Betcha can’t eat just one. Apparently the vintage potato chip slogan is quite true – and it’s not just the chips that are getting us in trouble. A June 2011 study revealed that potato chips lead the pack of foods that are associated with gradual weight gain over a period of years. Also on the list: sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats. Your takeaway? What you choose to snack on can have a big impact on your weight over the long term. So, your best defense when a craving hits is to be ready with satisfying but healthy snacks.
Healthy Snack Hack: Salt
Crave potato chips? Try lightly salted edamame.
If you’ve never tried edamame, get ready to be surprised by its can’t-eat-just-one ability. The good news though, is that unlike for potato chips, that’s okay! For about 300 calories per one cup serving, edamame delivers 17 whopping grams of protein, which is about twice the amount of hunger-curbing power as other beans. Plus, the same size serving of edamame boasts 8 grams of fiber and 9 milligrams of iron to fill you up with an exhaustion-fighting boost. As a bonus, Edamame is also the richest dietary source of isoflavones, which act as phytoestrogens that may help protect against some types of cancer and osteoporosis. Look for frozen, lightly salted edamame that you only have to nuke and eat when your stomach rumbles.
Crave pretzels? Try olives and carrot sticks.
If it’s the crunchy + salty combo that you like, sub out the easy-to-overdo pretzels for a salty crunch combo that can conquer your cravings as well as add nutritious value to your diet. While carrots add a fiber and beta carotene punch, olives add heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Venture beyond the pedestrian black and green olives that are ubiquitous at the salad bar, and go for other varieties like Kalamata, Niçoise, or Picholine. Enjoy carrot sticks to your heart’s content, but to keep fat and sodium in check, stop popping with 5 large olives.
Crave snack crackers? Try roasted pumpkin seeds.
If it’s the salty, one-bite fix you crave, skip the refined grains and trans fat that often plague crackers and go for a healthy, chewy crunch instead. And best of all, there’s plenty of power behind the crunch. A quarter cup of pumpkin seeds supplies your diet with vitamins and minerals like magnesium, iron, zinc and protein. Roast your own or buy them – that way you can spice them the way you like them. Try tossing your healthy snack of roasted pumpkin seeds with chili powder or garlic and Worcestershire sauce.
Healthy Snack Hack: Sweet
Crave cookies? Try apples and caramel dip.
If it’s a plateful of the crunchy-sweet delight you seek, try a sliced apple with a tablespoon of caramel dessert sauce as a dip or drizzle. By choosing to dive into apple slices instead of cookies, you trade fat and calories for fiber and phytonutrients. Choose a flavorful apple (like Pink Lady or Honeycrisp) to serve at room temperature so that you maximize the flavors. And if caramel isn’t your sauce, any sweet accompaniment will do – like melted peanut butter.
Crave ice cream? Try frozen yogurt cups.
If cold and creamy makes you weak in the knees, try frozen yogurt. But here’s the catch: use the same stuff you eat out of a plastic cup for lunch, not the frozen ice-creamesque treat, since that, like ice cream, can be loaded with sugar. Buy a couple extra cartons of your favorite yogurt, and instead of slipping them into the refrigerator when you return from the grocery store, dish them into a microwave-safe container and slip it into the freezer. Voila! When you need a cold and creamy healthy snack, just nuke the yogurt (depending on your microwave – but as little as 10 seconds can do the job) and stir until you achieve the creamy texture you desire. The best part? The same study that mentioned potato chip eaters were more likely to gain weight disclosed that yogurt eaters were more likely to lose!
Crave candy bars? Try dark chocolate paired with roasted almonds.
Even the most avid health enthusiasts agree that sometimes only chocolate will do. But instead of heading to the vending machine to grab anything chocolate, try instead to prepare ahead with quality chocolate and a few almonds. Buy a dark chocolate bar with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and divide into 1 ounce squares so you’re ready when your belly is – plus portion control ahead of time helps you avoid the temptation of eating the entire bar. Pairing the chocolate with about 11 lightly salted, roasted almonds is enough to give your chocolate a satisfying protein punch that imitates a candy bar without the guilt.
The Bottom Line
Snacks shouldn’t do in your healthy intentions. There are plenty of ways to nosh on healthy snacks and keep your diet on track… and best of all, conquer what you crave!
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.