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By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.
Choosing healthy snacks is more important than ever in our culture because very few of us eat sit-down meals. Often we race through each day without much thought about when or what we will eat.
More than nine out of 10 American adults snack at least once a day. Eight out of 10 snack at least twice a day, and six out of 10 snack three or more times a day.
Snacks are an important part of a healthy eating plan, if meals are more than six hours apart. Our bodies have small gas tanks that need to be refueled several times a day. Going more than six hours without eating when we’re not sleeping sets us up for feeling starved.
When we get really hungry, we cannot make a healthy choice. We get sucked into buying the candy bar in the store’s checkout line, driving through the fast-food restaurant, hitting the vending machine for a bag of chips or candy or taking extra-large portions at our next meal.
Make a plan to have healthy snacks available. Pack snacks to take with you if you will not be home for several hours. Put healthy snacks in a convenient place at home. Keep a list posted in the kitchen of snacks available for you and other family members. Pre-measure and pack healthy items in snack-size baggies, so they’re easy to grab and you can keep the calories in check.
My definition of a healthy snack is:
- 50-200 calories
- A whole fruit or vegetable
- Contains whole grain, if a cracker, chip, cereal or bread-type product
- Contains beans or lentils
- A nut or seed that doesn’t have a dressing or is not candy-coated
- Low in saturated fat; less than 2 grams per serving
- Low in added sugar; less than 1½ teaspoons of added sugar or 7 grams. (Natural sugar in dairy products, fruits and vegetables aren’t included even though their sugar will be listed on the label.)
With so many snack products available, it can be very confusing when trying to choose a healthy option. A great cellphone app called “Fooducate” can help. Scan a product’s barcode, and the app offers a grade of A, B, C or D. It also explains the grade, such as whether it contains a whole grain or added sugar. The app will even offer names of “alternative” products that may be better. “Fooducate” is maintained by registered dietitians.
Here are a few ideas for healthy snacks:
|Snack||Portion size||Calorie range||Comments|
Banana, apple, orange, clementine, pear, grapes, berries
|1 each or 16 grapes or 1 cup berries||50-110||Whole fruits have no added sugar and are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Frozen grapes are a great treat.|
|Fresh vegetablesCarrots, snap peas, jicama, fresh bell pepper, cherry tomatoes||1 cup||25-50||Whole vegetables have no added sugar and are loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Eat with hummus dip found in the produce case.|
|Whole-grain crackersTriscuit, Hint of Salt Wheat Thins, Crunchmaster crackers||1 ounce is 6-16 crackers||120-140||Portion these out. Loaded with whole grains that are high in important minerals and antioxidants. Serve with hummus instead of cheese.|
Food Should Taste Good multigrain chips
|1 ounce (about 10 chips)||140||High in whole grain, low in sodium and gluten free. Serve with lower sodium salsa or hummus.|
Beanito chips or Tostitos Black Bean chips
|1 ounce (9-12 chips)||140||Portion these out. High in fiber, low in sodium.|
Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt or Skinny Pop popcorn
|3-4 cups||100-140||Whole grain, high in fiber. Includes good fats and low in sodium. Some microwave popcorns are too high in sodium and bad fats.|
|Light string cheese||1 each||60-80||Low in saturated fat, high in protein and calcium.|
|Fat-free or low-fat yogurts. Light or Greek yogurts are lower in sugar.||5-ounce cup||80-140||Greek yogurt is high in protein. Light yogurts have less added sugar. High in calcium.|
Kashi bars, Kind bars, That’s It Fruit
|1 each||90-200||Convenient. Grains used are whole grain. Very little added sugars.|
|Nuts (undressed)Almonds, peanuts, mixed nuts||¼ cup||150-180||Choose lightly salted if available. High in the good fats and have protein.|
So go ahead, have a snack. Just be mindful to make it a healthy choice!