An ideal snack gives you protein or fiber -- or both -- to help you feel full, says Gillian Culbertson, RD, certified diabetes educator at the Cleveland Clinic.
It should give you plenty of energy without too many calories. Aim for between 100 and 150 calories for women, and about 200 calories for men, with 15 to 20 grams of protein.
“Refrain from snack foods that are rich in sugars and refined carbohydrates, because of how they can boost blood sugar,” says David Grotto, RD, author of The Best Things You Can Eat. In fact, it’s a good idea to stay away from any type of sugars.
There are lots of good options. Start with these smart snacks.
Good Snack 1: Bean dip with veggies
You can easily turn canned beans in a can (such as kidney beans, navy beans, and chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans), into an inexpensive, protein-packed snack.
“The combination of the fiber and protein in beans has been shown to help keep blood sugar under control,” Grotto says. “And beans are an integral part of the DASH diet, which is the most effective approach to stopping [high blood pressure].”
Make it: Put 1/4 cup of low-sodium beans and 2 ounces of low-sodium chicken broth into a food processor to create a healthy and satisfying bean dip, Grotto says. Enjoy with 1/2 cup of raw, crunchy vegetables, like celery, carrots, or red peppers.
Nutrition info: The amounts listed above make one serving, with about 85 calories, 0.2 grams fat, and 11 grams carbohydrates.
Good Snack 2: Oatmeal
Oatmeal is high in carbs -- the good kind.
“The soluble fiber in oats helps absorb cholesterol and blood glucose," Grotto says. "Fiberless carbs in a food like pretzels, for example, can send blood glucose and insulin levels spiraling upwards."
Don't favor the sugar-added instant oatmeal varieties. Make your toppings things like a spoonful of nuts, not syrup or honey.
Nutrition info: For one cup of cooked oats, you'll get about 88 calories, 1.9 grams fat, and 25 grams carbohydrates.
Good Snack 3: Nonfat Greek yogurt
It's rich in protein, which helps you feel full longer. “Depending on your choice of Greek yogurt, a serving (one small container, which is typically 5.3 ounces) can contain between 12 and 24 grams of protein,” Culbertson says. Plus, low-fat dairy products are a staple in the DASH diet, making this a smart option if you have high blood pressure.
Nutrition info: For one small container (5.3 ounces), you'll get about 80 calories, 0 grams fat, and 6 grams carbohydrates.
Good Snack 4: Low-fat string cheese stick and fresh fruit
Nutrition info: For one low-fat cheese stick and 1 cup of fresh fruit (like strawberries), you'll get about 110 calories, 5 grams fat, and 12.7 grams carbohydrates.
Good Snack 5: Pistachios
Pistachios are one of Grotto’s favorites, because they’re low in carbohydrates and rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which can lower bad cholesterol levels.
Buy the nuts that are still in their shells. People eat fewer calories when they choose in-shell pistachios over the shelled ones. It’s the effort of cracking open the shell, besides having the visual reminder of the shells in front of you, that helps keep you from overdoing it, Grotto says. For a single serving, stick to 1 ounce or one handful.
Nutrition info: For 1 ounce or a handful (about 49 pistachios), you'll get about 160 calories, 13.1 grams fat, and 7.9 grams carbohydrates.
Bad Snack 1: Chips
Potato chips might seem like a quick fix for your hunger, but they provide little nutritional value, Culbertson says. “They’re high in sodium -- about 200 milligrams in a 1-ounce serving -- contain only 2 grams of protein and absolutely no fiber,” she says.
Nutrition info: For 1 ounce (a small snack size), you'll get about 50 calories, 9 grams fat, and 16 grams carbohydrates.
Bad Snack 2: Crackers
“Crackers do not stave off hunger well,” Culbertson says. Low in fiber and high in sodium, this snack does not provide the energy boost most people are looking for during the afternoon, and you’re not likely to feel satisfied. (However, some crackers are high in fiber and low in sodium; and topping them with low-fat cheese takes them from a bad snack to a healthy one.) And if they’re not single-serving packages, Culbertson says, it's easy to eat too many.
Nutrition info for 10 crackers: About 164 calories, 8 grams fat, 20 grams carbohydrates
Bad Snack 3: Granola or cereal bar
Yes, there are plenty of healthy versions of granola and cereal bars. But many of them, Grotto says, are “not a blend of healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates, but instead a direct carbohydrate bomb without having fiber and other important nutrients.”
Choose one that’s high in protein and fiber and low in sugar. “It’s not a horrible snack,” Grotto says, “but I find that most people overeat them and tend to be hungry within an hour.”
Nutrition info: For one bar, you'll get about 125 calories, 4.6 grams fat, and 20.5 grams carbohydrates.
Bad Snack 4: Pretzels
If you think pretzels are the “safer” of the traditional snack items, think again. “While this salty treat can be low in fat, they hold no redeeming nutritional value whatsoever,” Grotto says. “In a side-by-side comparison, 1 ounce of pretzels raised blood sugar higher than 1 ounce of potato chips.”
Nutrition info per ounce: 108 calories, 0.7 grams fat, 22.7 grams carbohydrates
Bad Snack 5: 100-calorie cookie snack packs
They're convenient and portion-controlled, but they’re not satisfying, and they don’t help control blood sugar levels, Culbertson says. “Typically, these snacks contain white flour and sugar, and they're also low in nutrients and fiber.”
Nutrition info per package (0.6 ounces to 0.9 ounces): About 100 calories, 2 to 3 grams fat, 16 to 18 grams carbohydrates