Snack It To 'Em
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
If you're feeling that afternoon urge to nibble, try these simple snacks that'll even satisfy the "hangriest" version of yourself.
When snacktime hits, it's hard to make the healthy choice. The candy dish on your co-worker's desk get awfully tempting. Suddenly, you're eleven tootsie rolls in and wishing you hadn't even started.
When you eat something high in added sugar, like candy, your blood sugar skyrockets. To handle that sugar spike, your body releases insulin. Unfortunately, it usually dumps quite a bit of insulin into your blood stream, which removes so much of the circulating glucose (sugars) that you later crash. If you've ever had a sugar-filled treat and 45 minutes later, feel even more ravenous, you know what I mean.
Fortunately, there are tasty and easy ways you can avoid the pitfalls of snacking, no matter what type of snacker you are. These snacks are also a big hit with my family, so rest assured that they're kid-tested, too.
I separated the snacks out into six categories. These are:
Snacks that keep your hunger at bay for a while,
Snacks that are super easy to prepare and eat,
Snacks that allow you to eat a lot of them,
Snacks that are a little bit different,
Snacks that provide a satisfying *crunch*, and of course,
Snacks that feed your sweet tooth.
If you want your snack to help you last until dinner...
...you'll need to find a nutrient-dense treat. Many people know that protein helps you feel fuller, longer. Yet, eating protein alone may still not help sustain your hunger. Pair it with some fiber, though, and you'll be able to ride that energy boost all the way until suppertime. Here are a few of my favorites:
* Nuts and fruit
Packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats (as well as other nutrients that can keep your risk for cardiovascular disease lower), nuts are the perfect, compact snack. Make sure you get dry roasted, unsalted nuts (or at least lightly salted, if you must) and remember that a little goes a long way. Just a handful of these babies constitute a serving. If you're afraid they'll go down too quickly, opt for something like pistachios, where you'll be forced to slow down to remove the shell. Pair your pistachios with some fresh fruit, like strawberries, or unsulphured dried fruit (apricots are a favorite of mine!), and you'll get the sugar in a ready-to-slowly-digest package. I happen to love the single-serving packs at Trader Joes, some of which include multiple types of nuts, or even seeds, like pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sunflower seeds.
* Legumes and veggies
You might not typically think about eating beans or seeds as a snack, but legumes actually house the energy to start the plants they grow, so they're packed with amazing nutrients and energy. Plus, you may not realize you already enjoy legumes. Hummus, the Mediterranean dip typically made with chickpeas, has been reimagined with tons of other beans and legumes, like black beans and edamame. Doll out a couple of tablespoons and grab your favorite veggies to enjoy with it. My favorite are carrots, cucumbers, radishes, and grape tomatoes (I'm considering them a veggie, though botanically, they're more of a fruit). Sabra makes a package of single-serving hummus containers that I've found at many major grocery retailers.
To make it easier on myself, I usually cut up at least four differently colored veggies and use a handy sectioned container to keep them fresh (see the pic above). We all snack off veggie trays at parties, so create a smaller, ready-to-eat smorgasbord and have a little party all by yourself.
I also love eating crunchy dried chickpeas, like those from The Good Bean. These can get pretty addicting, so be aware before you start snacking and apportion an ounce for yourself ahead of time!
If you want easy-peasy (lemon-squeezy), ...
...then it's time to go bananas. Or apples. No need to cherry pick. (I had to get that last one in there.) Nature's original grab-n-go snack, fruit comes pre-packaged in its own little wrapper, and travels surprisingly well. You've likely heard this one before, but since very few Americans get enough fruits and vegetables, it bears repeating. Fruit makes a SUPER-EASY and DELICIOUS snack.
You may have heard that fruit has a lot of sugar, and you're right. Fortunately, studies prove that your body handles sugars from whole fruit differently than sugars from processed foods, likely because the sugars in whole fruit are accompanied by fiber and other phytonutrients. In fact, a summary of three longitudinal studies (studies done over a longer period of time) demonstrates that fruit consumption actually reduces the risk of developing Type II Diabetes. The same can't be said about that candy bar.
If you're in it for volume...
Sometimes, you just want to feel like you've really eaten a large amount of something to satiate your hunger. If you find that boredom accompanies your snacking, or if you end up with your hand digging crumbs out of the bottom of an empty bag of chips, find a snack that lasts long enough for your brain to realize you're full. My go-to? Popcorn.
