Published on January 25, 2017

Go ahead. Have a snack

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 11/2 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

Fresh fruit
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 vegetables Carrots, 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 crackers Triscuit, 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.

Whole-grain chips
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.

Bean chips
Beanito chips or Tostitos Black Bean chips

1 ounce (9-12 chips)

140

Portion these out. High in fiber, low in sodium. 

Popcorn
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.

Snack bars
Kashi bars, Kind bars, That' It Fruit
Bars, Pressed Bars, Pressed Fruit Bars, Nature Valley Thins

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.