10 Healthy Snack Foods You Won't Find in the Snack Aisle
These delectable and nutritious snacks are an excellent choice for stocking up your pantry.
Eating delicious and nutritious snacks to keep us going, both mentally and physically, between meals is important. Although it may be easy and convenient to reach for a packaged snack in the grocery store, some of the best snacks might not be where you think they are.
Almond butter, avocado, or hummus, anyone? These options are all packed with protein and nutrients, but you won't find these in the snack aisle. Snacks can be a wonderful and quick way to get some of your daily intake of fresh produce, fiber, vitamins, and minerals instead of only at meal times. Having these simple, budget-friendly items on hand can make snack preparation a cinch.
Here are some easy go-to treats that you can find outside the snack aisle:
1. Nut Butters
Nut butters have plenty of beneficial fats and protein and can be a great boost when you're in a slump. There are plenty of nut butters to choose from: almond, cashew, walnut, or even brazil nut. And don't forget the classic—peanut butter. "Nut butters are filled with healthy fats that are known to prevent heart disease and aid in maintaining cholesterol levels," says Bansari Acharya, MA, RD, based in Detroit, MI.
If you have been curious to try a different nut spread to add to your line up, give them a taste when it's time for snacking."They are extremely filling and a great addition to crackers or fruit, such as apples or bananas!," says Acharya. Mixing nut spreads with fruit or other options is beneficial, as well. "To make a filling snack, pair a tablespoon or two of your favorite nut butter with fruit slices, use as a spread on toast, or mix into oatmeal, yogurt, or a smoothie. The combination of fiber, protein, and healthy fats helps you to feel full and satisfied while also stabilizing blood sugar levels and keeping energy consistent throughout the day," explains Annamaria Louloudis, MS, RDN, and founder of Louloudi Nutrition.
And as a reminder, not all nut butters are created equally so checking out the ingredient list is important. Louloudis recommends, "Be sure to choose nut butters that have only nuts and maybe salt in the ingredient list to get the most health benefits!"
Chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus, which is typically made along with tahini, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and some spices. It's all-around healthy and full of protein, too. "Hummus is an excellent dip that is a rich source of protein and fiber. It is a great option for vegetarians and vegans that are looking for additional protein in their diets," says Acharya.
Because it has simple and wholesome ingredients, hummus is a great snack to enjoy any time. "It is not only delicious and versatile, but also packed with nutrition: heart-healthy fats, plant protein, fiber, antioxidants that fight inflammation, and powerful micronutrients like folate, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and calcium," says Louloudis. With a creamy texture, hummus combines well with fresh veggies, wholegrain crackers, rice cakes, or as a spread.
3. Fresh Fruit
Fresh fruit is often recommended as a snack and that's for good reason; it's one of nature's sweetest and healthiest options. Plus, it's easy to grab-and-go. "Fruit is a great source of vitamins, minerals, water, and antioxidants that are beneficial to health," says Acharya. Each kind of fruit offers specific nutrients. "One of the best fresh fruits to snack on which are highly nutrient-dense include berries, pomegranates, and citrus fruits, such as grapefruit," recommends Acharya.
Overall, you can't go wrong eating pieces of fruit as a snack. "Fruit is also an excellent source of dietary fiber, which can help to maintain a healthy gut microbiome, prevent constipation and aid in weight management," says Louloudis.
4. Seed Butters
Seed butters are loaded with flavor and are nutritious. "Seeds and seed butters are easily accessible and affordable nutritional powerhouses. Seed butters are great sources of fiber, heart-healthy unsaturated fats, and many essential vitamins, minerals and, antioxidants," says Louloudis.
Seed butters are versatile, too. You can eat them with cut-up veggies, sliced fruit, crackers, rice cakes, toast, and more. If you are allergic to some or all nuts, seed butters can be a tasty alternative. "Seed butters are an excellent choice for individuals who have nut allergies as they are very similar in texture and provide the same nutty flavors that you want from any nut butter," says Acharya.
Avocado toast may still be trending as a breakfast go-to food, but mashing up half an avocado—which is a single serving size—and adding your favorite spices or making guacamole can be a tasty and nutritious snack. "Avocados are packed with tons of nutrients, making them an amazing snack option. They are a rich source of unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, and fiber [along with] many other beneficial nutrients," explains Acharya.
