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The idea of having snacks is getting mixed reviews. Consuming smaller, more frequent meals is often advocated as a means of controlling body weight by increasing metabolism, (1) reducing hunger, and improving glucose and insulin control. (2)
However, others suggest that adding snacks to your daily eating routine adds extra calories, increases hunger, and promotes weight gain. (3)
The jury is still out on whether snacking is advisable or not. What is clear, though, is you need to consider these factors when snacking:
- Type and quality of snacks: Consume whole, fresh foods instead of processed sugary junk. Eating more fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, and nuts will increase the quality of your diet and may help reduce subsequent food intake due to the high fiber and nutritional profile of these foods.Sugary processed foods, on the other hand, may lead to blood glucose fluctuations, leading to increased appetite. Also, the high sugar and fat content of these foods add significantly to your daily energy intake.
- Overall daily caloric intake: Consume within your range of energy needs, not above or below. The more calories you consume, the more extra energy you will store in the form of fat, whereas reduced intake leads to weight loss.
- Time and circumstances of snacking: It has been shown that your circadian rhythm (wake and sleep cycles) is closely related to your metabolism. You are more actively metabolizing and utilizing food during the first half of the day than during the second half. (4) Thus, eating a heavy dinner may increase your fat storage due to the dipping metabolic rate. (4) Eating on the go and mindless grazing in front of the computer or TV may also lead to overeating and weight gain.
Some people are comfortable with eating three square meals a day and do not rely on snacks at all. But for those who prefer to eat several smaller meals throughout the day, it is better to plan ahead for healthy, low-calorie snacks.
The diet industry and food manufacturers target snackers with an abundance of snack bars, snack packs, and 100-calorie packets.
What’s important to understand is that you benefit more from eating nutrient-dense foods, such as whole foods than from calorie-dense foods, such as most manufactured ones (chips, candy, many granola bars).
When you consume whole, fresh foods such as fruits and veggies, you are eating more volume for fullness but without the excess calories, keeping the energy balance tipped in your favor.
So, choose snacks that are whole food-based, quick to prepare, and easy to bring along, and that will fill you up, nurture your needs, and satisfy your cravings.
Here are 25 healthy options and substitutes for popular 100-calorie snacks:
1. Rice cake with mashed cannellini or black beans, herbs, and spices
Opt for easy-to-make, low-calorie brown rice cakes since they are made with whole grains, offering more fiber. One cake contains 30-60 calories.
Mash 2 tablespoons of beans (canned or cooked) and mix in salt, pepper, smoked paprika, dried oregano, and chopped parsley. Top this mixture on the rice cake.
2. Hummus (oil-free) and cucumber sticks
Use the “Hope” brand hummus as it has no added oil.
You can also make your own hummus by adding the following ingredients to a blender:
- 1 can of chickpeas
- 4 cloves of garlic
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons of tahini (sesame seed paste)
- Salt to taste
Scoop 3 tablespoons of hummus into a small bowl. It’s the perfect dip for cucumber sticks.
3. Celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins
“Ants on the log” is another name for this snack.
Just spread 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on three celery sticks, and add five raisins on top of each stick.
Almond or sunflower butter could also be used instead of peanut butter, while raisins can be swapped for cranberries.
4. Air-popped popcorn
It is best to buy unpopped popcorn with low-fat content, so check the packaging. All you need to do is follow the instructions for microwave popping, and enjoy 5 cups of this fresh hot movie snack whenever you want!
5. Fat-free Greek yogurt with bananas
Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, and it has a refreshing, tangy taste.
Almonds are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. One almond provides about 7 calories.
Grab a small handful of almonds (14 pieces to be exact) to keep your snack under 100 calories.
7. Pita pocket with arugula and hummus
Pita pockets are simply pita flatbreads cut in half, making two perfectly stuffable envelopes. Use one for this snack and save the other half for later use. Choose whole-wheat pita for whole-grain benefits.
In a bowl, mix 2 cups of fresh arugula and 2 tablespoons of hummus (an oil-free brand or homemade, as described in a recipe above). Fill the pita pocket with this mixture.
8. Apple slices with almond butter
Crispy textures, sweet taste, and rich and creamy consistencies marry well. That is why apples and nut butter are a perfect combination.
Slice half of an apple and spread 2 teaspoons of almond butter on top of the apple slices.
9. Rice cake topped with mustard, cucumber slices, and sliced boiled egg
Take a 30-calorie brown rice cake, and spread a little mustard on top. Add a few slices of cucumber and a sliced boiled egg. This snack is simple yet filling and delicious.
10. Caprese salad – slices of tomato and mozzarella cheese
Slice one tomato, and top the slices with mozzarella cheese (1 ounce). Sprinkle a little sea salt and balsamic vinegar on top, and add a couple of fresh basil leaves.
You can now enjoy the Italian flavors of this Caprese salad!
Edamame beans are young soybeans, and they are an excellent source of plant protein and fiber.
These beans are common appetizers served in their original shell at most Asian restaurants. But you can find them shelled in a frozen section of most supermarkets.
One-half of edamame is a great healthy snack.
Pistachios are rich in minerals, including manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, and copper. They are high in fiber and relatively lower in fat than other nuts.
One snack serving is 30 pieces of pistachios. Go for the ones in shells, finishing them would take enough time for your brain to register satiation and satisfaction.
13. Mini bell peppers stuffed with cannellini or black beans, herbs, and spices
Mini sweet peppers are cute as a button! They are also easy to stuff with healthy fillings.
