The wide variety of diets available these days and the growing popularity of different dietary strategies has caused some confusion about healthy snacks and whether or not they are good for us.
It’s okay to snack. In fact, it can be important to snack to keep energy levels steady, blood sugar balanced and our metabolism at its best. What we need to be mindful of is the type of snack that we choose to eat. This guide to healthy snacks can help you figure out what to snack on, how to prepare healthy snacks and how to ensure you aren’t tempted by the vending machine or pastry case when afternoon hunger strikes.
Benefits of Healthy Snacks
Healthy snacking can offer us a number of health benefits. For example, snacking can:
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
- Assist with weight loss
- Help us consume a higher amount of fruits and veggies
- Reduce childhood obesity
- Benefit our mental health – in one study, snacking on chocolate was associated with emotional eating and depression while snacking on fruit was linked to lower anxiety and depression
- Impact athletic performance
The key to healthy snacking is to keep it simple, healthy and whole. Snacking can detract from our health goals if we are eating snacks that are highly processed, contain refined ingredients like white flour, white sugar and vegetable oils, or are loaded with added salt.
Components of a Healthy Snack
What do we need to create a healthy snack? I recommend my clients choose snacks that are as close to the way Mother Nature intended for us to eat them. For snacks that might require more cooking or processing, or for healthy treats, make them yourself as much as possible. This will save you money and allow you to control exactly what goes into them.
The following components are crucial for healthy snacking:
Food sources: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes
Protein consumption is important for our energy levels, immunity, enzymes, hormones and muscle tissues. Protein also helps us to lower our blood sugar levels and, like fibre, helps to keep us feeling full.
Food sources: Nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, protein powders
Fat is extremely nutrient-dense and has more calories (9) than protein or carbohydrates (which both have 4). It’s very satiating and can help boost our energy levels.
Food sources: Coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, flax oil, nuts, seeds, tallow, lard
Vitamin and Mineral Density
We need an overall density of vitamins and minerals in our diets to support good health. Vitamins and minerals are crucial for energy levels, growth, development, nervous system function, bone health, hormone production, and so much more.
Food sources: dark leafy greens, berries, quinoa, nuts, bone broth, green juice, smoothies
Planning Ahead for Healthy Snacks
The best way to ensure you’ll eat healthy snacks is to have them on hand when you need them. Prepare them ahead of time so that they are ready to grab when you are in need of something quick or are on the go at work or school, or during sports and leisure activities. Having wholesome snacks readily available will help you to avoid grabbing not-so-healthy choices when you’re in a rush.
Here’s how you can plan ahead for healthy snacking:
- Focus on 1-3 snacks or snack recipes per week. When making food in advance, it’s not always practical to make a different morning snack and afternoon snack every day of the week. For example, on the weekend you could blend a batch of hummus and ferment some plain coconut yogurt for the week. Then, you can change up your snack during the week by pairing different veggies or crackers with the hummus, and mixing your yogurt with different fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, or smoothies.
- Make a meal plan. Creating a weekly menu plan helps you stay on track and know what you’re eating each day. It cuts down on time, stress and standing in front of the fridge wondering ‘What should I have for my snack today?’. You can find some great meal prepping tips here.
- Batch prep and cook your snacks. Where possible, try to make all of your snacks for the week at once. Wash and cut your veggies, bake a batch of crackers, make a batch of trail mix, prep smoothie kits or elixir dried mixes, hard boil eggs, etc. Having healthy snacks ready to go means you’ll be more likely to eat them.
- Use your freezer. Many snacks can be made in large batches and frozen to enjoy later. Energy balls and baked goods are easy to freeze, as are dips (hummus, pesto, etc.), smoothies, mini-quiches or egg cups, pancakes, fruit purees, popsicles and veggie fritters.
- Keep healthy snacks simple. If you are pressed for time or simply don’t enjoy spending hours in the kitchen, keep it simple. Apples and nut/seed butter, crackers/veggies and hummus, and nuts and seeds are all easy, nutritious and quick.
Do We All Need To Eat Snacks?
Every single one of us has a unique biochemistry and health needs, and that means what works for me may not work for you. If you are wondering whether snacks of any kind are right for you, consider:
Are you actually hungry? Follow your body’s hunger cues and let them be your guide. If you ate complete, balanced meals at breakfast and lunch and had a small mid-morning snack, you may not feel ready to eat again at 3:30pm. It’s OK to skip a snack if you don’t need it.
Emotional or Mindless Eating
Some of my clients use snacking to deal with difficult feelings, or eat mindlessly in front of the TV or in the car. Again, focus on what your body is telling you and if it’s hungry, then eat. If you’re feeling stressed, process your stress and move it from your body. I always recommend eating at a table so we don’t get distracted by other things and end up consuming more than we need.
Some of us have the urge to eat when the food is free, like pastries at a breakfast meeting or free samples at the grocery store. If a snack is offered at a time you don’t normally eat, or if you’ve just eaten and you’re not hungry, say no thank you. If it’s a healthy snack you’d genuinely like to try, wrap it up and save it for later.
Social Situations or Pressures
Do you eat because your coworkers are heading to the coffee shop for a break and you don’t want to be left out, or feel guilty saying no to food when it’s offered at a family gathering? This can be a major problem for many! If you’re at a party where the snacks and appetizers are flowing, take stock of everything that’s available and pick and choose what you genuinely want to have. You can find more party survival tips here.
Other cultures don’t abide by the three meals plus two snacks style of eating. If you weren’t raised eating snacks, don’t feel obligated to eat them in order to be healthy.
Healthy Snack Ideas
Grab my free download of 20 Healthy Snack Ideas to help you in your snacking goals!
Snacking with beneficial choices is a wonderful way to meet your nutrient needs, explore new recipes and take advantage of seasonal foods. Happy Snacking!