PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Tips for Sensible Snacks

Posted on Nov 25, 2015


Is it healthy to snack or is this just a sure-fire way to pile on unwanted pounds?

“Snacks can be an important part of a nutritious and balanced diet,” says Valerie Spier, MPH, R.D., CDE, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “But you do need to be thoughtful about the quality and quantity of snacks. It’s very easy to overdo it and too many snacks can easily derail efforts to maintain a healthy weight.”

Healthy snacks can benefit you in several ways, says Spier. They can:

  • Help meet energy needs, especially for children and athletes
  • Round out the daily nutrients you need to stay healthy
  • Bridge the gap between meals (if you are allowing about six hours between meals)
  • Help prevent low blood sugar and overeating

What is a healthy snack?

A healthy snack is a small amount of food or a beverage (approximately 100 to 150 calories) you have between meals. Don’t forget to include any beverages towards your daily calorie count, as many specialty coffee drinks and smoothies are laden with sugar and calories.

“To help you pick the right snacks, start by looking at your diet and what you eat every day to help you determine nutritional gaps,” suggests Spier. “Most people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables so choosing a snack from that food group is always a good option.”

Spier offers the following healthy snack ideas (that all contain about 100 to 150 calories) from the five food groups to help you balance your nutritional needs.

Dairy (to meet calcium needs): glass of milk, kefir, almond or soy milk; flavored yogurt; cottage or ricotta cheese with fruit or veggies; one portion of low-fat string cheese; Parmesan cheese crisps (grated cheese, baked in the oven), kale chips or edamame

Fruit: fruit kebab; one small piece of whole, seasonal fruit; two tablespoons of dried fruit; unsweetened applesauce, 4 to 6 ounce fruit smoothie or dehydrated fruit crisps

Vegetables: raw or roasted vegetables; one cup of vegetable or minestrone soup; endive or lettuce wrap; veggie smoothie (limit add-ins); salad or pickled vegetables (quantities for veggie snacks: unlimited non-starchy vegetables, half a cup of starchy vegetables)

Carbohydrates/Starch: one cup of quinoa or other grain-based salad; cup of butternut or corn soup; wasabi peas or spicy garbanzo beans; half-a-cup of oatmeal; three cups of air-popped popcorn; three falafel; one serving (15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates) of whole-grain crackers

Protein: one hard-boiled egg; 1 to 2 ounces of left-over meat, fish or poultry, beef or turkey jerky, canned tuna, sardines, oysters or kippers; a handful of nuts or seeds; a cup of bean or lentil soup or marinated tofu (check serving size on package to limit to 100 to 150 calories)

For beverages, choose unsweetened options such as herbal or green iced or hot teas, sparkling water or water flavored with a slice or fruit or cucumber to help keep your calorie intake on track.

Avoid the Snack Attack

So how can you make sure you snack sensibly, not mindlessly?

The best approach, says Spier, is to think about whether you really need a snack.

“Before you just grab a snack, determine if you are really hungry,” advises Spier. “For example, you might think you want something to eat but are actually thirsty. Try drinking an unsweetened beverage first. Or you might be bored or stressed. Consider going for a quick walk outside, do a couple of stretches or deep breathing if you are at work or enjoy a chat with a friend before eating something.”

Shopping ahead for healthy snacks and stocking the fridge with cut-up, prepared fruits and vegetables for easy access is also a good plan. Make tea or fruit-flavored waters and have them ready in the fridge to drink.

“Combining a carbohydrate-containing food with a low-carb food, such as eating an apple with a piece of cheese, is a great way to enjoy a healthy snack that will help keep you feeling full longer,” says Spier. “And avoid traditional snack foods such as chips that are high in calories but low in nutritional value.”

Spier Valerie Spier, MPH, R.D., CDE, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.