Article from Lindsay Martin, MS, RDN, LDN |
As the popularity of snacks has increased among Americans, so has the variety of snack choices, with more and more brands filling store shelves.
All of that variety can be overwhelming for a snack fan, especially when you’re looking to make snack time healthy. Here’s what you should be looking for when selecting a healthy snack, and a few tasty options to try.
What Is a ‘Healthy’ Snack?
Snacks are “mini meals” that provide nutritional value and keep you satisfied in between breakfast, lunch and dinner. They should provide fewer calories than meals—around 125 to 250 calories depending on your caloric needs—and should help fill nutrient gaps.
Are you not sure what nutrients you might be lacking? The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identifies four nutrients that are under-consumed by Americans of all ages. These include calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber.
Good snack options should include foods that provide some of these nutrients, such as milk and dairy foods for calcium and vitamin D, fruit and vegetables for potassium, and whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds for fiber.
How Many Snacks Should You Eat Daily?
There is no hard and fast rule for how many snacks you should consume a day, as it really depends on your caloric needs. Someone who eats 1,600 calories per day may need one or two snacks per day, while someone who eats 2,000 calories per day may need two or three.
As a registered dietitian, I recommend taking a few days to write down when you eat snacks, how hungry you are (on a scale from 1 to 10) when you eat those snacks and how many hours you go between meals. If you find you’re extremely hungry, ranging from 7 to 10 on the hunger scale, it’s probably a good time to snack. If you find yourself going more than four to five hours between meals, it’s a good idea to munch on a snack between those meals as well.
Once you have identified where snacks belong throughout your day and how many snacks work for you, it’s time to select healthy snack options. Try to make your snack options balanced with a protein option and a fiber option to hold you over until the next meal and to pack it with plenty of nutrition. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Fruits like pears and apples contain fiber, especially if you eat the skin, and nuts or nut butter are packed with a mix of plant-based protein, healthful fats, and fiber, so they do a great job of satisfying your appetite while managing blood sugar. Almost any seasonal fruit provides similar benefits and seeds like pumpkin or sunflower seeds can be a good swap for nuts as well.
- Popcorn is a whole grain and if you’re craving something crunchy this high-fiber whole grain is the ultimate snack. It's inexpensive, easy to prepare, and packs the perfect crunch. Whole grain snacks like popcorn not only boost your fiber intake, but also add vitamins and minerals like B vitamins and iron. Replacing refined grains with whole grains may also lower cholesterol, specifically low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides. When buying it in the bag (or box), look for options lower in added sugar (<4g per serving) and sodium (<200mg per serving) and use plant-based oils instead of butter for flavor.
- Trail mix is another favorite because it can be packed with all your favorites and is easy to grab and go! Add in some almonds, pistachios or even walnuts. A recent study showed walnut eaters may have lower rates of depression and other research suggests they may improve your mood. While all nuts (and seeds) make a healthy snack, walnuts stand out because they're the only tree nut that is an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. They also contain fiber and protein, providing all that you need to stay satisfied between meals.
- Greek yogurt with berries, granola, chia seeds and flax seeds on top – and yes, this snack includes calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber, some of those nutrients we commonly are deficient in.
- Pair hummus; a healthy fat and protein source with sliced veggies like carrots, cucumbers, celery, bell peppers and zucchini, or sliced whole grain pita which are all packed with fiber and vitamins and minerals.
Find snacks packed with nutrition and can balance them to fuel your day! Happy snacking!