Snacking is a tricky business. Whether you're craving a snack that's sweet, salty or a little of both, you want your snack to actually taste good, feel satisfying and you know, curb your hunger for longer than a few minutes after snack-time.
Those counting calories, or at least aware that they don't want to consume a majority of their caloric totals in snack foods, may reach for the 100-calorie labeled snack pack. But if you've ever had those flavorless, crumbly, not-at-all filling taste-deprived snacks, you know they're really never what you actually want.
The right way to snack
There's no right time or frequency with which a person should snack, Silvia Delgado, a registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente Southern California said in an email. A person's snack needs are very individualized. But no matter how often you're snacking, planning ahead can be key to ensuring that your snacking is actually healthy.
"If you plan to go long periods of time without eating (usually more than four to five hours), be sure to bring a healthy snack with you," Delgado advised. Eating a healthy snack can prevent you from overeating later and help you feel full and energized before your next meal. Especially if you're looking to curb your appetite, opt for snacks that contain protein, fiber and water, which can be found in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins — like eggs, tofu and poultry.
A September 2014 study published in Nutrition Journal examined the effects of high-fat versus high-protein snacks on satiety, appetite control and eating initiation in healthy women, concluding, "Eating less energy dense, high-protein snacks like yogurt improves appetite control, satiety and reduces subsequent food intake in healthy women."
Low energy means low calories, and Delgado recommended aiming for snacks that range between 100 to 120 calories a piece. Beware of snacks that are high in fat and sugar, which Delgado said have been proven to contribute to weight gain over time.
One last tip? Slow down. "If you are eating too fast, you may not become satisfied until after you have overeaten because it takes time for your brain to register fullness," Delgado said. "Eating distracted can also cause you to overeat," she explained, so it's in your best interest to snack purposefully, away from your phone, the TV or your computer. Even the pope thinks eating around technology is a bad idea.
What to snack on
Delgado recommended these 100-calorie snacks that are as tasty as they are nutritious.
A half cup of cottage cheese and a quarter cup of blueberries
This sweet and salty snack can curb both cravings at once. Delgado noted that much of cottage cheese's calcium is lost in processing, so opt for calcium-fortified cottage cheese if you're looking to up your calcium intake. In addition to being delicious, blueberries are also a source of cancer-fighting antioxidants and "a great source of vitamins K and C," Delgado said.
A 100-calorie Greek yogurt
"Most Greek yogurts have twice the protein as regular yogurts," Delgado said, noting that Greek yogurt is also a good source of vitamin D, riboflavin, phosphorus, potassium and calcium. Avoid Greek yogurts with added sugars, but look for yogurts that have live active cultures. "Greek yogurt contains probiotics, or healthy bacteria, which have shown promising results in supporting digestive health, diabetes control and the immune system," Delgado said. If you want to add a nutty flavor to your snack, add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed which is "an excellent source of fiber and contains heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids."
Low-sodium canned beans
If you like your snacks to feel more like mini meals, beans may be your best bet. "Beans or legumes are an excellent source of dietary fiber," Delgado said. "Fiber has been shown to help with blood sugar control, cholesterol control and with weight loss."
Just a half cup of garbanzo beans provides 25% of your daily recommended dietary fiber — a nutrient shown to help you feel full. For a quick bean salad, Delgado recommended tossing half a cup of beans with tomatoes, onions and cilantro, which all add flavor without fat or calories.
For a quick, high-fiber and high-protein snack, Delgado recommended stocking frozen soybeans in the freezer and steaming them in the microwave for an easy snack. Just half a cup of shelled, steamed soybeans offers 5 grams of fiber and 14 grams of protein.
Hummus and veggie sticks
This tasty dip is packed with nutritional benefits, be it made of chickpeas or other legumes. "In addition to protein and fiber, the chickpeas used in hummus are high in iron, folate, phosphorus and B vitamins," Delgado explained. Lemon juice, often used in hummus, also has immunity-boosting vitamin C and antioxidants.
To help with portion control (i.e., to stop you from licking down the container) Delgado recommended scooping out a quarter cup portion (or buying individual snack packs). When you're snacking, skip the pita or chips and use vegetables like carrots or celery for dipping. "Veggies are not only low in calories, but they are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals," Delgado said.
Whole wheat toast and almond butter
Skip the sandwich; one slice of bread will do it for snack time. "Almond butter is a healthy alternative to peanut butter that supplies a similar amount of protein, and it also supplies a host of other nutrients, such as carbohydrates, iron and heart healthy unsaturated fats," Delgado said, noting you can use almond butter pretty much interchangeably with peanut butter. Opt for whole wheat bread, which has "energy boosting carbohydrates, fiber and B vitamins that can help you feel full for hours."
Half an apple and two teaspoons of natural-style peanut butter
"The dietary fiber in apples helps fill you up and the healthy monounsaturated fat found in peanut butter keeps you satiated for hours," Delgado explained of this perfect snack combination. And don't skin your apple — "The skin contains half of the fruit's fiber, antioxidants and vitamin C," Delgado said. Peanut butter can be high in fat, so try and portion out two teaspoons before you find yourself dipping your apples straight into the jar.
Delgado recommended making a snack-size quesadilla with an individually wrapped low-fat string cheese and a tortilla. "Use corn or whole wheat tortillas instead of white flour tortillas," Delgado suggested. "The combination of fiber and protein will be sure to keep you full and satisfied until your next meal."
Corn tortillas also have beneficial phosphorus content, which "contributes to healthy bone tissue, supports red blood cell function and acts as a chemical buffer to control the acidity of your blood." Delgado said to aim for tortillas that contain fewer than 60 calories each. If you want to add some flavor (and fiber!) to this basic snack, consider adding spinach leaves or salsa. Or hot sauce.
A 1/3 cup serving of oatmeal has 100 calories and it's an easy snack to store at work and cook up in a cinch. The fiber-rich oats will keep you full for longer than many others snacks. "Studies have shown that fiber intake is associated with a lower body weight, improved satiety and improved blood sugar control," Delgado said. Of course, you can add berries, cinnamon or even savory seasonings like turmeric to your oatmeal to spice it up.
Unprocessed fruits and vegetables
A whole banana? An apple? Cucumber slices? A stalk of broccoli? All great snacks! Delgado said that foods that add volume to your diet without calories are referred to as low-density foods. "It is believed that because these foods cause a greater distention of the stomach they also create a greater sense of fullness," she said.
So fill up on the celery, cauliflower, berries and beyond — different types of produce have various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants without high calorie counts. Skip the pricy, unfulfilling 100-calorie packs and go for the produce aisle — you can't go wrong here.