A serving of air-popped popcorn is an astonishing...wait for it...4-5 cups! That's one hefty snack! Even better, at somewhere around 130 calories, you're not inadvertently eating another meal between meals. I recommend buying this simple popcorn popper (it makes this process a cinch!); however, you can also just use a microwave-safe bowl and a plate on top, like this recipe from Delishably. Without the added salt and butter, you can basically eat your heart out. You might even get tired of eating it before your serving size is finished.
Is plain popcorn a little too...plain? Try topping it with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor. This might sound a little different -- I totally get it -- but it's delicious and nutritious AND it tastes cheesy. Plus, if you've eaten any vegan cheese-flavored snacks in the past, you've likely already eaten this and enjoyed it. Nutritional yeast is one of the few plant-based dietary sources of vitamin B12, which is essential for the body.
If you're willing to try something different, ...
...tons of cool options await. While not the same as eating fresh vegetables, try packing a package of pickled poppers (say that three times fast!) Stores like Trader Joes and World Market offer inexpensive alternatives to the standard unhealthy fare by helping you include some extra plant-foods into your diet. Two of my favorites are the snacking pickles from Rick's Picks (they also have TONS of other pickled options) and the Poshi Rosemary and Oregano Asparagus (you can order these online, too).
I also love these seaweed crisps, prepared with brown rice. Seaweed is an incredibly healthy food -- remember how healthy leafy greens are? Seaweed is sort of the oceanic-version of our land-based dark greens. It's also got a great umami (loosely translated as "savory" flavor), which may help you feel satisfied after eating a small snack. I typically steer away from the flavored varieties of dried seaweed, since many contain other additives and flavors that make it less than optimal.
If you just need something CHEWY or *CRUNCHY*, ...
...you'll probably reach for a granola or protein bar. Unfortunately, many of those bars add in a ton of sugar, so aside from the whole almonds, they're not much better than a Snickers.
If granola makes your life a little happier, try making your own. You'll be able to add in whatever treats your taste buds, but even more, you'll have the chance to control how much added sugar you include. I made this one with freeze-dried bananas (not banana chips, which have added sugar), golden raisins, pepitas, sunflower seeds, unsalted-roasted almonds (the pepitas have enough salt that you don't need more!), and an oatmeal square cereal. There's plenty of sweetness in this mix with the bananas, raisins, and even the cereal, while the nuts and seeds give you the crunch you need.
If making granola seems a little...earthy-crunchy to you, try looking for a store-bought bar that only includes recognizable ingredients, like RxBars.
And finally, if you just want something sweet, ...
...try a little nature's candy. I've been laughed at quite a few times when I suggest nature's candy over m&m's or chocolate chip cookies (you know who you are!). Yet, as you reduce your intake of processed sugar, you'll truly taste the sweetness of fruit and be reminded that fruit truly is a naturally delicious source of sugar.
If you feel like you really need some concentrated sweetness, no-sugar-added dried fruit is my go-to choice. Baby bananas are extra sweet, a little chewy, and scratch the candy itch perfectly. Eater-be-warned, they do, as my son so indelicately put it, look a tiny bit like shriveled fingers, but if you can get past that, you'll enjoy a satisfyingly sweet snack.
I also love Medjool dates. Often used as a replacement for sugar, dates already probably sweeten many of the sweet treats you already enjoy. In fact, since they aren't from the sugar cane plant, companies add date sugar or paste to cakes or cookies in order to claim, "no sugar added". For many trying to avoid unhealthy snacks, cakes and cookies just aren't an option, no matter what type of sugar is added.
Yet, in their whole form, dates are apparently metabolized differently and offer lots of nutritive value. Sure, they're loaded with sugar, but as it turns out, they're also loaded with antioxidant power and really good at lowering triglycerides. Contrary to what you might think, eating whole dates doesn't do the same thing to your body as eating things made with processed sugar. As luck would have it, eating dates really allows you to have your cake and eat it, too.
Try one or all of these for your healthy snacking options to see what works for you. Your needs change based on the time of day and the day of the week, too, so what your body craves on workdays might not be the same as what you nibble over the weekends. Find a few options, then make sure they're available for you to enjoy when you're hungry...and probably not making the most logical food decisions. Afterall, the best healthy snack is the healthy snack that works for you and your lifestyle.
The best healthy snack is the healthy snack that you'll actually enjoy eating.