Did you know that making simple changes to the way you eat could help you live longer and make those years far more vibrant and enjoyable? Eating foods that are good for you may be easier than you may think! Fill your kitchen with these Mediterranean-inspired snacks that will fill you up and keep you looking and feeling great. Here, 11 healthy snacks to try:
#1 Chickpeas roasted with olive oil, salt and paprika
It is possible to have a satisfyingly crunchy and salty snack without reaching for a bag of chips. Make your own spiced, roasted chickpeas: Rinse, drain and pat dry two cans of chickpeas. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet, and drizzle them with olive oil. Roast in a hot oven until dark and crunchy, 30 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and paprika to taste, and roast a few minutes more. Chickpeas and olive oil are staples of the Mediterranean diet; the beans are rich in fiber, and olive oil delivers heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. (And even your favorite picky eater will love them.)
#2 Baked sweet potato fries made with olive oil
Not all comfort food is bad for you. Sweet potatoes are a nutritional powerhouse — so much so that the nutrition scientists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) rank the orange tuber number-one in good-for-you vegetables. The reason? For starters, they’re loaded with carotenoids, antioxidants that have been associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Sweet potatoes are also chock-full of fiber, which helps keep their glycemic index lower than all other root vegetables. Indulge guilt-free by making baked sweet potato fries. Slice potatoes length-wise into half-inch-wide blocks. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper (you can also add other spices, like cayenne pepper or basil), and lay in a single layer on a foil-covered cookie sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, flipping them every 10 minutes.
If you love tart apples or foods that make you pucker, pick up a pint of kumquats next time you’re at the supermarket. About an inch tall, the citrusy fruit looks like a miniature orange. The only difference is, you eat the whole thing, rind and all. You can swallow the seeds or spit them out (depending on your company). While the fruit’s skin is sweet, the interior pulp packs a mouth-puckering zing. One serving of kumquats (about seven of them) has 90 calories, 9 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. It will also give you your day’s worth of vitamin C, plus a moderate amount of vitamin A, calcium and iron. Unlike your typical juicy orange, kumquats make for a mess-free on-the-go snack. Eat alone; slice and add to a salad with goat cheese, chopped apples, dried cranberries and nuts; or chop and add to a mango salsa that you can serve over salmon.
#4 Plain Greek yogurt
Looking for a healthful, creamy snack? Look no further than Greek yogurt. Unlike regular plain yogurt, Greek yogurt is thick, rich and tangy. It tastes delicious with fresh or dried fruit or cinnamon added, and Greek yogurt is a protein powerhouse. A six-ounce container of one brand, Fage 0% fat yogurt, contains 18 grams of protein (the amount you’ll get in three eggs, but with none of the saturated fat or cholesterol). Not only is it a terrific stand alone snack, it’s also one of our favorite additions to a variety of meals, like a topping for a spicy black bean and brown rice burrito. Yum!
#5 Dried apples
There’s no bad apple in this bunch! According to a study presented at the annual Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology meeting, women who snacked on dried apples every day earned a bushel of heart-healthy benefits. Those who ate 240 calories worth of dried apples for a year lowered their “lousy” LDL cholesterol by 23 percent. It also reduced levels of C-reactive protein and lipid hydroperoxide — two substances linked with an increased risk of heart disease. Women who grazed on the dried fruit also whittled their waist, losing an average of 3.3 pounds over the course of the year. Since the average 140-pound woman gains 1.3 pounds per year, that’s like shaving almost five pounds off your frame, just by eating apples. Although the reason for this effect is not exactly known, apples are a great source of fiber, which can both fill you up and whisk cholesterol out of your bloodstream. They also contain chemicals called polyphenols, which have been shown to affect the way cholesterol is made in the body, as well as how fat around the middle is affected. Just remember to choose the unsweetened variety. If you prefer to make your own, slice your apples paper-thin using a mandoline. Arrange them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired. Put them in the oven for up to two hours at 200 degrees. Depending on how thick your apple slices are, they may brown quickly, so keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn. The apple chips, slightly chewy when removed from the oven, will turn crispy as they cool.
