According to the USDA the average American eats at least two snacks per day, which accounts for nearly a quarter of daily calorie intake (or about 500 calories).
Because snacking contributes to a large portion of caloric intake, it's important to choose healthy, nutritious items to ensure adequate (or even optimal) nutrient intake.
A healthy snack should include nutrient-dense foods: those which are packed with vitamins and minerals, and are low in sugar, fat, and salt. For maintaining a healthy weight, snacks should be 200 calories or less.
There are many benefits of healthy snacking, such as:
Increased nutrient intake by consuming vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds (the most nutrient dense foods).
Sustained energy levels: Prevent blood sugar levels from dropping too low between meals with high-fiber snacks that promote even blood sugar levels, preventing the subsequent energy crash.
Recovery from exercise: Healthy snacking following a vigorous workout replenishes energy stores and speeds up muscle recovery. Vigorous workouts can cause inflammation and a buildup of lactic acid. Ideal post workout snacks should include something alkaline and anti-inflammatory followed by a healthy protein about 30 minutes later.
Weight maintenance: Balanced snacking can help fill in nutrition gaps, and prevent overeating at mealtimes. Feeling full will prevent you from getting too hungry and reaching for high-calorie foods. Choosing low-calorie healthy snacks will help avoid eating too many empty calories which leads to unhealthy weight gain.
Fruits and vegetables are great for snacking because they are naturally low in fat, and contain numerous vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fruits and vegetables are also easy to grab on the go. For something a little more substantial, include some whole grain crackers or toast and top with nut butter.
Skip the peanut butter and try some of these nut butters:
Almond butter: a good source of the healthy monounsaturated fats associated with lowering the risk of heart disease
Cashew butter: lower in fat than peanut, and a good source of minerals such as magnesium, iron, and selenium
Walnut butter: provides a great source of vegetarian omega-3 fatty acids
Sunflower seeds can also be processed into a smooth, spreadable alternative to nut butters and are a great choice for anyone with a tree nut allergy. Sunflower seed spreads can provide a good amount of fiber, magnesium, niacin, and antioxidant vitamin E.
Here are some more healthy snack options:
Hummus & Veggies: Buy or make any type of hummus you prefer and eat with your favorite chopped veggies
D.I.Y. Trail Mix: 1 cup of nuts of your choice (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, etc.), 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds, and 1 cup of dried fruit of your choice (raisins, apricots, apples, prunes, banana chips, etc.)
No-bake Energy Ball: Stir 1 cup of dry oats, 2/3 cup of toasted coconut flakes, 1/2 cup of nut butter, 1/2 cup of ground flax seeds, 1/2 cup of raisins and 1 tablespoon chia seeds in a large bowl; let chill in the fridge for 10-20 minutes; shape/roll into 1-inch balls and store in the fridge for up to one week
D.I.Y. Bistro Box: Toasted whole grain English muffin or crackers, 1 tablespoon of nut butter, apple slices, and carrot slices