For almost anyone trying to watch their weight, choosing healthy snacks can be a challenge.
Even though snacking has developed a "bad image," snacks can be an important part of your diet.
They can provide energy in the middle of the day or when you exercise. A healthy snack between meals can also decrease your hunger and keep you from overeating at meal time.
There are many snacks to choose from, and certainly not all snacks are healthy or help you manage your weight. Try not to bring unhealthy snacks into the house. If they are not available you will not be able to snack mindlessly.
What Makes a Healthy Snack?
If you are not sure if a snack is healthy, read the Nutrition Facts label.
Pay attention to the portion size given on the label. It is easy to eat more than this amount. Never eat straight from the bag, always portion out an appropriate serving and put the container away before you start snacking. Avoid snacks that list sugar as one the first few ingredients. Nuts are a healthy snack, but the portion size should be small and if you snack straight from the bag, it is very easy to eat too many calories.
Other factors to think about:
The size of the snack should be the right size, a good balance between enough calories to satisfy you, but still not too many.
Pick foods that are low in added fat and sugar and high in fiber and water. This means an apple is better than a bag of chips.
Aim for fruits, vegetables, whole-grain snacks, and low-fat dairy.
Naturally sweetened is better than foods and drinks that contain added sugar.
Fresh fruit is a healthier choice than a fruit-flavored drink. Foods and drinks that list sugar or corn syrup as one of the first ingredients are not healthy snack choices.
Pairing protein and carbohydrate will help the snack to keep you fullest for the longest. Examples include having apple and string cheese, whole wheat crackers with peanut butter, carrots and hummus, or plain yogurt and fresh fruit.
Fruits and vegetables are good choices for healthy snacks. They are full of vitamins and low in calories and fat. Some crackers and cheeses also make good snacks.
Some examples of healthy snacks are:
Apples (dried or cut into wedges), 1 medium or ¼ cup
Bananas, 1 medium
Raisins, ¼ cup
Fruit leather (dried fruit puree) without added sugar
Carrots (regular carrots cut into strips, or baby carrots ), 1 cup
Snap peas (the pods are edible), 1.5 cups
Nuts (but not too many,) 1 oz. (about 23 almonds)
Whole-grain dry cereal (if sugar is not listed as one of the first 2 ingredients), ¾ cup
Pretzels, 1 oz.
String cheese, 1.5 oz.
Low-fat or nonfat yogurt, 8 oz.
Toasted English muffin with jelly
Baked potato chips, 12
Air popped popcorn, 3 cups
Cherry or grape tomatoes, ½ cup
Hummus, ½ cups with 3 carrot sticks
Pumpkin seeds in shell, ½ cup
Other Tips to Keep in Mind
Put snacks in small plastic containers or bags so they are easy to carry in a pocket or backpack. Putting snacks in containers helps you eat the right size portion. Plan ahead and bring your own snacks to work.
Avoid junk-food snacks like chips, candy, cake, cookies, and ice cream. The best way to keep from eating junk food or other unhealthy snacks is to not have these foods in your house.
It is OK to have an unhealthy snack once in a while. Never allowing any unhealthy snacks or sweets may result in sneaking these foods. The key is balance and moderation.
Replace the candy dish with a fruit bowl.
Store foods like cookies, chips, or ice cream where they are hard to see or reach. Put ice cream at the back of the freezer and chips on a high shelf. Move the healthier foods to the front, at eye level.
If your family snacks while watching TV, put a portion of the food in a bowl or on a plate for each person. It is easy to overeat straight from the package.
If you are having a hard time finding healthy snacks that you want to eat, talk to a nutritionist or your family's health care provider for ideas that will work for your family
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010. Available at: www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/dietary_guidelines_for_americans/PolicyDoc.pdf. Accessed December 18, 2014.
Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.