If you need more reasons to reach for avocados, "They're also loaded with insoluble and soluble fiber, which can help stabilize blood sugar levels, help to lower cholesterol, promote a healthy gut microbiome, and help support weight maintenance," says Louloudis.
There are myriads of ways to incorporate avocado as a snack. Make your own guacamole to serve with veggies, put on a piece of whole wheat toast, or sneak it into a sweet snack like chocolate avocado pudding.
6. Homemade Popcorn
Microwaveable or packaged popcorn may get a bad rap for having too much fat, preservatives, and sodium. But popping your own kernels gives you control over how they are prepared and flavored. "Pure popcorn popped with healthy oils, such as olive or avocado and made without any unhealthy additions, such as butter, is an excellent snack option as it is low calorie and filled with fiber,"shares Acharya.
Sprinkle on your favorite spices, nutritional yeast, or keep it simple with a dash of salt. Turns out, popcorn is a whole grain, good for you, and an inexpensive treat. "When made at home, popcorn can be a great high-volume snack option since it is fairly low in calories, granted you measure the amount of oil used to cook it," says Louloudis.
Nuts are a great way to have a plant-based protein and avoid sugar lows; nuts can help carry you over until your next meal. "Nuts are packed with protein and fiber, important for satiation and preventing energy crashes that usually come from sugary snacks. They are also great sources of heart-healthy fats and essential nutrients like vitamin E, potassium, and magnesium," says Louloudis. If you tend to crave sweet or greasy snacks, nuts can be a great alternative as they'll keep you full.
Although the nutrition varies depending on the nuts you choose, consider mixing them up in a portable container or bag to have whenever you need a quick and straightforward snack. "Walnuts are one of the healthier nuts as they contain omega-3 fatty acids. These are especially important for people who are following plant-based diets or those who don't consume much seafood in their diets," says Acharya.
8. Dried Fruit
Portable, lightweight, and offering plenty of variety, dried fruit can be a fun way to get a daily serving of fruit when it comes to snack time. "Make sure to get the unsweetened types," stressed Louloudis. "Since dried fruit is a more nutrient-dense version of fresh fruit, it already offers a good amount of sugar in a small serving."
Certain fruit varieties only grow during certain seasons, so your favorites may not be available year-round unless you opt for it in a dried form. "Dried fruit is a good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may help to fight heart disease and promote general health," explains Louloudis. Acharya adds, "Dried fruit is a great snack option, especially when paired with raw nuts."
9. Fresh Veggies
There's no running away from eating your vegetables, so snack time can be a good place to get a serving of veggies instead of waiting until dinner. Choose crunchy veggies to satisfy your snacking urges, like baby carrots, celery, bell peppers, or even broccoli. Acharya says, "No matter what vegetables you chose to snack on, you can be sure of getting a high amount of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber in return."
Sometimes raw veggies take on a whole new flavor when paired with a dip or nut butter. Remember ants on a log? A stick of celery with peanut butter and raisins on top is an excellent balanced snack. If letting out your inner child on fresh cut veggies helps and encourages you to eat more of them, why not? "One of the healthiest snacks, fresh veggies, can be paired with healthy nips such as hummus, tahini, salsa, or enjoyed by themselves as well! The options are endless with fresh veggies," says Acharya.
Often referred to as sesame paste, tahini is a type of seed butter that's a staple ingredient in hummus. You can also eat it just like you would other seed or nut-based butters, though it has a sharp nutty and sometimes slightly bitter taste. Because of that, it's best to pair it with other ingredients to balance out the flavors. "Tahini is a main ingredient in hummus and gives a delicious flavor to dips, salad dressings, and soups. It can also be used in place of nut butters on toast with apple slices and honey," says Louloudis.
"Tahini is very good for you as it is made with sesame seeds, which have anti-inflammatory properties that may protect your heart and brain health. They also have loads of other beneficial vitamins and minerals," explains Acharya. Louloudis adds, "Tahini, or sesame paste, is a great source of lignans, a kind of antioxidant that may help support the immune system and balance hormone levels."