For almost anyone trying to watch their weight, choosing healthy snacks can be a challenge.
Even though snacking has developed a "bad image," snacks are 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.
What Makes a Healthy Snack?
If you are not sure if a snack is healthy, read the Nutrition Facts label. If the calories coming from fat are more than half of the total calories, it is not a healthy choice.
Pay attention to the portion size given on the label. It’s easy to eat more than this amount. Avoid snacks that list sugar as one the first few ingredients.
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. Under 100 calories is a good guide.
Pick foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber and water. This means an apple is better than a bag of chips.
Aim for fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain snacks.
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.
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)
Fruit leather (dried fruit puree)
Carrots (regular carrots cut into strips, or baby carrots )
Snap peas (the pods are edible)
Nuts (but not too many)
Dry cereal (if sugar is not listed as one of the first 2 ingredients)
1/3 cup of grape nuts with 4 ounces of nonfat plain vanilla yogurt
8 ounce low-fat or nonfat yogurt
Toasted English muffin with jelly
Dozen baked potato chips
Air popped popcorn
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
1/4 cup hummus, 3 carrot sticks
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds in shell
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’s 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's 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
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc