How to Choose Healthy Snacks (That Won’t Derail Your Otherwise Healthy Diet!)

Plus 10 dietitian-approved snacks
woman snacking on veggetables and yogurt dip

It’s 3 o’clock and your stomach is rumbling. No possible way you’re making it to dinner. While it’s tempting to make a vending machine run or rummage around mindlessly in the fridge, snacking is (yet another of those) things in life where a little advanced planning pays off big.

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To keep your weight in check, healthy food choices matter. And that includes all of the food you eat, says dietitian Mira Ilic, RD, LD. Your carefully planned diet can go astray if you’re unwise in the snacking department.

“I recommend a Mediterranean way of eating in general — for both meals and snacks,” Ilic advises.

After all, about 90% of Americans snack between meals, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you follow these simple guidelines.

Make smart snack choices

Choose nutrient-dense snack foods. Why? It’s because snacks that combine protein, high-fiber carbs and healthy fats are nourishing. That means they’ll keep you feeling full longer.

Protein can come from both plant and animal sources (if you eat it). And you’ll find healthy fats in avocado, olive oil, nuts, nut butter, seeds (like chia or flax) and fish.

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So fruits and veggies should be a large part of what you’re snacking on, Ilic says. Unlike many snacks, they’re not just empty calories. They have nutrients and antioxidants, and some have anti-inflammatory properties. (Bonus!)

But knowing which foods to avoid is just as important as those to choose. Stay away from sugary foods, processed foods made with white flour (which are inflammatory), and foods high in sodium. Saturated fats and trans fats can also promote inflammation.

Be sure to read food labels. Yogurt itself is a fine pick. But it can be unhealthy if it contains lots of sugar. If you buy the flavored variety, find one with less than 10 grams of sugar, she suggests.

When you snack matters

Well-timed snacks can help to keep you from overeating at meal time.

For example, it’s actually a good idea to get that 3 p.m. snack to tide you over from lunch until dinner.

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Why planning ahead + portion control are so important

If you run out the door in the morning with no thought to what you’ll snack on that day, there’s a good chance you’ll regret it later.

It’s too easy to grab a bag of potato chips or a sugar-laden power bar masquerading as a healthy snack when you’re ravenous. These options tend to be high in calories and loaded with added sugar, salt and bad-for-you fats.

The solution? Pack your own snacks each morning (or the night ahead) in a small container or small snack bag. Aim for about one-quarter to one-third of a cup.

Here are 10 healthy snacks ideas that Ilic recommends to get you started:

  1. Veggies with hummus.
  2. Veggies with a dip made from plain yogurt and dill (or other herbs and spices).
  3. A smoothie featuring protein (yogurt, tofu, protein powder), fresh or frozen berries, spinach or kale, and chia seeds.
  4. Sardines on whole-grain crackers.
  5. Smoked salmon on crackers or cucumber slices.
  6. Dry-roasted edamame.
  7. Roasted chickpeas with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger.
  8. Nuts of any kinds
  9. Natural nut butter on apple slices.
  10. Trail mix made from dry-roasted edamame, nuts, seeds and unsweetened dry fruit.

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