Improve mood, boost energy, and satisfy cravings with these healthy snacks recommended by our registered dietitians.
September 10, 2009
1 of 12Becky Luigart-Stayner
Chocolate Hazelnut Bark
Science says snacking is good for you. The 5,000-subject-strong National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that people who ate snacks in addition to three meals a day had higher levels of nutrients in their diets.
Smart Homemade Snack: Dark chocolate with nuts (139 calories)
Benefits: Chocolate contains polyphenols and flavonoids, two types of antioxidants shown to help prevent damage caused by cholesterol in arteries.
Don't deny yourself. When Belgian researchers told 68 women to either enjoy or refuse their favorite snack, the refusers ate more of the forbidden snack once they were given the green light a day later. Sensible snacking helps you avoid bingeing.
Smart Choice: Baked brie with nuts and cranberries, plus whole-wheat crackers for dipping (188 calories)
Benefits: Warm, gooey brie satisfies a craving for creamy foods. Dried cranberries add antioxidants, and walnuts contribute heart-healthy fats and a nutty crunch.
Portion size matters, especially with some nutrient-rich, yet calorically dense snacks, such as almonds. Research has shown snackers will eat more if a larger portion is offered to them, so don't plop down on the sofa with a bag of snacks and tell yourself you'll stop at just a few. Measure out a serving, and enjoy.
Smart Homemade Snack: Almonds roasted with oil and spices (111 calories)
Benefits: Studies have shown that consuming small amounts of nuts regularly has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease. Plus antioxidants contained in the skin of whole almonds may play a role in reducing oxidative stress as well as LDL cholesterol.
When you can't make your own snacks, shop wisely. Read nutrition labels, and opt for snacks with a shorter list of ingredients (with words you can pronounce). Not all packaged snacks are created equal, so our registered dietitians tested a bunch and chose their top picks for taste and nutrition.
Benefits: Satisfyingly crunchy and slightly sweet, contain just seven ingredients: peanuts, almonds, brown rice syrup, pecans, organic sugar, and sea salt. One serving has 170 calories, 11 grams of "good" fat, and just 75 milligrams of sodium.
5 of 12Becky Luigart-Stayner
In 2008, 190 new 100-calorie-pack products hit the market. They're great because they help satisfy cravings for tempting foods with smart portions. But not all are equally good for you. Here's one our registered dietitians approved as a good choice.
Benefits: Most of these muffin soft tops have about 100 calories, 4 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and all flavors are trans fat free.
6 of 12Becky Luigart-Stayner
Fresh fruit is a no-brainer when it comes to healthful snacks. But it's easy to get stuck in the rut of buying the same fruits again and again. Avoid this habit by shopping for what's in season now. You'll enjoy ephemeral flavors plus nutritional variety as your choices change naturally throughout the year.
RD-Approved Store-Bought Snack: Whole fruit, in season
Benefits: A great source of fiber, whole fruit helps keep you feeling fuller longer. But don't drink your fruit. When Purdue researchers gave 20 people an apple, applesauce, or apple juice, those who drank their snack were the quickest to report being hungry.
7 of 12Becky Luigart-Stayner
Snack packs are big business. But not all 100-calorie treats are nutritional powerhouses. If you want something that satisfies, saves money, and offers a nutritional boost, make your own pre-portioned snacks. Here are a few of our dietitians' top suggestions.
Benefits: Popcorn has a lot of bulk for its calories, so it helps fill you up. Plus, 3½ cups contains one of your three recommended daily servings of whole grains.
8 of 12Becky Luigart-Stayner
Olives deliver big flavor, yet they're relatively low in calories (one serving of five kalamata olives contains about 25 calories). The olive bar at some supermarkets typically offers a variety, so try different types to mix things up.
100-Calorie Snack: 1 1/3 ounces pitted olives
Benefits: This fruit satisfies a salty craving and supplies a decent amount of heart-healthy fats.
9 of 12Becky Luigart-Stayner
Hummus with Carrots
This popular Middle Eastern treat is easy to find in most grocery stores and a perfect dip for many fresh veggies. Typically made with chickpeas, as in our Traditional Hummus recipe, it can also be made with soybeans, black-eyed peas, or other healthful legumes.
100-Calorie Snack: ¼ cup hummus with 4 carrot sticks
Benefits: Five grams of filling fiber mean you won't go hungry for a while.
10 of 12Becky Luigart-Stayner
Are you more inclined to snack in particular moods? Choosing foods with certain nutrients may give you a boost that junk food won't deliver. Here are a few of our RDs' picks.
Mood-Boosting Snack: ½ cup shelled edamame (100 calories)
Benefits: Folate-rich foods like edamame may even out moods: In a few small studies, people with higher levels of folate in their systems reported less mood variability.
11 of 12Becky Luigart-Stayner
Bagel with Peanut Butter
Watch out for low-fat claims. Low-fat does not necessarily mean low-calorie. The label can give you a sense of false security, setting off over-eating. Treat low-fat foods like any others, and enjoy them in moderation. And remember, in some cases, such as peanut butter, the reduced-fat version is not necessarily healthier.
Mood-Boosting Snack: Half a 100% whole-grain bagel with 1 tablespoon peanut butter (240 calories)
Benefits: Carbohydrates trigger the release of feel-good chemicals. Pick quality carbs, like whole grains with fiber, for a longer-lasting high.
12 of 12Becky Luigart-Stayner
Eating a snack with protein rather than just carbs can help curb hunger, keeping daily calories in check. Good options include an ounce of nuts or a small low-fat yogurt.
Mood-Boosting Snack: 8 ounces of low-fat plain yogurt (140 calories)
Benefits: Several studies link vitamin B12 deficiency to depression. While it's not an antidepressant, B12-rich low-fat yogurt might help lift a bad mood, and its live bacteria are your friends.