage cheese with flax seeds and cinnamon
Cottage cheese, flax seeds, and cinnamon each have impressive health benefits. Together, they’re incredibly healthy.
Cottage cheese is high in protein and very filling, and full-fat varieties boast conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid linked to health benefits.
Flax seeds are beneficial for weight loss and blood sugar control. They may also reduce breast cancer risk.
Cinnamon helps lower blood sugar and may improve gut health.
Here’s an easy recipe that provides about 15 grams of protein with fewer than 150 calories:
Cinnamon flax seed pudding
For this recipe, mix the following ingredients in a small bowl:
1/2 cup (80 grams) of cottage cheese
1 tablespoon (15 grams) of ground flax seeds
1/2 teaspoon (5 grams) of cinnamon
of stevia or other sweetener, if desired
Kale is incredibly healthy, as it’s loaded with fiber and antioxidants like quercetin and kaempferol.
These compounds decrease blood pressure and may reduce your risk of colon cancer (20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).
A 1-cup (67-gram) serving of raw kale provides more than 100% of the DV for vitamins A, C, and K.
This easy recipe for kale chips provides about 150 calories:
1 cup (67 grams) of bite-sized kale leaves
1 tablespoon (15 ml) of olive oil
1/4 teaspoons (1.5 grams) of salt
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Place kale pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F (175°C) for 10–15 minutes. Watch them closely, as they can easily burn.
Dark chocolate and almonds
Dark chocolate and almonds make a rich, satisfying, and portable snack.
Dark chocolate is loaded with flavanols that may lower blood pressure and reduce heart disease risk, provided the chocolate contains at least 70% cocoa solids.
Almonds are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and have beneficial effects on blood sugar control. Studies also show that they can reduce appetite and help you lose weight.
Both dark chocolate and almonds are high in magnesium. One ounce (30 grams) of each provides about 300 calories in total, depending on cocoa content.
Cucumber slices with hummus
Cucumber and hummus go well together.
Cucumbers contain cucurbitacin E, a compound that may have anticancer effects (27Trusted Source).
Hummus is made from chickpeas, olive oil, and garlic, which reduce inflammation and may improve heart health.
One cup (52 grams) of sliced cucumbers dipped in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of hummus has about 180 calories.
A piece of fruit
Healthy snacks don’t need to be complicated. Just a single piece of fruit can be incredibly satisfying.
Portable, easy-to-eat fruits include bananas, apples, pears, grapes, grapefruit, and oranges.
Cherry tomatoes with mozzarella
Tomatoes and mozzarella cheese are a flavor match made in heaven — and they’re healthy, too.
Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease.
Mozzarella is high in protein, calcium and vitamin B12. It may also decrease heart disease risk by raising your levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
One cup (149 grams) of cherry tomatoes paired with 2 ounces (60 grams) of mozzarella cheese has under 200 calories.
Chia seeds are loaded with fiber and can be included in all types of diets, including vegan and ketogenic diets.
They’re also high in antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and improve heart health.
Although they don’t have much flavor, chia seeds do take on an interesting, jelly-like consistency when soaked in liquid. This snack has fewer than 200 calories:
Chia seed pudding
1 tablespoon (15 grams) of chia seeds
1/3 cup (80 ml) of water
1 tablespoon (15 grams) of cocoa powder
1 tablespoon (15 grams) of peanut butter
of stevia or other sweetener, if desired
Combine chia seeds and water in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Stir in cocoa powder, peanut butter, and sweetener.
Eggs are one of the healthiest and most weight-loss-friendly foods you can eat.
They pack plenty of protein, as well as vitamins K2 and B12.
Eggs are incredibly filling and may reduce the number of calories you eat for many hours, which should help you lose weight.
Although their high cholesterol content gave them a bad reputation for years, more recent studies suggest that moderate egg intake doesn’t have any effect on your risk of heart disease.
Two large, hard-boiled eggs contain about 140 calories and 13 grams of protein.
Baby carrots with blue cheese dressing
Carrots are among the best sources of carotenoids, including beta carotene, which your body can convert into vitamin A.
The carotenoids in carrots may reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and cataracts.
It’s a good idea to pair carrots with a creamy salad dressing or dip because fat increases your absorption of carotenoids.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of baby carrots with 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of blue cheese dressing provides about 200 calories.
A piece of cheese
Cheese is a delicious food that’s filling enough to be a snack on its own.
Although cheese is high in saturated fat, its role in heart disease is unclear. Some studies suggest that saturated fat doesn’t raise your risk of heart disease.
Additionally, studies show that up to two servings of cheese per day don’t raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, even in people with elevated levels.
A 2-ounce (60-gram) serving of cheese provides about 14 grams of protein and 200 calories.
Healthy beef jerky or beef sticks
Beef jerky or beef sticks make great high-protein, portable snacks. That said, it’s important to choose the right type.
Some jerkies are loaded with sugar and preservatives. Beef sticks generally don’t contain sugar, but many are made from low-quality meat and contain other questionable ingredients.
Look for jerky and beef sticks made from grass-fed beef, with as few added ingredients as possible. Grass-fed beef contains more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef.
Most beef jerkies and sticks contain about 7 grams of protein per ounce (28 grams). A wide variety is available online.