To snack or not to snack? That is the question. The answer? Snacks can be sensible and helpful if they supply important nutrients for your body and satisfy your hunger just enough until the next meal.
Typical convenience-type snack foods such as fast food, chips, candy and baked goods provide large amounts of "empty calories" coming from sugar and fat, which can promote weight gain. They also often lack other important nutrients, and provide too much sodium, which is not heart healthy.
Instead, keep snacks on hand from the following food groups:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-fat dairy products
These whole foods are generally lower in sodium and higher in fiber, and they provide a moderate amount of healthful fats and some protein. Try pairing foods from two different food groups for an ideal snack. For example:
- carrots and celery sticks with peanut butter
- cottage cheese with peaches,
- almonds with raisins.
Combining foods makes for a more interesting and healthful snack. Plus, choosing a food with a little protein (nuts, dairy products, beans, etc.) as part of the snack will curb your appetite until the next meal.
Snacking is a bit of a balancing act. Be careful of how much and how often you snack, since calories can add up quickly. In general, you might want to aim for about 100 to 200 calories per snack, and one to three snacks per day. Keep in mind the more frequently you snack, the smaller your meals should be. Even if the snacks are small, snacking many times per day in addition to three regular meals is likely to make you gain unwanted weight.
What exactly does a 200-calorie heart-healthy snack look like?
Each snack suggestion below provides about 200 calories or less and fewer than 200 milligrams of sodium. All of these snacks are also either low in fat or contain mostly "good" mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.
- 1 ounce (small palm full) of unsalted walnuts, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, etc.
- 1 piece of whole fruit, medium size (tennis ball) apple, orange, pear, peach, etc.
- 1 ounce low-fat cheese (Swiss cheese is usually low in sodium)
- 1 slice whole-wheat bread with 1/2 tablespoon peanut butter
- 6 ounces Greek-style nonfat yogurt (usually higher protein, lower sugar than regular yogurt)
- ½ cup carrot, celery sticks and cucumbers with 2 tablespoons hummus (a chickpea spread available in the refrigerated section at grocery stores)
- 1 cup sliced bell peppers and mushrooms with 1 tablespoon low-fat Ranch dressing as a dip
- ½ cup edamame (green soybeans in pods, available in frozen vegetable section at grocery stores)
- 1 cup carrot sticks and bell peppers with homemade Cucumber Yogurt Sauce as a dip
- Homemade Fruit Smoothie with Oats and flaxseed