Some of the most popular snacks on the market are assumed healthy, but sneak in harmful additives. Learn how to make smarter choices when the snack craving strikes.
Reaching for a snack is a great way to tame your hunger before your next meal, but careless snacking can add a bunch of unhealthy calories to your day. The following seemingly wholesome snacks sneak in surprisingly harmful levels of sugar, fat, and salt. Read on to learn the truth about their nutrition and the ways you can choose your snacks wisely the next time.
Baked potato chips. The traditional, fried potato chip's salty flavor and crispy texture keeps us wanting and eating more. Baked potato chips have entered the scene as a lighter alternative, and they do offer fewer calories and less fat for the same crunch. But they can also deliver close to double the sodium as traditional chips to compensate for the fact that they are not fried.
Healthy tip: Choose plain baked chips instead of flavored, which can reduce your sodium intake by almost half. To change it up, go for air popped sweet potato chips which are higher in fiber and are a good source of vitamin A.
Microwave popcorn. The popcorn kernel is surprisingly healthy, providing tons of fiber and nutrients in its popped state. Unfortunately, many commercially sold microwaveable popcorn packets are anything but, filled with artificial flavors that are high in trans fats, saturated fat, and sodium.
Healthy tip: Look for popcorn packets that contain minimal ingredients without artificial flavorings, additives, trans fat, processed oil, and salt. Light or reduced fat options can reduce your fat intake by 70%.
Store-bought fruit smoothie. Marketed as wholesome and healthy, these grab-and-go 15 oz drinks filled with "100% fruit" can easily cost you over 300 calories and upwards of 46 grams of sugar for some of the most popular flavors. Even if the sugar comes from fruit, your body processes it by turning it into glucose, the same way as any other sugar source.
Healthy tip: Store-bought smoothies with fruit are especially high in sugar, so skip the all-fruit smoothies in favor of smoothies with green vegetables like spinach or kale. Also, opt for smoothies that use water or milk as its base rather than fruit juice to keep the sugar content low.
Energy bar. Whether you rely on a carb and protein-packed bar to fuel your muscles before a workout or to eat in place of the lunch you had to skip, the bar you choose can make a difference in the type of nourishment you get. Many packaged bars contain too many added simple carbs and sugars like cane sugar, cane syrup, and brown rice syrup and do not offer enough healthy calories to fill you up as a meal.
Healthy tip: A nutritious bar will have easy to recognize ingredients with no extra fillers and no more than 2 grams of added sugar or 2 grams of saturated fat. Look for one that has at least 2 to 3 grams of fiber from fruits, vegetables, or nuts. As a snack, only 5 grams or less of protein is needed.
Flavored yogurt. Today’s yogurts offer countless flavors, which means that in addition to calcium, protein, and gut health-boosting live bacteria, yogurt can also offer an excessive dose of sugar. This is especially true when the yogurt is low-fat, as sugar is often added to make up for any loss in taste. Some popular low-fat brands provide a whopping 29 grams of sugar per cup of yogurt.
Healthy tip: To enjoy yogurt the healthy way, avoid the sugary fruit-on-the-bottom or crunch topping varieties and stick to plain, non-fat Greek-style which has no added sugars and is higher in protein. Toss in a little fresh fruit, like blueberries, for added flavor.
Making nutritious snacks at home
Smart snacking means making smart choices. Ideal snacks are low in added sugar, salt, and fat but high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. But if you love the snacks mentioned above, there is no reason to give them up. You can prepare several at home with ingredients you can feel good about.
Prepping your own popcorn at home is a delicious way to save on loads of fat and salt. All you need is 3.5 tablespoons popcorn kernels and a 2-qt. nonstick pot. After pre-heating the pot on medium high heat for 2 minutes, lower the heat to low and place the kernels inside. Immediately cover the pot. Shake the pot gently every few seconds until you hear the kernels popping after a minute or two. Your popcorn is ready when 3 seconds elapse between each pop (2 cups: 62 calories, 0.7g fat, 12g carbs, 0.6mg sodium, and 2.4g fiber).
Green fruit smoothie
For a delicious, antioxidant-rich smoothie, blend 1.5 cups unsweetened almond milk, 2 cups spinach, 1 frozen banana, half cup frozen mango, and half cup frozen pineapple. (1.5 cups: 202 calories, 4g fat, 34g carbs, 6g fiber, and 17g sugar).
To enjoy a nutritious fruit-filled yogurt, simply cut up or puree your favorite berries or fruit and mix into non-fat, plain Greek-style yogurt. Top off with chopped nuts, granola, cinnamon, or cocoa powder for an extra flavorful treat. (1 cup yogurt, 3 strawberries pureed: 137 calories, 0.2g fat, 11g carbs, 23g protein, 10g sugar)