healthy snacks

Best Healthy Snacks for Weight Loss

Sometimes you just need a bite of something to keep you going. The best snacks are those that fill you up quickly, make you feel full until mealtime and add relatively few calories to your daily total. But you’ve heard that eating between meals isn’t good for you.

Understanding the relationship of snack foods to satiety and energy balance is important because snack foods now contribute approximately one fourth of U.S. adults’ total daily energy intake, similar to that of lunch and greater than the energy contribution of breakfast 1). Snack foods are typically described as being more energy dense and less nutrient dense than foods consumed at meals 2), but this is not necessarily the case for snack foods such as vegetables, fruits or whole grain foods such as popcorn. The heterogeneity of snack foods and the potentially diverse impact of snacks on eating behaviors and on the overall diet pattern has not received a great deal of attention. Because snacking has become an increasingly important segment of the American eating pattern, understanding the attributes of various snacks has become more relevant.

Studies have associated the national increase in obesity with the decline in the traditional three daily meals and the increase in snacking 3). It has been suggested that snacking may contribute to the association between obesity and TV watching among teens-two-thirds of teens watch TV while munching on mostly salty snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Snacking can contribute to overweight and obesity in two ways:

  • First, snacks in modest amounts may not be as filling as we think-if they don’t dampen hunger, snacks can simply add to daily caloric intake.
  • Second, social and environmental cues make it very difficult to judge how much we eat when snacking. For example, studies by Dr. Brian Wansink at Cornell University have shown that people take more chips from a large serving bowl than they will when the same amount is presented in two smaller bowls. Men tend to eat more popcorn at the movies when they are on a date than when they are there with their buddies (women show the opposite response). We are likely to eat more candies from a clear container than from an opaque one.

Snacks are okay, as long as they’re smart food choices. If you want an afternoon pick-me-up or after-dinner snack, have a piece of fruit, or spread peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese on whole wheat toast. While fresh fruits and vegetables are the best choices for between-meal snacks, frozen fruits and vegetables are a good alternative. And canned fruit packed in its own juices or water — not in syrup — is a reasonable choice even though the processing does somewhat lower the nutrient value.

Before reaching for a snack, HALT and ask yourself:

  • Am I Hungry ?
  • Angry ?
  • Lonely ?
  • Tired ?
  • Are you eating because of emotions ?
  • Are you eating out of habit ?

If you’re snacking for a reason other than hunger, try a different activity first. Consider a short walk, deep breathing for three minutes or a brief social visit with a work colleague.

Don’t forget to include snacks in your daily food count. For example, one tablespoon of peanut butter spread on a slice of whole wheat toast counts toward the grains group and the protein foods group.

Here are a few ideas for good healthy snacking:

  • Stay away from “empty calories.” These are foods and drinks with a lot of calories but not many nutrients; for example, chips, candies, cookies, sodas, and alcohol.
  • Have a healthy snack instead, such as an ounce of cheese with some whole-grain crackers.
  • Try a container of low-fat or fat-free yogurt.
  • Eat some low-fat popcorn.
  • Put fruit instead of candy in the bowl on your coffee table.
  • Keep a container of cleaned, raw vegetables in the fridge for snacking on.
  • If you want some chips or nuts, don’t eat from the bag. Count out a serving, and put the bag away.
  • When you’re out and need a snack, don’t be tempted by a candy bar. Instead, take along some fruit or raw vegetables in a plastic bag when you go out.

If you really are hungry, keep your snacks simple by using this list:

  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Nuts or nut butter (choose no added salt or low salt option)
  • Whole-grain crackers or cereal
  • Vegetable sticks
  • Hummus or cheese
  • Plain Greek yogurt

Fruits and vegetables meet these ideal snack requirements for several reasons:

  • Few calories. Most fruits and vegetables are low in calories. Even when you eat a portion that satisfies your hunger, the calorie count is low.
  • Lots of water. Most fruits and vegetables contain a lot of water, which helps fill you up.
  • Lots of fiber. Fiber is the part of plants that you can’t absorb and that passes through your digestive system slowly. Fiber fills you up and helps you feel full longer.
  • Lots of nutrients. Fruits and vegetables provide healthy vitamins, minerals and other beneficial plant chemicals (phytochemicals).
  • Little fat. Most high-fat foods are high in calories, but usually low in water content and fiber. In order to feel full with high-fat foods, you need to consume lots of calories. Most fruits and vegetables have very little fat.

