When you live a healthy and active lifestyle, snacks are crucial for keeping you fueled up for your next workout. Plus, snacks can be lifesavers for keeping hanger at bay as you head from the office to the gym, all before a late dinner. That’s why keeping healthy snacks like fruit, hummus, and peanut butter on hand is such a smart choice.
Unfortunately, at the same time, it’s easy to go overboard on snacking—yep, even on healthy snacks. After all, the recommended serving size of hummus is just 2-4 tablespoons, for example. It’s so delicious, though, you probably eat double that recommended amount of the creamy spread at a time, right?
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Here are five healthy snacking traps nutritionists say you shouldn’t fall into, plus what to do instead so you can snack smart.
Eating too many calories
Instead of potato chips, you pick up dried peas instead. But before you know it, you’re eating the entire bag. That’s worse than getting the chips in the first place.
“Not watching portion sizes is one of the biggest healthy snacking mistakes I see, says Megan Denos, R.D. “Snacks are meant to tide you over from one meal to the next, so they should not contain as many calories as a meal itself,” she says. “A good calorie range for snacks is 150-250 calories, depending on your overall calorie needs. Some healthy snacks, such as nuts or trail mix can be very high in calories (around 200 calories per 1/4 cup!), so it’s important to watch portions and stick to a single serving.”
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Consuming all carbohydrates
When your body needs a quick hit of energy before your evening gym session, you may reach for a banana or granola bar. While carbs are important, don’t forgo the protein, too, says Nicole Hinckley, R.D., L.D.
Protein slows down digestion, so when you pair a carbohydrate with a protein it can help you feel fuller longer.
“The biggest mistake I see when it comes to snacking is when people are consuming all carbohydrates,” she says. “Those carbs may be coming from a healthy source, such as an apple. However, protein slows down digestion, so when you pair a carbohydrate with a protein it can help you feel fuller longer.”
Next time, add some peanut butter to your apple or banana, or try some almonds and fruit.
Grazing all day long
Grazing all day is easy to do, especially if you work in an office that has unlimited healthy snack options. The same goes if you work from home and have unlimited access to your cabinet/fridge. Sticking to dedicated snack times is a better idea, Denos explains.
“Treat a snack like you would a meal,” she says. “Get a single portion, sit down, and eat it,” she says. “When you graze (a piece of cheese here, protein bar there, then kale chips later…) the calories still add up quicker than you may realize and you never end up truly feeling like your hunger was satisfied.”
Not planning ahead
When you are stuck in the office and in need of snack, but you don’t have anything healthy on hand, it’s so easy to reach for a cookie or donut. So with the best of intentions for healthy snacking, you find yourself at the vending machine, says Denos.
“Many people forget to think about snacks until their stomach starts to rumble in between meals,” she says. “This leads them right to the vending machine or baked goods in the break room. Instead, plan ahead and pack a nutritious snack so you’re not tempted by less healthy options.”
Thinking because a snack is labeled “organic,” or non-GMO, you can eat as much as you want
We all love grocery stores like Whole Foods, but just because they label an Oreo cookie or potato chip organic doesn’t mean you can eat as many as you want. “Remember, healthy calories are still calories,” says Hinckley. “Try to choose snacks that are rich in nutrients and low in calories.”
If you are going to read labels, she also recommends looking for snacks that are low in sugar and have a short list of ingredients.
Smart choices for healthy snacks
So what counts as a healthy snack, exactly? Denos says it should be 150-250 calories per serving, low in added sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats. It also should also include healthy fats (unsaturated fats), protein, and fiber. Some of her favorite options are below.
- Apple slices and peanut butter
- Nuts or trail mix
- A piece of string cheese and a piece of fruit
- Peanut butter spread on a whole grain rice cake
- A snack bar with little to no added sugar (Look for KIND Bars, Larabars, and RX Bars)
- Hummus with whole grain tortilla chips and sliced vegetables
- Avocado spread on whole grain toast
- A hardboiled egg with whole grain crackers
While choosing healthy snacks can give you more fuel for your day, be sure to check portion sizes, include some protein, and stick to a dedicated snack times to avoid unwanted weight gain. The goal is to have your energy soar, not slump!