When you’re on the run, it’s important to keep your energy levels up and healthy snacks can do just that. While it may seem counterintuitive to some, snacking can also help with weight loss by curbing cravings and stopping cheats. What better time than September, Fruit and Veggies – More Matters Month, to learn which snacks are best for work and weight loss?
What’s a Healthy Snack?
A healthy snack should be around 100-150 calories and contain fiber to keep you full, some healthy fats (unsaturated, of course) to tide you over to the next meal, and protein to keep you satiated.
It’s important to keep snacks in appropriate serving sizes; the best snacks are natural, non-processed, and whole, so you retain most of the fiber and nutrients. Fresh, in-season fruit and vegetables are not only nutrient-dense but also at their peak deliciousness! Pair them with whole grains like whole wheat bread, pitas, or crackers instead of refined, white flour products. Also, try adding a protein source that’s lean and low in saturated fat.
Snacking shouldn’t be an all-day activity. A light and healthy afternoon snack should be enough to boost energy as it wanes toward the end of the day, and reduce the risk of overeating at dinner.
Eating the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables in the form of snacks can also help protect you from heart disease, bone loss, type-2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers, as well as help you stay on track when trying to lose weight.
If you are always on the go, purchase pre-portioned, ready-to-eat veggies or prepare some items beforehand and keep them in the refrigerator. Individual serving-sized bags of carrots and celery, and easy-to-carry fruit like apples, berries, and grapes, are easily transported and can be pulled out at your desk when you need a boost.
Here are some quick, easy, delicious, and healthy snack ideas good for everyone – the health-conscious and the weight-conscious.
Avocado. This “fruit” is very satisfying partly due to the monounsaturated fat content. Don’t let the fat scare you away. It’s the good kind and will help to keep you feeling full longer. Cut one in half lengthwise and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper or a splash of balsamic vinegar and eat! Half a medium avocado has about 130 calories and provides 4g of fiber and 300mg of potassium.
Cherries. Cherries are a great snack for weight loss because they curb the sweet cravings. The pits also cause you to eat more slowly, which helps make you more conscious about how much you’re eating. They are also packed with Vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber. An entire cup is only about 87 calories and provides 3g of fiber and 1g of protein.
Nuts. A handful of mixed nuts are great. Just be sure to look for the raw and unsalted varieties to keep sodium and added fat in check. Common combinations include almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, or peanuts. While they are higher in calories (160 calories per ¼ cup), they provide 5g of protein, 2g of fiber, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which are good for the heart.
Small Box Raisins or Dried Apricots. Remember the box of raisins your mom gave you as a kid? Although dried fruit is a concentrated source of sugars, a small portion is fine. Sun-Maid Raisins now come in a super mini box (42 calories) to keep the calories and sugar under control, and dried apricots are only 67 calories/oz. (about 3 ½ apricots), high in vitamin A, and provide 2g of fiber.
Sugar Snap Peas. Pre-washed sugar snap peas can be found in your grocery store, and they are a fresh-tasting, nutritious snack. A mere 26 calories per cup, they provide vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, along with 1.8g of protein and 1.6g of fiber.
Baby Sweet Carrots. It doesn’t get any easier than individual packets of baby sweet carrots. You can crunch on them alone or with hummus or low-fat dip. ¾ cup is only 40 calories, high in vitamin A, and provides 2g of fiber and 1g of protein.
Pears. Pears are a terrific sweet treat that come in the perfect size for snacking. A medium pear is only 103 calories, has a whopping 6g of fiber, 1g of protein, and vitamins A and C. It also comes in its own self-contained package – just wash and eat.
Roasted Seaweed Snacks. An Asian snack now available at many retailers including Trader Joe’s and Costco, roasted seaweed is edible red algae roasted into crisp sheets using sesame and canola oil. It is only about 60 calories per 10g, and provides fiber, protein, vitamins A and C, and iron.
Hummus and Veggies. Hummus is a delicious, nutty spread made with chickpeas, sesame seeds, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. It has protein, fiber, and good fats, and it’s a great complement to fresh vegetables. At about 25 calories per tbsp., pair it with carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, sugar snap peas or any other crunchy vegetable. Pre-portion it out in a small, reusable container or look for convenient single-serving packs at your local store.
Applesauce and Whole-grain Crackers. A little cup of organic applesauce keeps well in a desk drawer (100 calories) and provides vitamin C and fiber. Dip a few whole-grain crackers (Milton’s Whole-Wheat Sesame – 43 calories for six) in them for crunchy, salty, and sweet. Be sure to look for unsweetened apple sauce like Mott’s Original Natural Applesauce.
Plain, Non-Fat Greek Yogurt. Greek yogurt is high in protein (18g) and has no fat and just 7 g of sugar, provided you buy the plain, non-fat kind. An added plus – a serving gives you an extra boost of calcium (about 20% of the recommended daily allowance). A typical serving (150g) is 80 calories, and you can add a few blueberries or strawberries for additional vitamins and fiber.
Sashimi. A high protein snack that is healthy provided you don’t douse it in soy sauce. Sashimi is better than sushi as it eliminates the white rice. Just 1 oz of tuna, salmon, or yellowtail sashimi is about 40 calories and 6g of protein. Many supermarkets now offer it in their prepared foods section for grab-and-go convenience. You can even pair it with cucumbers, carrots, and nori (dried seaweed sheets) to make rice-free handrolls.
