Healthy Snacks to Control Hunger
Trade in vending machine junk food for smart snacking choices that both satisfy your hunger and contribute to good health.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Snacking has become part of the American diet. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kids today snack twice as often as kids did 20 years ago. But snacking isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Smart snacking can be part of a healthy eating plan — it doesn't have to mean wolfing down junk food. Eating healthy snacks can help curb your hunger, keep you from overeating at mealtimes, and provide energy for your busy day.
"The key to healthy snacks is to plan them so that you are not snacking impulsively," says Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, clinical associate professor at Boston University. "You can use a healthy snack to add important nutrients you need in your diet and to keep you away from those empty calories at the vending machine."
Benefits of Healthy Snacks
The key to healthy snacking is picking healthy snack foods. "Choose foods that you need in your diet, like low-fat dairy products for calcium and vitamin D, and fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Studies show that Americans need more of these nutrients, and your snack is a good place to get them," says Blake. Healthy snacks can also:
Control hunger. Snacks that are high in fiber like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains make you feel full; therefore, you'll be less likely to overeat at mealtime.
Boost energy. Timing snacks throughout your day can keep you energized and alert.
Curb cravings. Planning a healthy snack during your day will help you avoid indulgences like a chocolate bar or chips.
Tips for Snacking
Strategizing your snacking habits will help you make smarter choices about what and when to eat. "You need to develop healthy eating habits around snacking just as you do with the rest of your diet. Mindless snacking should be avoided," warns Blake. Here are some additional smart snacking tips:
Control portions. Snacks should be kept to about 250 calories.
Consider timing. Blake recommends snacking when you’re hungry and need the energy, such as mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and avoiding after-dinner snacking.
Plan ahead. Make healthy snacks at home and bring them with you. Take along healthy beverages, too, so you won’t be tempted by soda.
Make the right selections. Healthy snacking requires healthy shopping. First, learn to read — and understand — the information on food labels. Just because a food says "all natural" doesn't mean it's good for you. “Natural” juice drinks can be filled with sugar, and an average granola bar gets 35 percent of its calories from fat.
Examples of Healthy Snacks
There are many healthy snack options available. "Try fortified yogurts, or mix some protein and fiber for a healthy snack. A slice of cheese on top of a slice of apple will give you protein for energy and fiber to fill you up. Another great choice is 100-calorie microwave popcorn. Popcorn is a filling, whole-grain snack," says Blake. Here are some other snacks that’ll please your palate:
Chopped raw vegetables with low-fat dip, dressing, or peanut butter
Bread sticks, whole-grain pretzels, or sliced pita bread with hummus or spicy mustard
Frozen fruit in an ice pop or blended into a smoothie
Homemade trail mix of whole-grain cereal with chopped nuts and dried berries
With these tips and the right planning, snacking can be both an enjoyable and nutritious part of your diet.