Snacking is one of our nation's pastimes.
Nearly every American — 94 percent — snacks at least once a day, and half of us snack two to three times a day, according to a July 2015 report from market research firm Mintel.
While snacking can be part of a healthy diet, calories from snacks do add up. In fact, snacking accounts for about 30 percent of our total calories every day, per a September 2016 paper in Advances in Nutrition.
Since snacking makes up so much of our diets, it's crucial to make these bites both healthy and filling. Those noshes are opportunities to get in more nutrients, stabilize your blood sugar and quell your appetite so you're not hangry before your next meal.
Are Your Snacks Nutritious?
So, what should you look for when shopping for snacks at the supermarket? While there's no clear definition of a snack or established recommendations, there are some general guidelines on how to snack healthy:
- Frequency: Ideally, snacking happens one to two times a day, though frequency really depends on individual needs. Be mindful of how often you're snacking and _why_ you keep reaching for something to nosh on — is it hunger, boredom or habit?
- Portions: Portion control is key. After all, it's what makes a snack a snack, and a meal a meal. Aim to keep your snacks under 250 calories.
- Look for Protein and Fiber: Packing these nutrients in your snacks helps keep your blood sugar and appetite in check.
- Avoid Added Sugars and Sodium: Both are rampant in highly processed foods, and saturated fats can be, too. Read labels carefully and try to limit the amount of high-sodium, high-sugar snacks you buy.
To help you navigate the (often overwhelming) snack aisle, I've pulled together some of my top picks for healthy packaged snacks as a dietitian. They're all under 250 calories and have at least 3 grams of fiber or 5 grams of protein per serving. They're also low in added sugars and free of artificial ingredients or additives.
1. Barnana Organic Chewy Coconut Banana Bites
- Nutrition per serving: 115 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 0 milligrams sodium, 27 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 17 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 2 grams protein
A few simple bites with a big nutritional punch, this snack consists of bananas and coconuts — that's it! — and provides more than 15 percent of your daily value of fiber and potassium, two nutrients Americans fall short on, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $14.99 per 3-pack
2. Skinny Dipped Cashews
- Nutrition per serving: 160 calories, 11 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 0 milligrams sodium, 11 grams carbohydrates (14 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar, 5 grams added sugar), 5 grams protein
Whole cashews dipped in chocolate will squash any sweet craving. These are free of artificial sweeteners and still low in added sugars. With 5 grams of protein and a healthy dose of good fats, it's a snack you can feel happy about.
Buy it: SkinnyDipped.com; Price: $24.99 per 5-pack
3. Bare Baked Crunchy Apple Chips
- Nutrition per serving: 110 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 0 milligrams sodium, 26 grams carbohydrates (5 grams fiber, 17 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 1 gram protein
The Bare Baked snacks — apple, coconut, banana, strawberry and pineapple chips — are as bare as they claim. A very simple ingredient list coupled with compelling amounts of fiber, vitamins and mineral offerings make these a top pick. Try dipping these gluten-free crunchers in yogurt or peanut butter for more protein, making for an even more balanced snack.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $23.94 per 6-pack
4. Peckish Protein Pack
- Nutrition per serving: 170 calories, 10 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 260 milligrams sodium, 7 grams carbohydrates (0 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 12 grams protein
I love this brilliant moniker for this one-of-a-kind snack. Peckish pairs hardboiled eggs with a crunchy dip that's satiating and delicious. Our favorite is the Rancheros flavor — two organic free-range eggs with a crunchy ranchero dip made up of quinoa crispies, sunflower oil, chili pepper and other spices. The 12 grams of protein will hold you over until dinner.
Buy it: Instacart.com; Price: $1.97 each
5. Health Warrior Chia Bars
- Nutrition per serving: 100 calories, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 45 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbohydrates (5 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar, 2 grams added sugar), 3 grams protein
At just 100 calories each, these bars qualify as a light snack, while standing out for their nutrition. Each bar contains 5 grams of fiber and about half of the recommended alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, intake for the day. Chia seeds are the key source of fiber and omega-3s in these bars.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $15.99 for 15 bars
6. Wonderful Pistachios
- Nutrition per serving: 150 calories, 13 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated fat), 135 milligrams sodium, 8 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, 2 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 6 grams protein
Nuts rock, and pistachios are extra special because they're fun to crack open. I'm partial to the Sweet Chili flavor, but you have your pick between Roasted and Salted, Lightly Salted, Salt and Pepper, No Salt, Natural Raw and Honey Roasted, too.
Beyond the taste, there's good evidence that these nuts make for a smart snack: A March 2017 paper in Nutrition Journal found that replacing less nutrient-dense foods with tree nuts like pistachios for between-meal snacks led to better overall diet quality.
Buy it: Target.com; Price: $11.99 for 20-ounce bag
7. Siggi’s Non-Dairy Yogurt
- Nutrition per serving: 190 calories, 11 grams fat (7 grams saturated fat), 5 milligrams sodium, 13 grams carbohydrates (1 grams fiber, 9 grams sugar, 8 grams added sugar), 10 grams protein
The trouble with plant-based yogurts is that most are lacking in the protein department. This is not the case with Siggi's non-dairy yogurt, however. Mango, Mixed Berry, Raspberry and Vanilla and Cinnamon flavors all rely on pea protein, each serving packing in 10 grams of protein. This yogurt relies on coconut as a base, which gives it a higher amount of saturated fat, so make sure to balance this out with your intake throughout the rest of the day.
Buy it: FreshDirect.com; Price: $2.19 each
8. That’s It Prebiotic and Probiotic Bars
- Nutrition per serving: 110 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 5 milligrams sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates (7 grams fiber, 9 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 1 gram protein
That's It bars have simple ingredients lists, but the Prebiotics and Probiotics bars take things up a notch: These vegan snack bars provide 2 billion CFUs of active cultures but continue to maintain the spare ingredients list. These also provide a solid dose of filling fiber.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $24.99 per 10-pack
9. Pan’s Mushroom Jerky
- Nutrition per serving: 110 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 250 milligrams sodium, 16 grams carbohydrates (6 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar, 5 grams added sugar), 1 gram protein
Aside from the savory, umami flavor of the shiitake mushrooms, these jerky snacks make the list for their clever ingredients. The Salt and Pepper flavor, for instance, contains organic dried shiitake mushrooms, avocado oil, organic coconut sugar, water, black pepper, Himalayan pink salt and organic chia seeds. With 6 grams of fiber per 100-calorie serving, these snacks will keep you satisfied between meals.
Buy it: MushroomJerky.com; Price: $9.99 per bag
- Mintel: "A Snacking Nation: 94% of Americans Snack Daily"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Snack Food, Satiety, and Weight"
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Shifts Needed To Align With Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Nutrition Journal: "Replacing American Snacks with Tree Nuts Increases Consumption of Key Nutrients Among US Children and Adults: Results of an NHANES Modeling Study"