Snacks in Under 5 Minutes
Turkey Wrap. When you need a snack that’s like a meal, a turkey wrap with vegetables can do the job. A whole-wheat wrap (like Flatout Flatbread) with 2 slices of turkey and tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce is about 130 calories, provides 13g of protein and 3g of fiber, and can be made ahead in the morning for snacking later. Just watch the portion size of the wrap.
Homemade Trail Mix. Mix nuts (raw, unsalted), seeds, and just a few dried berries to make a healthy low-carb, high protein snack. Nuts and seeds will provide a satisfying crunch and a little bit of savory saltiness. Choose lower-carb fruits like coconut flakes and dried cranberries for the sweet, and avoid brands with added sugar. Add only two to three pieces of dried fruit for every cup of nuts and seeds to minimize carbohydrates and sugars.
Baked Sweet Potato. Sweet potatoes can be great for weight loss because they are full of fiber and make you feel full for a long time. They’re also packed with vitamins A and C, and all you need to do is pop one in the microwave for about 5-10 minutes. One medium sweet potato has about 100 calories.
Spiced-Chili Fruit. A Latin-American staple, mangoes and papaya (packed with vitamins and phytonutrients) sprinkled with lime juice, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and a touch of salt are a surprisingly delicious combination. Experiment with the ratios you like, but a 1:1:2 mix of chili powder, cayenne, and salt is typical. Mangoes are about 110 calories/cup and papayas are 55 calories/cup. Don’t be afraid to experiment with combinations by adding pineapple (82 calories/cup) or other tropical fruit.
Edamame. Steamed and salted soybeans are not just delicious, they’re a complete source of protein and packed with fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. You can find them precooked and frozen – just defrost or microwave. Add a little flavor by adding garlic salt or sprinkle togarashi (Japanese chili powder) for a bit of spice. A half-cup only has about 125 calories.
Open-faced Fruit Sandwich. Try spreading nut butter on a slice of high-fiber whole-grain crispbread (Ryvita and Wasa are two popular brands) and top with slices of strawberries, bananas, or other fruit for a quick, crunchy, sweet, and savory snack. One crisp is a low 37 calories, so with a tablespoon of almond butter (100 calories) and a small strawberry cut into slices (2 calories), you still come out under 150 calories.
Faux-ciutto and Melon. Wrap melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, etc.) with strips of lean, low-sodium ham or turkey for a healthier version of this Italian favorite. A medium wedge with thin-sliced piece of ham is just about 60 calories.
Mini Pita Pockets with Veggies. Mini whole-wheat pita pockets (74 calories) spread with hummus (25 calories/tbsp.) and filled with cucumbers, carrots, yellow and red bell peppers, and tomatoes (30 calories) make a colorful and crunchy snack. If you can’t find mini pitas, a regular pita cut into quarters will work, too.
Apple with Peanut Butter. In addition to vitamin C, apples are a good source of fiber, which will help keep you feeling full. The protein and fat in peanut butter will also keep you satisfied longer. 1 small apple is 77 calories with 4g of fiber, and 1 tbsp. of peanut butter is about 90 calories with 8g of protein and 3g of fiber.
Celery with Peanut Butter. Who says this snack is only for kids? Celery is unbelievably low in calories (10 calories for a large, 11-12 inch stalk!), which makes it the perfect vehicle for higher-calorie, high-protein peanut butter. Celery also has vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron.
Hard-Boiled Egg. An excellent source of protein, a hard-boiled egg makes a great snack that’s filling and nutritious. A large, hard-boiled egg is about 77 calories, with 6g of protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin A. They go well with tomatoes (32 calories – think cobb salad without the fatty bacon or dressing), or try a soft-boiled or poached egg with steamed asparagus (27 calories/cup, 3g of fiber) for a rich alternative to hollandaise. If you’re watching your cholesterol, keep your intake to no more than 3 a week.
Scoop of Tuna. Tuna is a convenient source of protein that can be healthy if you ease up on the mayo. ½ cup of light tuna in water is about 90 calories and 20g of protein. Just 1tbsp of reduced-fat mayonnaise with olive oil is about 40 calories or you can simply dress with a low-fat vinaigrette a la salad nicoise. You can also add onions, minced cabbage, celery or other low-calorie vegetables to add fiber and nutrients to this healthier tuna salad. A number of brands like StarKist offer tuna in a flavor fresh pouch which is ideal for those on-the-go.
Veggie Roll Ups. You can buy rice paper (1 paper-thin wrapper is about 33 calories) and roll up julienned carrot, cucumbers, lettuce, avocado and other veggies then slice into pieces. You can also add herbs like cilantro, mint, or basil for extra freshness and flavor. Serve with a little bit of dressing and/or peanut sauce.
Remember, snacking doesn’t have to be unhealthy; it can be a great way to improve nutrition, keep your energy levels up throughout the day, and curb cravings to help achieve your weight loss goals. When it comes to fruit and veggies, eating more matters for everyone, from young, growing children to busy, active adults. Make sure you get more at every opportunity – even when you’re snacking.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.