For almost anyone trying to watch their weight, choosing healthy snacks can be a challenge.
Even though snacking has developed a "bad image," snacks can be an important part of your diet.
They can provide energy in the middle of the day or when you exercise. A healthy snack between meals can also decrease your hunger and keep you from overeating at meal time.
There are many snacks to choose from, and certainly not all snacks are healthy or will help you manage your weight. Try to limit the unhealthy snacks you bring into the house. If they are not available, you are more likely to make healthy choices.
What Makes a Healthy Snack?
If you are not sure if a snack is healthy, read the Nutrition Facts label, which provides information on serving size, calories, fat, sodium, and added sugars.
Pay attention to the serving size suggested on the label. It is easy to eat more than this amount. Never eat straight from the bag, but portion out an appropriate serving and put the container away before you start snacking. Avoid snacks that list sugar as one the first few ingredients. Nuts are a healthy snack, but the portion size is small, so if you snack straight from the bag, it is very easy to eat too many calories.
Other factors to think about:
- The size of the snack should reflect a good balance between enough calories to satisfy you, but still not too many to promote unwanted weight gain.
- Pick foods that are low in fat and added sugar and high in fiber and water. You will consume fewer calories but stay full for longer. This means an apple is a healthier snack than a bag of chips.
- Aim for fruits, vegetables, whole-grain snacks, and low-fat dairy.
- Limit foods and drinks that contain added sugar.
- Fresh fruit is a healthier choice than a fruit-flavored drink. Foods and drinks that list sugar or corn syrup as one of the first ingredients are not healthy snack choices.
- Pairing a protein with a carbohydrate will help the snack to keep you fullest for the longest. Examples include having an apple and string cheese, whole wheat crackers with peanut butter, carrots and hummus, or plain yogurt and fresh fruit.
Fruits and vegetables are good choices for healthy snacks. They are full of vitamins and low in calories and fat. Some whole-wheat crackers and cheeses also make good snacks.
Some examples of healthy snack components are:
- Apples (dried or cut into wedges), 1 medium or ¼ cup (35 grams)
- Bananas, 1 medium
- Raisins, ¼ cup (35 grams)
- Fruit leather (dried fruit puree) without added sugar
- Carrots (regular carrots cut into strips, or baby carrots ), 1 cup (130 grams)
- Snap peas (the pods are edible), 1.5 cups (350 grams)
- Nuts, 1 oz. (28 grams) (about 23 almonds)
- Whole-grain dry cereal (if sugar is not listed as one of the first 2 ingredients), ¾ cup (70 grams)
- Pretzels, 1 oz. (28 grams)
- String cheese, 1.5 oz.(42 grams)
- Low-fat or nonfat yogurt, 8 oz.(224 grams)
- Toasted whole-wheat English muffin
- Air popped popcorn, 3 cups (33 grams)
- Cherry or grape tomatoes, ½ cup (120 grams)
- Hummus, ½ cups (120 grams)
- Pumpkin seeds in shell, ½ cup (18 grams)
Other Tips to Keep in Mind
Put snacks in small plastic containers or bags so they are easy to carry in a pocket or backpack. Putting snacks in containers helps you eat the right size portion. Plan ahead and bring your own snacks to work.
Limit "junk-food" snacks like chips, candy, cake, cookies, and ice cream. The best way to keep from eating junk food or other unhealthy snacks is to not have these foods in your house.
It is OK to have an unhealthy snack once in a while. Never allowing any unhealthy snacks or sweets may result in sneaking these foods or over-indulging. The key is balance and moderation.
- Replace the candy dish with a fruit bowl.
- Store foods like cookies, chips, or ice cream where they are hard to see or reach. Put ice cream at the back of the freezer and chips on a high shelf. Move the healthier foods to the front, at eye level.
- If your family snacks while watching TV, put a portion of the food in a bowl or on a plate for each person. It is easy to overeat straight from the package.
If you are having a hard time finding healthy snacks that you want to eat, talk to a registered dietitian or your family's health care provider for ideas that will work for your family.
Weight-loss - snacks; Healthy diet - snacks
American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Smart snacking for adults and teens. www.eatrightpro.org/~/media/eatright%20files/nationalnutritionmonth/handoutsandtipsheets/nutritiontipsheets/smart-snacking-for-adults-and-teens.ashx. Accessed September 30, 2020.
Hensrud DD, Heimburger DC. Nutrition's interface with health and disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 202.
United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website. Food labeling & nutrition. www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition. Updated September 18, 2020. Accessed September 30, 2020.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Updated December 2020. Accessed December 30, 2020.
Review Date 8/20/2020
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.