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Snacking might have gotten a bad reputation in healthy eating circles, but a balanced snack can be the secret to weight management and great nutrition.

By Emily Monaco
March 04, 2021
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Given the recent rise in popularity of intermittent fasting, snacking has kind of fallen off the radar for many pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Though according to experts, snacking can be a useful tool to maintain health and weight.

For Celine Beitchman, director of nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education, snacks are the perfect way to fill nutritional gaps that may arise in your diet. "For example, trying to get the recommended five to seven fruit and vegetable servings daily can be daunting, in which case, be sure they are part of your snack regime," she says. "If whole grains, nuts, or seeds, are shortfalls then opt for a nutty-, seedy-, grain-based snack."

She also notes that sometimes, two items—like a veggie and a dip or crackers with a topping—are the perfect way to create "snacking synergy" that is filling and scrumptious. "When consumed together, macronutrients provide both energy and nutrients that contributes to greater satiety," she says. "And, satiety—that feeling of fullness—is a big part of what snacking is all about."

For Lisa Richards, creator of The Candida Diet, an important element of healthy snacking is being intentional about your snack timing. "It's easy to get caught up in mindless eating and snacking, which can lead to excessive calorie intake," she says. "Snack breaks are ideal between meals during mid-morning and mid-afternoon with a lighter pre-bed snack, if necessary." This timing, she says, keeps you fueled and prevents you from getting too hungry before mealtimes, which could lead to overeating. "Nighttime snacks should be light and also help you sleep," she adds, citing foods containing natural melatonin, like bananas and almonds, which can help you fall asleep naturally.

Sweet Snacks

When you're in the mood for something sweeter to snack on, don't go grabbing a candy bar. There are loads of better-for-you options that will help satisfy a sweet tooth.

Laura Martorano, RD, and owner of The Nutrition Movement, likes pairing sliced apple with Greek yogurt and honey for something sweet, but with enough protein and fiber to keep your blood sugar from spiking. Allison Thibault, MS, RDN, and Founder of VivaTotalHealth, recommends a combo of mixed berries, dark chocolate, and hemp seeds for a nutrient-dense snack that's full of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Richards, meanwhile, simply enjoys frozen grapes, which are easy to keep on-hand in the freezer and are particularly refreshing on a warm day.

Shena Jaramillo, MS, RD, recommends pairing rice cakes with nut butter and pomegranate seeds for an easy-to-make snack that nevertheless feels special, and certified nutritionist, Bonnie Flemington, loves a combo of coconut yogurt and berries for antioxidants and a touch of sweetness that's perfect for a dairy-free lifestyle.

One standout among our experts? The Valentine's Day fave of strawberries and dark chocolate—a perfect pair any time of year. "This snack is so simple and amazing for immunity system support," says Emily Cornelius, RD, LDN. "The vitamin C in the strawberries enhances the iron absorption in chocolate when eating them together. They are also both rich in magnesium, which helps to prevent sugar cravings and keep the immune system strong." And of course, when in doubt, plain fresh fruit is always a good option. "This is just an easy one to grab-and-go, loaded with fiber, low in calories and rich in antioxidants," says Jaramillo.

Spiced Sweet Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Credit: larkspur

Crunchy Snacks

Chips are a classic snack, but there are loads of healthier options you can enjoy in place of all that fat and salt.

Kim McDevitt, MPH, RD, who works for Merryfield, loves roasted chickpeas. "They are crunchy and salty but also deliver fiber and protein making it a much smarter snack choice," she says. "And the good news is that they are gaining more popularity; you'll see these in just about every grocery store." Buy them ready-made from brands like Saffron Road, or make your own Indian- or nacho-spiced version at home.

Summer Yule, MS, RDN, loves air-popped popcorn as a tasty, crunchy snack that's high-volume and low-calorie. Season it with spices, herbs, salt, or nutritional yeast for even more flavor—as long as you steer clear of excess fat and sugar, it remains a super healthful snack.

Flemington recommends nutrient-dense kale chips or crudités, and Dr. Jaydeep Tripathy, a primary care doctor at Doctor Spring, loves a simple snack of celery sticks, which, he says, can "greatly help in losing weight" due to its richness in fiber and water, not to mention potassium and vitamins A, K, and C.

Satisfying Snacks

For busy folks, sometimes a snack has to have almost as much staying power as a meal. That's when you want to go for something rich in both protein and fat to help you feel full longer.

Caroline Margolis, RDN, recommends kefir. This drinkable alternative to yogurt is packed with protein and probiotics for digestive and immune system health. She recommends the 3.5 ounce kefir shots from Lifeway Foods, or the low-sugar Lifeway minis for kids. Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RDN, also goes the dairy route with cottage cheese. The 5.3 ounce single serving cup from Hood, she says, "is the perfect size for a small but filling snack and has over 8.5 grams of protein."

When seeking out a filling snack, many experts opt for the reliable egg: simply hard-boiled or jazzed up, with your favorite savory filling, as Skylar Buchanan, holistic nutrition expert, suggests. "Eggs are a powerhouse in the snack category, packing both a protein punch and a healthy dose of brain-boosting fats," she says.

McDevitt, meanwhile, combines protein-rich deli turkey with cucumber spears and Everything But the Bagel Seasoning or hummus for a tasty roll-up that's rich in protein and flavor. Hummus is indeed a commonly recommended snack among nutritionists. Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, likes pairing the chickpea spread with Angelic Bakehouse Snack Crisps, made with sprouted grains, while Chris Airey, MD at the telehealth clinic Optimale, chooses hummus packs with whole grain crackers. "As someone who is active and into weightlifting, I love snacks that are portable and have a balance of fat, protein, and carbs," he says. "Hummus contains fat from tahini and olive oil, slow carbs and protein from fibrous chickpeas, and the crackers provide some crunchy, salty carbs."

Airey also recommends pairing fruit and protein, like apples and peanut butter or cottage cheese with pineapple. "Just aim for that macro balance to ensure satiety!" he adds.

Many of our experts are fans of protein-, fat-, and fiber-rich nuts. Alexis Aboagye, a certified health and nutrition coach based in Dubai, notes that their unique nutrient profile "means they keep you really full and satisfied for a long time, which is exactly what I need when I'm on the go." Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, RD, combines nuts with dried fruits and cereals in homemade trail mix, which she keeps "low in added sugar" and with "little to no chocolate."

Choosing a healthy, satisfying snack is an easy way to boost your nutrition and stay full throughout your day. When your stomach is rumbling and it's nowhere near a meal time, fall back on these healthy suggestions to keep you fueled up.

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