Mash 4 tablespoons of cannellini or black beans and mix in oregano, basil, parsley, paprika, garlic powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Fill three mini bell peppers with this mixture. They don’t require any cooking.
14. Canned tuna with mustard, herbs, and spices
The key to tuna is to spice it up to develop its taste.
Mix 3 ounces of tuna with mustard, parsley, red pepper flakes, cumin, and white pepper. Now you have a high-protein, low-fat, and satisfying snack.
15. Lettuce wraps with pulled chicken breast mixed with yogurt
Lettuce leaves make a great low-calorie substitute for flour-based tortillas or wraps.
Mix 1½ ounces of pulled chicken breast with 2 tablespoons fat-free Greek yogurt, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, and onion powder. Fill two lettuce leaves with this mixture and wrap.
This snack will curb your hunger while satisfying your craving for a savory fix.
16. Shrimp cocktail
Chilled cooked shrimp (3 ounces) dipped in the cocktail sauce is a quick and easy snack anytime.
17. Steamed broccoli with yogurt tzatziki dip
Tzatziki is a popular Mediterranean spread made of Greek yogurt, shredded cucumber, garlic, and lemon juice. Make it at home to keep it low in calories. Use fat-free Greek yogurt and do not add any oil.
Six large steamed broccoli florets with 2 tablespoons of tzatziki dip make for one delightful serving.
18. Frozen grapes
Craving something sweet and cold? Skip the ice-cream aisle and stock up on fresh grapes. Stuff them in your freezer and enjoy this whole-food frozen desert by nature.
One cup of frozen grapes would satisfy your sweet tooth.
19. Dark chocolate with peanut butter
This snack is the answer to an intense chocolate craving. Just spread 1 teaspoon of peanut butter on one large square of dark chocolate (such as Lindt).
Peanut butter adds a filling sensation. Feel free to substitute it with almond, cashew, or sunflower butter.
20. Zoodles with tomato sauce
Just heat up ½ cup of tomato sauce (low-fat preferably) and throw in 5 ounces of zoodles (spiralized zucchini). Mix and serve for a flavorful snack sans the extra calories.
21. English muffin with fried egg white, mustard, ketchup, and spinach
Toast half of an English muffin, spread with mustard and ketchup, and top with a few fresh spinach leaves and fried egg white. Do not use oil when “frying” the egg white from one egg to reduce the calories.
Have yourself a mighty little breakfast, although you can enjoy this treat any time of the day.
22. Oatmeal with almond milk, cinnamon, and apple
Craving some apple pie? This oatmeal snack will come to the rescue.
In a mug, combine ¼ cup oatmeal, ½ cup unsweetened almond milk, a dash of cinnamon, and one-fourth of an apple, chopped. Microwave for 2 minutes, and let your childhood memories fill your body!
23. Steamed cauliflower with nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is a great condiment that provides protein, vitamin B12, and a cheesy, nutty flavor without the added calories. It’s available at most supermarkets and online.
Steam five large cauliflower florets and sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper.
24. Baked sweet potato with tahini
The key to baking sweet potatoes is high temperature – heat your oven to 400-450°F to encourage caramelization and bring out the sweetness of the yams. Tahini (sesame seed paste) is a great topping that adds a rich, tangy flavor.
To make one serving, top one-half baked sweet potato with 1 teaspoon of tahini.
25. Roasted kale with nutritional yeast
If kale isn’t your thing yet, it will be once you try this recipe.
Wash, dry, and chop one large bunch of kale and place it in a large mixing bowl.
Add in 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Mix and toss until well combined.
Bake at 450°F degrees until the kale becomes crispy. Share with loved ones, although this is optional.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Anne Danahy (Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutritionist)
Are packaged low-calorie snacks as healthy as freshly prepared ones?
Packaged snacks can be good choices as “emergency foods,” but it is always recommended to eat whole food items if you have the time to pack or make a snack.
Packaged snacks usually come with extra calories and additives or preservatives that take away from their overall nutritional value.
Freshly prepared snacks made from whole ingredients do not have these additives, and you can usually get more bang for your buck in terms of calories too.
What are the best snacks for late-night munching?
You are encouraged to fill up on a balanced dinner with protein, healthy fats, and fruits/vegetables, which will leave no room for post-dinner snacking.
There is considerable positive research highlighting the health benefits of intermittent fasting, which is eating for an 8-hour period and fasting for the remaining 16 hours.
If you really need something before bed, try a piece of fruit with a handful of nuts.
What are the most filling foods that are also low in calories?
The most filling snacks would be hard-boiled eggs, one handful of nuts, or raw vegetables with hummus.
It is recommended to plate up a snack that includes a fruit and/or vegetable. Healthy fats such as nuts, nut butter, or avocado, and some protein such as a hard-boiled or deviled egg, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or turkey breast.
These items are excellent options for those who are looking to lose weight as well.
What is meant by healthy snacking?
Snacks are an important part of a healthy diet. It is helpful for most people to eat every 3-4 hours. Most people need a snack in the late afternoon to prevent becoming overly hungry and overeating at dinner time or through the night.
Always balance your snacks with several foods, preferably a combination of protein, fat, and carbs from fruits and veggies.
About Anne Danahy, MS, RDN: Anne is a registered dietitian and integrative nutritionist based in Scottsdale, AZ. She specializes in women’s health and healthy aging.