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Best and Worst Snacks in Your Supermarket

7 not-so-healthy picks, plus 8 tasty alternatives.
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WebMD Expert Column

What makes a healthy snack? A good-for-you snack is one that's high in nutritional value (protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber) but relatively low in calories, total fat, saturated fat (no trans fat), sugar, and sodium. And the most important part of that equation is "high in nutritional value." Nuts, for example, are high in fat and calories, but they are also loaded with nutrients we need, which makes them a healthy choice.

On the flip side, not-so-healthy snack choices are usually low in nutritional value but high in calories, total fat, saturated fat (and sometimes trans fat), sugars, or sodium.

While fresh veggies and fruits make super-healthy snacks, those items aren't always convenient (or the most popular choices in a typical family). So here are some of the worst – in terms of healthfulness -- snack choices I found in my local supermarket along with healthy alternatives that can be put together in minutes.

You might see different products in your part of the country. But the way to get a good idea of what's in a food product is by looking at the first three to five ingredients listed on the package. On the Nutrition Facts label, keep an eye out for the calories, total fat, saturated and trans fat, grams of sugar, and milligrams of sodium and then compare them to other products in that category.

7 Not-So-Healthy Snacks

1. Chocolate-Coated Doughnuts, Mini Doughnuts, and Snack Cakes

This is not to say that powdered-sugar doughnuts are good snack choices. But chocolate-coated doughnuts and snack cakes have even more saturated fat than other types.

  • Entenmann's Pop'ems Frosted Donuts, 4 pieces: 320 calories, 23 grams (g) total fat, 14 g saturated fat, 16 g sugar, 180 milligrams (mg) sodium
  • Little Debbie Zebra Cakes, 1 cake: 190 calories, 9 g total fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 182 g sugar, 150 mg sodium
  • Sunnyside Farms Mini Chocolate Frosted Donuts, 3 donuts: 220 calories, 13 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 13 g sugar, 160 mg sodium

2. Snack Pies

The Safeway fruit pies I found say "great snack!" on the package. This makes sense only if by "great snack" they mean high in calories, total fat, saturated fat, and sugar and low in protein, fiber, and other healthy nutrients.

  • Safeway Berry Fruit Pie, 1 pie: 450 calories, 24 g total fat, 13 g saturated fat, 13 g sugar, 370 mg sodium
  • Cutie Pie Real Fruit Pie, Cherry, 1 mini individual pie (3 ounces): 270 calories, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 18 g sugars, 350 mg sodium

3. Mega-Butter or "Movie Theatre" Microwave Popcorn

This is one of the few products that still contain trans fat. Just 3 tablespoons of unpopped popcorn (which ends up being about 3.5 cups popped) contains 4 to 5 grams of trans fat. It's easy to end up eating twice that amount, which can be 8 to 10 grams of trans fat and 24 grams of total fat. 

  • Pop-Secret Extra Butter, 3T unpopped: 180 calories, 13 g total fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 6 g trans fat, 360 mg sodium
  • Jolly Time Blast O Butter, 2T unpopped: 160 calories, 12 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 4 g trans fat, 330 mg sodium
  • Orville Redenbacher’s Butter, 2 T unpopped: 170 calories, 12 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 380 mg sodium

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