As a nutritionist counseling on healthy eating and weight management, I am often asked by clients how to choose better snack foods. Let’s face it, most of us don’t just eat three meals a day without any additional snacks or treats. And snacking can be a good practice if you make the right choices. It can even be a great way to boost your intake of fruits and vegetables as well as important nutrients such as protein and fiber, which so many people fall short of.
Good Snack Food Choices Can
Offer Important Nutritional Benefits
What matters most is to eat real food instead of processed sugary, fatty or salty junk. Keep your servings calorie-controlled, aim for the most nutritious items, and get protein- and fiber-rich snacks to help you feel full longer and stabilize your blood sugar.
Here are some suggestions for what to reach for if you get a “snack attack.”
Hummus and veggies
Hummus and raw vegetables for dips make great snacks. Get a good dose of colorful varieties, including carrots, red and yellow peppers. All veggies are great choices. Hummus contains protein, which can help keep you feel full. Aim for around a quarter cup serving of hummus and as many fresh veggies as you like.
Greek yogurt with fresh berries
Greek yogurt is a good source calcium and protein. Choose the low-fat styles with fewer calories. Sprinkle your favorite berries on top for antioxidants and fiber.
Most soups are good snack choices. They are filling and take a while to eat. And because most of us eat soup sitting down, they are usually consumed more mindfully than snacks from a bag. The best kinds are veggie-based soups like minestrone, white bean, and lentil soup. There is one caveat, though: Ready-made soups or soups served in restaurants often contain high amounts of sodium, which is known to be detrimental to heart health.
Part-skim cheese and whole grain crackers
Even cheese and crackers can make for healthy snack food. Cheese contains protein and calcium, while whole-wheat crackers offer fiber content. Appropriate portions are around an ounce of each. An ounce of cheese is one slice, or if it is cubed, looks like four dice. Check the nutrition facts labels on the cracker boxes to determine how many crackers constitute a one-ounce serving. Also, make sure the first ingredient is whole grain – such as whole wheat, rye, or oats.
Sliced apple with almond butter
Like most fruit, apples are great snack choices – high in fiber and low in calories. Add some almond butter (approximately 1 tablespoon) for a serving of good fat and fiber, which will keep you full and help keep in-between-meals hunger pangs at bay.
Mixed nuts and vegetable juice
This is a great snack idea, especially when you are pressed for time. Low-sodium vegetable juice (such as V8) is filling and contains many important nutrients, including potassium and vitamin C. Nuts contain healthy fats along with protein and fiber. Keep your portions to about a quarter cup or one layer on your palm. A quarter cup serving equals roughly the size of a golf ball.
Frozen banana and peanut butter
This is a yummy snack to keep in your freezer if you are craving a frozen treat. Peel a banana and spread peanut butter on it (no more than 1 tablespoon), place the combo in a bag, and put it in the freezer. The banana contains fiber and potassium, and the peanut butter has heart-healthy fats.
The good news about popcorn is that it is a whole grain, unlike pretzels and chips. A serving of popcorn is about 3 cups. To avoid unnecessary amounts of calories and fat, stick to air-popped popcorn. Feel free to drizzle it with parmesan cheese, garlic, or your favorite spice.
Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, CDN is an adjunct professor of nutrition in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University (NYU). She is the author of “The Portion Teller Plan” (Broadway, a Division of Random House, Inc.).
Widely considered an expert on portion sizes, Dr. Young is regularly featured in national publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Self, Fitness, Redbook, and Glamour. She has appeared as an expert guest on national television, including ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, TODAY and CNN, and was featured in the film “Super Size Me.” For more information, please visit http://www.portionteller.com
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