Have you dropped all snacking in your efforts at healthy eating? If so, you may want to reconsider. Smart snacks can be one of the most powerful tools in your nutrition arsenal — and skipping them may backfire. “Snacks can help maintain healthy energy and blood sugar levels,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, director of wellness and coaching for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Enterprise. “When those fall, we tend to make quick, sometimes unhealthy choices just to feel better quickly.” What’s more, says Jamieson-Petonic, snacks also give you an extra opportunity to fit more good-for-you foods into your day.
Below, 10 toss-in-your-purse, pack-in-your-gym-bag snacks that will boost your health and stave off hunger from breakfast till bedtime.
Fruit is the ideal way to satisfy a sweet tooth, and the portability of grapes makes them a perfect choice for on-the-go eating. What’s more, they are are packed with the compound resveratrol, which may play a role in heart health and cancer prevention (while all grapes contain some, red and black grapes pack the most). Bag up a bunch and leave them in the freezer overnight; remove when you’re ready to head out for the day. Depending on when you eat them, the grapes will range from icy to pleasantly chilled.
Fruit and nut bar
Prepping a snack for the road doesn’t have to take much time — but with a premade bar, it takes no time at all. A new breed of bars with few ingredients other than dried fruit and nuts makes planning ahead a no-brainer. That dynamic duo gives you a hit of protein and fiber, which is an unstoppable force when it comes to rescuing you from blood sugar swings. Just follow Jamieson-Petonic’s criteria when shopping: “Look for bars that contain ingredients that you can pronounce and are familiar with — foods your grandma would recognize.”
String cheese and whole-grain crackers
This is the ideal snack for days when you know you’re going to need something before lunch — while cheese should always be refrigerated, it’ll hold up in your bag for up to four hours just fine. Paired with whole-grain crackers, you get the one-two punch of fiber and protein, which will help you feeling satisfied until lunchtime. Plus, one low-fat mozzarella stick provides about 20 percent of your daily calcium — a nutrient that most adults aren’t getting enough of, according to government research.
This lunchtime sandwich staple may not seem like an “on-the-go” snack. But a one- to two-tablespoon dollop of peanut butter in a small container fits neatly in your bag and makes a perfect pick-me-up paired with a piece of fresh fruit (apple slices are especially good) from your work cafeteria or corner store. The combo of protein, fiber and fat in peanut butter is incredibly satiating, and measuring it out beforehand gives you all-important portion control. Just look for peanut butters that contain only one thing: peanuts (and maybe a little salt). Some contain unnecessary ingredients like palm oil and trans fat, says Jamieson-Petonic.
All types of nuts are packed with filling protein and fiber and are therefore snack-worthy. But in-shell pistachios come with an extra bonus — the shells provide a natural speed bump, which keeps you from scarfing and gives your stomach a chance to feel full before you reach for seconds. “You have to do a little work to get these yummy treats,” says Jamieson-Petonic. Pistachios are also a good source of the vitamin B6, which helps with protein metabolism, and they are among the lowest-calorie nuts — 170 per one-ounce serving, which is roughly 49 nuts.
Move over, pretzels. If it’s a salty, crunchy snack you crave, popcorn is the way to go. Not only is it a whole grain, but it’s also a high-volume food, meaning you get a generous portion for just a few calories (a three-cup serving of air-popped kernels has only 93 calories). “Popcorn is a good source of carotene antioxidants and dietary fiber,” says Jamieson-Petonic. Jazz it up with your favorite herbs, spices, hot sauces, and more — each adds unique disease-fighting antioxidants.
DIY trail mix
With ingredients like banana chips, over-sweetened dried fruit and chocolate-covered raisins, healthful-sounding trail mix can be a calorie bomb. But do it yourself and you have the opportunity to make it light, delicious and packed with nutrients. Try this formula: half a cup of fiber-rich cereal, two tablespoons of nuts and two tablespoons of dried fruit. Bran-flake-almond-cherry crunch, anyone?
Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, are a filling food, thanks to their high levels of protein and fiber. They’re also rich in heart-healthy folate. And while you may have seen them before as the starring ingredient in hummus and a staple on the salad bar, just a little bit of preparation turns them into a stellar snack. First, rinse and drain a can of chickpeas. Pat dry with a paper towel and spread onto a cookie sheet in one layer. Toss with one tablespoon of canola oil and roast at 400°F for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing every five minutes until crispy. Season with a bit of salt and your favorite spices.
Not only is tuna an excellent source of protein (three ounces has 22 grams), it also provides a dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, says Jamieson-Petonic. Newer snack packs that pair seasoned tuna with crackers make this fish an easy, shelf-stable on-the-go snack. Trust us — you’ll never miss the mayo.
This lean jerky — along with those made from fish or even vegetarian products like tofu or seitan — can make a surprisingly healthy snack. It provides your body with lean protein and a satisfying savory texture and taste. Just be aware that most jerkies are packed with salt and are best avoided if you have high blood pressure or are watching your sodium intake for any other reason. And if you do choose one as a snack, be sure to balance with low-sodium choices throughout the rest of the day.