A research team at the Harvard School of Public Health, led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and Dr. Frank Hu, followed the lifestyle and dietary habits of 3 large groups of health professionals, totaling over 120,000 people, for 12 to 20 years 4). Participants completed a biennial survey detailing their physical activity, television habits, alcohol use, sleep duration and diet. Their weight was measured every 4 years. The researchers found that multiple lifestyle changes were independently associated with long-term weight gain, including changes in the consumption of specific foods and beverages, physical activity, alcohol use, television watching, and smoking habits. They found that eating potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, processed meats and unprocessed red meat were each linked to weight gain of about a pound or more. Eating more french fries led to an average gain of over 3 pounds. Eating more refined grains and sweets or desserts led to about half a pound of weight gain. By contrast, eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt was linked to reductions in weight over a 4-year period. Yogurt led the pack, with an average of 0.82 pounds of weight lost 5).

The researchers suggest that highly processed foods may not satisfy hunger as well as less processed, higher fiber foods, causing a higher total intake of calories 6).

Healthy Snacks for Kids

Healthy snacking involves taking control of how much and what types of food you snack, as well as the beverages you drink. Try to replace foods high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat protein foods, and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods.

Try these tips for quick and easy snacks:

  • Toss sliced apples, berries, bananas, or whole-grain cereal on top of fat-free or low-fat yogurt.
  • Put a slice of fat-free or low-fat cheese on top of whole-grain crackers.
  • Make a whole-wheat pita pocket with hummus, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber.
  • Pop some fat-free or low-fat popcorn.
  • Microwave or toast a soft whole grain tortilla with fat-free or low-fat cheese and sliced peppers and mushrooms to make a mini-burrito or quesadilla.
  • Drink fat-free or low-fat chocolate milk (blend it with a banana or strawberries and some ice for a smoothie).

100-calorie goal

A good goal for a between-meal snack is something with fewer than 100 calories 7). Generous portions of fruits or vegetables can easily help fill you up while staying below that calorie count. All of the following servings have fewer than 100 calories:

  • Medium apple: 95 calories
  • Small banana: 90 calories
  • Two kiwis: 84 calories
  • 20 medium baby carrots: 70 calories
  • 20 grapes: 68 calories
  • Medium orange: 65 calories
  • 20 cherry tomatoes: 61 calories
  • Medium peach: 58 calories
  • Medium red pepper: 37 calories
  • 20 pea pods: 28 calories


  • 1 small banana
  • 1 medium apple
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 1 cup whole strawberries
  • ½ cup canned fruit cocktail in juice (not syrup)
  • ½ cup orange juice


  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 2 cups raw mixed veggies with
  • 2 tablespoons fat-free dressing
  • 12 baby carrots
  • 18 small celery sticks
  • 1 cup raw cauliflower
  • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable juice

Breads, Cereals, Rice, and Pasta

  • ½ cup oat circles cereal
  • 2 graham cracker squares
  • 3 cups air-popped popcorn
  • ½ whole-wheat English muffin with jelly
  • 4 whole-wheat crackers, unsalted
  • 2 brown rice and multigrain rice cakes

Fat-free or Low-fat Milk, Cheese, and Yogurt

  • 6 ounces cup fat-free plain yogurt
  • ½ cup low-fat
  • cottage cheese
  • 1 cup fat-free milk
  • ½ cup fat-free pudding
  • ½ cup fat-free frozen yogurt
  • 1 ounce low-fat cheddar cheese

Other Snacks

  • 1 large hardboiled egg
  • 8 baked tortilla chips with salsa
  • 10 almonds

(Source 8)).

For comparison, one reduced-fat cheese stick has about 60 calories 100-calorie but it also has 4.5 grams of fat. While the protein and fat may help curb your appetite, a single cheese stick may not be as satisfying as, say, 20 baby carrots, which add up to nearly 10 times the weight of the cheese stick, have 70 calories and less than 1 gram of fat.

Healthy Snacks for Teens

Many adults think that snacking isn’t a healthy habit for their growing teen. The truth is that most teens need snacks; the trick is making healthy food choices in the right amounts.

Eating healthy foods will…

  • Help keep your weight in check.
  • Keep you awake and focused in school.
  • Help you do your best at sports.

Eating too many calories can cause teens to become overweight, which puts them at higher risk for getting type 2 diabetes. Now more teens are getting type 2 diabetes, especially if they are overweight 9). Healthy snacking can be part of an overall eating plan. When your teen is making snacks, encourage him or her to use a small plate or bowl and to snack at the table instead of in front of the TV or computer. These habits help teens control portion size and take their time while eating so they don’t eat too much. Be active as a family by going on walks together and encourage your teen to join active youth recreation programs.

Teens can lower their risk for the disease if they stay at a healthy weight by being active and choosing the right amounts of healthy foods – including snacks.