Looking for a snack that’s filling and kind to your waistline? Treat yourself to a handful of pistachios — the so-called skinny nut. Out of all nuts, pistachios have the fewest calories — just 160 per one-ounce serving (about 50 nuts). This “skinny nut” is also packed with the same antioxidants found in other nuts such as walnuts and almonds. A new USDA study found that the fat in pistachios may not be completely absorbed by the body, which means they could have even less than 160 calories per serving. More research is needed to tell for sure. Still, because you have to pry them out of their shells, pistachios take longer to eat than other snacks and tend to discourage overeating. In fact, research shows that snackers consume 41 percent fewer calories when eating pistachios over other, already-shelled nuts. The ever-growing pile of discarded shells also helps us better visualize how much we’ve already eaten, so we’ll be less likely to mindlessly devour the entire bag.
#7 Medjool dates
Got a serious sweet tooth? You don’t need a brownie or candy bar to get your sugar fix. Indulge in a couple of Medjool dates instead. These large, moist delicacies are tender and sticky with a sweet caramel taste. A two-date snack (which, believe us, is all you’ll need) will set you back about 140 calories. One serving packs 4 grams of fiber and 10 percent of your daily potassium needs. And, despite their sugar content, antioxidant-rich dates do not appear to have negative effects on triglycerides or blood sugar levels, according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Eat them alone, or add them, chopped, to a salad with kumquats and goat cheese for a sweet-tart flavor combination.
#8 Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which the body uses to manufacture serotonin, a hormone associated with improved mood and sleep. Roast them yourself by buying raw pumpkin seeds (sometimes called pepitas), spreading them on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzling with olive oil and seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper. Bake in a 350-degree oven for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Snack on a handful of them in mid-morning or during the afternoon. Or sprinkle pumpkin seeds on yogurt, over salads, or on top of baked sweet potatoes.
#9 Whole-wheat pizza
Pizza doesn’t have to be an unhealthy indulgence. Make your own nutritious, delicious and antioxidant-rich pie at home using whole-wheat English muffins or whole-wheat pizza dough, extra tomato sauce and veggies, and just a small amount of cheese. Make a little go a long way by using high-quality, fresh-made mozzarella, which tends to have much more flavor than the prepackaged variety. Add an extra punch of flavor with fresh herbs and greens, like arugula and basil, or drizzle with an olive oil and basil emulsion after baking.
#10 Hummus Dip
Hummus, made from a base of chickpeas and olive oil, is a tasty and healthy snack — great for parties or keeping stocked in your refrigerator as a dip for cut veggies or whole-grain pita. Try this take on hummus from our friends at the Northarvest Bean Growers Association. Their delicious — and heart-healthy — mint hummus dip uses protein-rich pinto beans to satisfy your hunger, and it’s flavored with sesame seed paste (tahini), garlic and chopped mint to keep your taste buds happy.
2 cups pinto beans, cooked and drained
1 cup scallions
1 tablespoon garlic
¼ cup mint leaves
¼ cup tahini
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoon lemon juice
100% whole-grain pita bread or crackers, or sliced veggies
1. In a food processor, combine pinto beans, scallions, and garlic until coarsely pureed. Add mint leaves, tahini, pepper, salt, cayenne pepper and lemon juice.
2. Blend until pureed.
3. Serve with whole-grain pita bread or crackers, or sliced veggies.
#11 Healthy banana “gelato”
If ice cream is your go-to treat when you’re craving something sweet, try this guilt-free version instead: frozen blended bananas. Whipping frozen bananas in a blender turns them into a thick, rich, custardy treat. Here’s how: Peel and slice a couple of ripened bananas. Place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze for two hours. Blend the fruit in a food processor or blender, scraping the mixture off the sides when it sticks, until it has a smooth, custardy consistency. Serve immediately. Experiment with different flavors by adding in peanut butter, hazelnut butter or fresh berries. You’ll be amazed by just how good something so simple can be. Eat it plain or spread over graham crackers for an open-faced ice cream sandwich.
If you need help getting started, check out the Cleveland Clinic’s Go! Foods for You program. The online program can teach you how to eat right and help you look and feel better too.