9 Smart Snack Swaps for a Better Body
Turn your morning or afternoon nosh into a body-boosting treat
Snacks can be the superheroes of your diet. They can help tide over your hunger until dinner, sneak in extra nutrients, keep your energy steady, and boost your mood. But if yours tend to leave you feeling run down, bloated, or hungry again only an hour or so later, it's time to change your between-meal eats. Use these tweaks to transform ho-hum bites into power-packed snacks that do your body good.
What's missing: Fiber. It's definitely okay to drink a green juice as a snack if you're not that hungry. Just make sure it's made with more vegetables than fruit to help cut down on sugar and better manage your blood sugar.
Supercharge it: For something with more staying power, turn that juice into a smoothie. [Tweet this tip!] In your blender (not juicer), mix leafy greens with diced fruit such as an apple and unsweetened nut milk or coconut water. "Smoothies contain the fiber and pulp of produce, which delays digestion and keeps blood sugar steady," says registered dietitian Megan Roosevelt, founder of healthygrocerygirl.com.
Granola and Cereal Bars
What's missing: Protein. Grain-based bars often contain mostly refined carbs and loads of sugar. Translation: You'll be hungry again 15 minutes later.
Supercharge it: Instead of granola or cereal bars, buy fruit and nut bars, such as Kind, Kit's Organic, and Larabar. Look at the ingredients list, says Anne Mauney, M.P.H., a registered dietitian in Washington, D.C., and be sure that any sugars (tapioca syrup, brown rice syrup, honey, corn syrup, etc.) appear no higher than fourth on the list. Also be sure it's made with real food ingredients like fruit, nuts, and spices, adds Roosevelt, and ideally has at least five grams of protein and three grams of fiber.
Wasabi Peas or Pre-Packaged Kale Chips
What's missing: Fullness factor. When you want something salty and crunchy, these aren't bad options because you're getting some vitamins and minerals. But the veggies are dehydrated, so you lose a lot of the water content that helps you feel satisfied. Many brands can be low in protein and high in sugar and salt; wasabi peas in particular often contain artificial food dyes. [Tweet this fact!]
Supercharge it: For salt cravings, switch to a serving of organic corn chips (the ingredients should only be corn, oil, and salt) dipped in a snack-sized cup of guacamole, which supplies healthy fats that slow digestion.
Potato Chips, Pretzels, Snack Mixes, or Crackers
What's missing: Protein, fiber, and healthy fat-a.k.a. the winning trifecta for a filling snack. Plus, unless the proposed FDA trans fat ban ever happens, many store-bought snack foods still contain heart-damaging hydrogenated oils.
Supercharge it: Mauney recommends swapping your chips for flavored almonds, which you can find in chip-like flavors such as jalapeno or salt and vinegar. "They're crunchy, have a similar taste, and provide six grams of protein plus belly-slimming monounsaturated fats and a good dose of fiber," Mauney says. Just keep your salt in check by picking ones with around 5 percent of your daily value for sodium.
What's missing: A simpler ingredient list. Many protein drinks and powder mixes contain artificial preservatives and flavors, added oils, and several sources of sugar, often including artificial sweeteners. Some can contain a whopping four teaspoons of added sugars, of which the American Heart Association recommends women max out at six teaspoons daily. Put it all together and that's not exactly the health drink you want
Supercharge it: Make an at-home protein shake with lowfat milk, a scoop of organic protein powder (such as pea or brown rice), fruit, and cocoa powder or vanilla extract for sweetness.
Reduced-Fat String Cheese
What's missing: Volume. A piece of lowfat cheese is a good snack-it's pre-portioned to keep calories in check (there are about 70 per stick), plus it has protein (about 6 grams) and is a good source of calcium. The problem? It's a measly serving.
Supercharge it: Add something low in calories but large in volume, like produce. Try an apple, an orange, or a small bag of baby carrots to fill up your stomach so hunger doesn't rear its head until your next meal.
What's missing: Fun. You're on the right track with toting vegetables to the office. But if you don't actually enjoy eating them raw, you're more likely to hit up the vending machine for those tempting cheese puffs than force yourself to eat healthy. Plus no protein or fat means no staying power.
Supercharge it: Calorie-wise you've got room to jazz it up with a quarter cup of hummus (about 140 calories). Like guac, you can find pre-portioned snack packs available in the refrigerated section at your grocery store so you can easily take your dip on the go.
What's missing: Antioxidants. You've heard that chocolate is good for you, but the milk chocolate that you find in the office candy bowl is higher in sugar and lower in actual cocoa, which contains the disease-fighting antioxidants that make dark chocolate so good for you.
Supercharge it: Go for dark chocolate (the ingredients should be simple and read something like cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter). Stick with 1 ounce, or about 170 calories. "If you like milk chocolate more now, just wait. Over time your taste buds will adjust and prefer chocolate that's slightly less sweet," Roosevelt says. Another option: Stir a tablespoon of dark chocolate chips into a container of plain lowfat Greek yogurt for a creamy, chocolate-y treat.
What's missing: Actual fruit. Even if the fruit snacks are organic or say they contain a serving of fruit, they still don't count as the real deal. Because they lack the fiber that real fruit contains, they can spike blood sugar and lead to a crash just like candy does.
Supercharge it: Keep a bag of no-sugar-added dried fruits in your desk. They provide a jolt of natural sweetness plus slimming fiber and have that same candy chew. Try dried goji berries (1 ounce is 100 calories), apricots (1/3 cup is 104 calories), or dates (two is 133 calories).