  • Make a fruit pizza. Spread 2 tablespoons of nonfat cream cheese on a toasted English muffin. Top with 1/4 cup of sliced strawberries, handful of grapes, or 1/4 cup of any fruit canned in its own juice. Instead of fruit, you can also use broccoli, carrots, and tomatoes for a veggie twist.
  • Choose one small bag or handful of baked chips pretzels, or air-popped popcorn.
  • Make a homemade fruit smoothie. Mix a 1/2 cup of frozen vanilla yogurt, a 1/2 cup of 100 percent orange juice, and one peeled orange in a blender then serve.
  • Serve two rice cakes, six whole-grain crackers, or one slice of whole-grain bread with 2 tablespoons of low-fat cheese, fruit spread, hummus, or peanut butter.
  • Choose an individual serving size of sugar-free, nonfat pudding instead of regular ice cream.
  • Serve a small tortilla with one or two slices of low-fat cheese or turkey, or a small bowl of vegetable soup and a few crackers.
  • Pour nonfat or low-fat milk over 1 cup of whole-grain cereal and add 1/4 cup of blueberries, strawberries, or peaches.
  • Spread 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on a tortilla and then sprinkle 1 tablespoon of whole-grain cereal on top. Peel and place one banana on the tortilla and then roll the tortilla for a crunchy treat.
  • Try an apple, banana, or plum with one or two reduced-fat or low-fat string cheese sticks.
  • Mix 1/8 cup of almonds and 1/8 cup of dried cranberries, cherries, or raisins with 1/2 cup of whole-grain cereal for a fun trail mix.


healthy snacks for teens

Reduce or avoid these:

  • Limit cakes, candies, cookies, frozen desserts, chips, and fries and other foods made with added sugar, shortening, butter, and margarine.
  • Choose water or fat-free or low-fat milk instead of sugary soda or juice drinks.
  • Avoid “value-sized” or “super-sized meals.”
  • Don’t add sugar to your food and drinks. Other foods, like ice cream and baked desserts, as well as some beverages, have added sugars to make them taste sweet. These sugars add calories but not vitamins or fiber. Try to consume less than 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugars in food and beverages. Reach for an apple or banana instead of a candy bar.

Just one super-sized, fast food meal may have more calories than you need in a whole day. And when people are served more food, they may eat or drink more—even if they don’t need it. This habit may lead to weight gain. When consuming fast food, choose small portions or healthier options, like a veggie wrap or salad instead of fries or fried chicken 10).

Give your body the right fuel:

  • Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Power up with lean meats, chicken, seafood, eggs, beans, nutes, tofu, and other protein-rich foods.
  • Build strong bones with fat-free or low-fat milk products for calcium and vitamin D.
  • Choose whole grains like whole-wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain cereal, instead of refined-grain cereals, white bread, and white rice.

Other snack options

Other snacks that are healthy and low in calories include the following:

  • Popcorn. Eat some low-fat popcorn. Two cups of air-popped popcorn has 62 calories and is a good source of nutrients, such as magnesium and potassium.
  • Whole-grain crispbreads. Toasted whole-grain bread crackers, such as rye Melba toast, are good sources of fiber and complex carbohydrates. Five pieces of Melba toast have about 97 calories.
  • Hummus. Hummus is made primarily from chickpeas, a small amount of ground sesame seeds and olive oil. It’s a good source of protein. Although it contains fats, they are mostly healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Two tablespoons of hummus — a good dip for a low-calorie vegetable snack — has 50 calories and 2.8 grams of fat.
  • Nuts. While nuts may have a bad reputation, research studies have shown that they don’t generally contribute to increased calorie intake or weight gain when eaten in moderation, in part because you feel satisfied after eating them. Nuts also have been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and overall mortality. Thirteen almonds provide a 100-calorie snack with 7.8 grams of healthy fats.
  • Stay away from “empty calories.” These are foods and drinks with a lot of calories but not many nutrients; for example, chips, cookies, sodas, and alcohol.
  • Try to drink water throughout the day. Remember, water is a good way to add fluids to your daily routine without adding calories.
  • Drink fat-free or low-fat milk, or other drinks without added sugars.
  • Have a cup of low-fat soup as an afternoon snack.
  • Have a healthy snack instead, such as an ounce of cheese with some whole-grain crackers.
  • Try a container of low-fat or fat-free yogurt.
  • Put fruit instead of candy in the bowl on your coffee table.
  • Keep a container of cleaned, raw vegetables in the fridge for snacking on.
  • If you want some chips or nuts, don’t eat from the bag. Count out a serving, and put the bag away.
  • When you’re out and need a snack, don’t be tempted by a candy bar. Instead, take along some fruit or raw vegetables or nuts in a plastic bag when you go out.

