Although most of us know to eat oatmeal for breakfast and kale for lunch, snack time can still be a pitfall. The problem is that most designated snack foods are inherently unhealthy. Chips, crackers, granola bars, etc. tend to have high levels of saturated fat, added sugars, and chemicals we can’t even pronounce. (For example, check out the ingredient label for a popular breakfast cereal that’s marketed as ‘healthy’. Scary, huh?) These are not even real food – rather, in the words of Michael Pollan, they’re “edible food-like substances.”
When choosing healthy snacks, it’s always safest to go with whole foods – those that are minimally processed and as close to their natural state as possible. Even more important than the calories, it’s essential to read the ingredient list on all packaged foods. If it sounds more like a science lab than food, then it’s not real food. Always choose products with ingredient lists you can actually read, and keep in mind that products with short lists tend to be safer than those with long ones. In the end, it all comes down to being prepared. Here is a list of my go-to healthy snack foods to have on hand at work and at home (and sometimes in my purse).
If there were an Oscars of healthy snack foods, then nuts would surely be Meryl Streep. Portable, shelf-stable, heart-healthy and high in protein, they are the perfect snack. Raw, unseasoned nuts are the best option, and are pretty affordable at Trader Joe’s and at the Whole Foods bulk bins.
Banana + Nut Butter
Bananas are nature’s own perfectly prepackaged snack. I keep one at my desk at work and carry one in my purse (especially when I’ll need an après-workout snack). Bananas are full of fiber, Vitamin C and potassium. Combined with protein- and healthy fat-rich nut butter, this is a snack that will keep you satiated for a long time. Nut butter is a great desk snack since it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. A note on buying nut butter: Be sure to buy only ‘all-natural’ (and organic, if possible), as brands like Skippy contain highly processed and unsafe hydrogenerated vegetable oils, and other chemicals. The only ingredient in your nut butter should be nuts, like peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc.
Portable + shelf-stable = super convenient. My favorite brand is Larabar in peanut butter cookie flavor. These are sweet and taste super indulgent but are nonetheless healthy and the ingredient list reads only: dates, peanuts, salt. When Larabars aren’t available, KIND bars are a decent option, although they do contain some additives. Be cautious of buying granola bars marketed at ‘healthy’ from companies that traditionally aren’t. And watch out for their sugar content. 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon.
This is a healthy way to satisfy a sweet tooth as well as to get more fiber into your diet. (I OD on dried mangoes and apricots from Trader Joe’s.) Look for unsulfured dried fruit as it is slightly less processed.
Brown Rice Cakes + Hummus
I don’t know what it is, but around the 3pm mark, I always crave something crunchy. Anyone else in the same boat? For this purpose, I keep Lundberg brown rice cakes handy. They are made simply with whole grains and sea salt, which makes them way better than typical chips and crackers. (Another great option: Mary’s Gone Crackers.) If I’m craving something savory and dinner’s still hours away, I pair the rice cakes with protein- and fiber-rich hummus.
For those of us whose sweet cravings are hard to resist, dark chocolate is the way to go. Although high in saturated fat, it contains antioxidants, magnesium and fiber. Look for at least 70% cacao content and the USDA organic label (since chocolate contains soy lecithin – an emulsifier – buying organic helps ensure the soy is non-genetically modified). I love Green & Blacks Organic brand.
What are your favorite anytime snacks?