Without many places to go except grocery shopping during the pandemic, some of us may have elevated snacking at home to a cherished pastime. It’s easy to get lots of tasty, cheap snacks that can quickly add up to extra calories, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. Buying in bulk from a big-box store certainly doesn’t help control snacking. Let’s talk about how we can enjoy snacks while giving our body the nutrients it needs.
Here are some of the most important considerations when selecting a snack:
- Added sugar. Sweet snacks often contain way more sugar than necessary. It’s a good idea to check “added sugar” on the Nutrition Facts panel just to see how much is in there. See if you can find any snacks with little or no added refined sugar; some are naturally sweetened with dates, for example.
- Saturated fat. Too much saturated fat in the diet can increase “bad” cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association’s recommends no more than 6% of calories come from saturated fat. The amount of saturated fat is listed on the food label.
- Sodium. Savory snacks may contain a huge amount of sodium, a nutrient that’s consumed in excess in the U.S. The recommendation is no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, so check the label to see how the amount in the snack compares.
- Fiber. This is one component that's often lacking in the American diet. Fiber is important not only for healthy digestion, but also to maintain a healthy weight. Check whether the snack contains fiber and pick those that do. The recommendation is 25 grams per day for women age 50 or younger and 38 grams per day for men in the same age range.
With those tips in mind, here’s a list of healthy snacks you can find locally. Let’s start with sweet snacks:
- Eggfruit. Also known as chico or sapote, this fruit can be found seasonally at farmers markets and at some health food stores. It’s a super sweet, tasty fruit that gives that satisfaction you might find from eating a pudding.
- Apple with peanut butter. This snack contains fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fat without added sugar.
- Dark chocolate. This is a source of antioxidants, fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals such as iron.
Here’s a list for those who prefer savory snacks:
- Whole-grain crackers with hummus. This snack is a good source of fiber and heart-healthy fat. It’s a good idea to check the sodium content of the crackers and see how they fit into your diet.
- Whole-grain bread with tomato and olive oil. This snack is similarly excellent in terms of fiber and heart-healthy fat.
- Almonds. In addition to fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fat, almonds are a good source of vitamins and minerals.
Jinan Banna, Ph.D., R.D., is a registered dietitian and the founder of Jinan Banna LLC. An associate professor of nutrition at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, her research interest is in obesity prevention. Jinan offers information on her website at jinanbanna.com and nutrition coaching to help people lose weight and eat well.