Nut eaters may have a longer life expectancy

A study on the “Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality” was published in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine in 2013 11). This study investigated whether nut consumption was associated with a reduced risk of death from any cause or death from specific causes. It involved two large independent cohort studies of nurses and other health professionals in the US.

The association between nut consumption and death was examined in 76,464 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study (1980-2010) and 42,498 men participating in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986-2010) 12). To be included, men and women could not have had cancer, heart disease or a stroke before the start of the study 13).

Nut consumption was assessed at the start of the study and then every two to four years. Participants were asked how frequently they had consumed a serving of nuts (28g, or just under one ounce) during the previous year. The researchers then calculated average nut consumption during the study or until a diagnosis of stroke, heart disease, angina or cancer.

Deaths were monitored by searching death certificates and relevant documentation, the US National Death Index, and reports from family members and postal authorities.

The researchers then looked at the association between nut consumption and death after adjusting for known or suspected confounding predictors of death risk, including:

  • age
  • race
  • body mass index (BMI)
  • level of physical activity
  • smoking
  • multivitamin use
  • aspirin use
  • family and personal history of a variety of conditions
  • diet

During the 30 years of follow-up in the Nurses’ Health Study, there were 16,200 deaths. During the 24 years of follow-up in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, there were 11,229 deaths 14).

Nut consumption reduced the risk of death from any cause during the study. The more frequently people ate nuts, the lower their risk:

  • participants who ate nuts less than once per week had a 7% reduced risk of death compared with those who ate none
  • participants who ate nuts once per week had a 11% reduced risk of death compared with those who ate none
  • participants who ate nuts two to four times per week had a 13% reduced risk of death compared with those who ate none
  • participants who ate nuts five or six times per week had a 15% reduced risk of death compared with those who ate none
  • participants who ate nuts seven or more times per week had a 20% reduced risk of death compared with those who ate none

Increasing nut consumption was also associated with reduced levels of risk of death from cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease 15).


This study found that eating nuts is associated with a reduced risk of death from any cause, and that the more frequently nuts were eaten, the lower the risk of death. Eating 28g of nuts seven or more times per week was associated with a 20% reduced risk of death.

The researchers say that previous studies found that increased nut intake was associated with a reduced risk of several diseases (including type 2 diabetes mellitus, colon cancer, high blood pressure and diverticulitis), and that nut consumption has been linked to reductions in various risk factors for chronic diseases. Seeing whether nut consumption was associated with reduced risk of death was the next step.

The study has many strengths, but also has several limitations that should be considered when interpreting the results.

It used data from people in two large cohort studies with 24 to 30 years of follow-up. All the participants were US-based health professionals, so it is possible that there may be problems with generalisability to other groups of people. Single cohort studies on their own can’t show a cause and effect relationship.

Diet, including nut consumption, was measured at regular intervals, making it more possible that any changes in diet during follow-up were captured. However, nut consumption was self-reported, and data on how the nuts were prepared (salted, spiced, roasted, raw) was not collected.

Despite these limitations – many of which are unavoidable because of the study design – this is an impressive piece of research. While it cannot prove that nuts increase life expectancy, this study certainly suggests a potential association between the two.

This research reinforces the message that nuts can form part of a healthy, balanced diet. You should be mindful of salt intake, however – eating more than 2300 mg (2.30 grams) a day (around one full teaspoon) would be counterproductive, as this could lead to high blood pressure 16).

Sodium chloride or table salt is approximately 40 percent sodium. It’s important to understand just how much sodium is in salt so you can take measures to control your intake. These amounts are approximate 17).

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Healthy Baking and Cooking Substitutes

Cut the fat and sugar in your meals by using these substitutes.

Instead of:Substitute:
1 cup cream1 cup evaporated fat-free milk
1 cup butter, margarine, or oil1/2 cup apple butter or applesauce
1 egg2 egg whites or 1/4 cup egg substitute
Pastry doughGraham cracker crumb crust
Butter, margarine, or vegetable oil for sautéingCooking spray, chicken broth, or a small amount of olive oil
BaconLean turkey bacon
Ground beefExtra lean ground beef or ground turkey breast
Sour creamFat-free sour cream
1 cup chocolate chips1/4 – 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup sugar3/4 cup sugar (this works with nearly everything except yeast breads)
1 cup mayonnaise1 cup fat-free or reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 cup whole milk1 cup fat-free milk
1 cup cream cheese1/2 cup ricotta cheese pureed with 1/2 cup fat-free cream cheese
Oil and vinegar dressing with 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar1 part olive oil + 1 part vinegar (preferably a flavored vinegar, such as balsamic) + 1 part orange juice
Unsweetened baking chocolate (1 ounce)3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or margarine

Note: Substitute the ingredients in your own favorite recipes to lower the amounts of fat, added sugar, and calories.

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