Americans love to snack. In fact, we are snacking more than ever. Research published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2010 showed a snacking-frequency increase of 26 percent among adults from 1977 to 2006. Unfortunately, too many of us—especially kids—eat unhealthy snacks which, research shows, leads to more unhealthy food choices. Experts agree that without planning ahead, choosing a less-than-optimal snack (i.e., a sugary caffeine drink, chips, cookies, or candy) becomes more likely. Thus, this seemingly benign habit of snacking can actually have a significant impact on your health—which is why it’s important to choose wisely.
Here, a few experts weigh in on what snacks are best:
Snacks for the Brain
Brain health expert and board-certified neuroscientist Daniel G. Amen, MD, believes snacks should include protein, healthy fat, and the fiber and antioxidants found in fresh fruits and vegetables. His philosophy is that what’s healthy for the brain is healthy for the body. After all, the brain is the command and control center of every function in the body. “Nuts are one of my favorites,” he says. “Also lean protein with healthy fats—such as eggs and guacamole with veggies,” he adds. The omega-3 fatty acids found abundantly in avocados help maintain cognitive function. Eggs are an excellent source of protein and help to keep you lean. Having protein with each snack helps to balance blood sugar levels as it limits the fast absorption of carbohydrates. For those wanting something sweeter, he suggests, “frozen blueberries and apples with almond or cashew butter.” They are his personal favorites and for good reason. Almonds contain high levels of vitamin E, which may help reduce cognitive decline. Antioxidant-rich cashews help support healthy memory as do apples, which are loaded with fiber that provide a feeling of fullness and may help reduce overeating. Blueberries are an excellent low-sugar fruit also rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins, the compound that may have antidiabetic properties and gives blueberries their rich color.
Snacks Kids Will Eat
Health expert, nutritionist, and bestselling author Jonny Bowden, PhD CNS, says, “I have found that there are a few foods that are both healthy and that you have a shot at getting kids to eat.” His solutions include, “Whole, unprocessed peanut butter or almond butter (like you get right out of the grinder at a lot of grocery stores), cheese, nuts, fruit and trail mix, string cheese and apple slices, celery and peanut butter, and dark chocolate, which can be combined with almost any of them.” He also suggests dark chocolate covered peanut clusters or dark chocolate almond clusters that are available at most health food store bins. He also says that these snacks work equally well for adults!
Snacks Low in Sugar
Summer Rayne Oakes, author of the new book SugarDetoxMe: 100+ Recipes to Curb Cravings and Take Back Your Health, advocates snacks without sugar. She says that parents should avoid giving their kids sugary drinks, which is where most children (and adults) consume free sugars. Instead, she recommends, “whole fruits, like whole apples, easy-to-peel citrus, and bananas” as well as “almond butter slathered on celery, mixed nuts, kale chips, and seaweed snacks.”
Taking into consideration the recommendations of the experts, here are five low-sugar snacks balanced with protein, fiber, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. They are nutrient-dense, delicious, and take advantage of the fruits in season. Here’s to your healthy snacking!