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Healthy Snack Foods


QUESTION:

I've noticed that most of my calories come from snacks.  Can you recommend some quick, filling, and low-calorie snacks?

ANSWER:

I can provide some ideas on good nutritious snacks, but if you are relying on your snacks for most of your caloric intake, then your diet may be in more need of help than your choices for snack food.  Nutritious snack foods are a great way to provide energy and nutrients until your next meal, but it's difficult to get a well-rounded diet from snack-type foods alone.  Make sure that you are consuming enough calories during your meal times.  Your meals should provide enough calories and "staying power" (i.e., satiety) to get you at least 3 hours along before hunger strikes.  Combining healthy carbohydrates and fats, along with protein, can offer lasting satiety.

The same goes for nutritious snack foods.  Use some combination of healthy carbohydrates (e.g., whole grain products, fruits & vegetables), fat and protein to provide nutrients along with satiety.  Prior to choosing snacks, take a look at your current diet.  A good evaluation of your intake can reveal any nutrient shortages that you may be experiencing.  For instance, if you frequently fall short in the area of calcium, then snack choices such as low-fat yogurt, apple slices with low-fat cheese, or a soymilk shake would be good choices to balance out your nutrient intake.

The main key to keeping the calorie level of your snack at a reasonable level is to monitor the portion size of your snack.  For instance, pre-sorting snack foods such as almonds or walnuts into small baggies containing 1 oz portions ensures that you're getting an appropriate amount with little hassle.  Above all, choose healthy snacks that you enjoy eating!  The following suggestions will provide a starting point for you to choose from.

Mix and match the following dippers and spreads/toppings.

Dippers
Food Item Serving Size KCal
Whole Wheat Crackers (no trans-fats) 5 crackers 60
Celery Sticks 2 large stalks 20
Carrots 1 large 31
Green/Red/Yellow Bell Pepper Strips 1 medium 32
Whole Wheat Pita Triangles 2 oz 150
Sliced Apples or Pears 1 medium 80 - 100
Small Whole Wheat Tortilla 2 oz 140
Sliced Cucumbers 1 medium 40
     
Spreads / Toppings
Food Item Serving Size KCal
Hummus 4 Tbsp 90
Low-fat Plain Yogurt mixed with Salsa ½ cup 75
Low-fat Yogurt (plain or mixed with fruit) ½ cup 75 - 110
Natural Peanut Butter (no trans-fat) 2 Tbps 200
Mashed avocado 3.5 oz 220
Low-fat Cheese 1 oz 50 - 90
Unsweetened Apple Sauce ½ cup 55
Low-fat Cottage Cheese ½ cup 80

Note:  Kcals are provided as an estimate and will vary slightly depending on brand and type.


Here are a few other options:

  • Nuts and seeds are convenient and offer fiber, minerals, vitamin E and healthy fats (mono-unsaturated fats). Walnuts even contain omega-3 fatty acids – essential fatty acids that are deficient in our modern diets! Aim for one small handful per day.

  • Smoothies are a great way to pack in your calcium and fruit servings. Use calcium fortified soymilk or non-fat milk, along with your choice of fruit (fresh or frozen), non-fat yogurt and/or non-fat dry milk to boost protein. Ground flaxseed or wheat germ is a great addition. Canned smoothies are now available and can be toted to work or school. Watch out for the sugar content at smoothie chains!

  • Oatmeal topped with raisins is a great option in colder weather. Pre-packaged packets make them portable and easy - all you need is some hot water!

  • High-fiber dry cereal mixed with dried fruit is also a convenient, portable snack option. Choose cereals that are low in sugar and high in fiber.

    You can never go wrong with any type of fruit or fruit salad (banana, orange, strawberries, watermelon, etc.). Top it with yogurt for a calcium/protein boost.

  • Small whole-wheat bran muffins are packed with nutrients and fiber. Choose brands without trans-fats or make your own in bulk and freeze in snack bags for later use. Monitor serving size and cut in half if large is your only option.

  • There are many protein energy bars on the market today. These are convenient and portable – just be careful in choosing, as many are high in calories. Look for brands with high fiber and low sugar.


The options for nutrient-rich, low-calorie snacks are endless.  Be creative and enjoy the search for ones that fit your lifestyle and tastes.  Happy eating!

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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