Snacking is a great dietary practice — it keeps you energized, helps you get important nutrients and can prevent overeating at mealtimes. For those who follow keto or Atkin's, snacking options don't have to be limited. There are plenty of zero-carb snacks out there for you to choose from.
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Before you start to plan your snacking options, it's important to consider why you're looking for no-carb snack foods and whether incorporating a few complex carbohydrates could be of benefit to you.
Why You Should Snack
Many people might have been chided by their parents when they were growing up, being told time and time again that snacking would spoil their appetite at their next meal. That can be a good thing — as long as your snacks are nutritious and made up of the right foods, there's nothing wrong with being less hungry when you sit down to dinner because it means you will eat less.
You should view snacks as miniature meals, especially when it comes to children's snacking, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If snacks are made up of the right foods rather than just junk food, they are an opportunity to meet your daily intake of fruits, vegetables and many nutrients.
Finding the right snack foods can be difficult for someone who is trying to induce ketosis, a bodily process that happens when your body is denied its preferred source of energy — blood glucose made from metabolized carbohydrates — and instead starts breaking down fat to fuel itself. Ketosis is achieved after two to four days of ingesting only 20 to 50 grams of total carbohydrates.
Because of this, people on the keto diet aim to consume as few carbohydrates as possible and instead focus their diet on fat and protein. Zero-carb snacks for keto dieters are limited mostly to animal products, such as small portions of chicken, lamb, salmon, beef or eggs.
The problem with limiting your diet to these foods, Harvard Health points out, is that although they have no carbs and lots of protein, they are also low in fiber and high in saturated fat. Keto may be great for quick weight loss, but it isn't sustainable for a long-term healthy lifestyle.
Why Eat Carbs?
If you try to eliminate all carbohydrates, you'll be eliminating many healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, all of which contain at least some carbohydrates. For example, even one medium-size apple, which has only 95 calories, contains 25 grams of carbohydrates.
Read more: 8 Healthy Apple Snacks
Instead of eliminating carbs altogether, you should try to focus on consuming complex carbohydrates and fiber and cutting back on refined carbs and added sugars. Refined carbohydrates come from grains that have been processed to remove the bran and germ from the endosperm.
Examples of refined carbs are white bread and white rice. They have calories but lack many nutrients, and without the fiber contained in whole grains, they are metabolized very quickly, causing blood sugar spikes.
Added sugars are pretty self-explanatory: Sugars that are added to foods, which could lead to weight gain and other health problems, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Natural sugars found in fruit, dairy and grains are safer because these foods also have fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals.
Added sugars aren't good for you, but they're difficult to avoid. Aim to consume fewer than 24 grams of added sugar every day. You should also check ingredient lists for sugar under different names like agave nectar, high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin and dextrose.
Read more: 15 Reasons to Kick Sugar
You can vary your no-carb snack foods with a few low-carb or some complex-carb options that will provide more vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber. MedlinePlus points out that the best snacks are composed of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and a snack combining complex carbohydrates with protein will keep you feeling full the longest compared with other nutrient combinations.
Low-Carb Snacks for Diabetes
There is one group of people that really does need to watch carb intake very strictly, and that's people with diabetes. Among the good ideas of low-carb snacks for people with diabetes is air-popped popcorn, which has only 6 grams of carbohydrates per cup.
It also has a low glycemic index, meaning that it is digested slowly and provides a gradual rise in blood sugar rather than the blood sugar spikes that result from high glycemic index foods, making it ideal for people with diabetes.
Another great snack option for people who are watching their glycemic index and carbohydrate intake would be peanut butter, which derives only 15 percent of its calories from carbohydrates. Peanut butter has 188 calories per 2-tablespoon serving, and only 7.7 grams of carbohydrates, nearly two of which are fiber and only two of which are sugar.
However, reduced-fat peanut butter isn't a great option for people on a low-carb diet. In this case, 26 percent of its calories are derived from carbohydrates, which have been upped to 12.8 grams with 3.3 grams of sugar.
Nuts and nut butters — like peanut, almond and cashew butters — make great snacks because they have a combination of protein and fat for maintaining blood sugar, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They can even be combined with a higher-carbohydrate food like crackers, apples or carrot sticks to lower the glycemic index. You may, however, need to be careful about portions because nuts are so calorically dense.
Snacking doesn't have to be complicated. Whether you're going with no-carb snack foods, low-carb snack foods, or even low-sugar or low-fat snack foods, remember to focus above all on minimally processed whole foods. If you combine a serving of one food from two or three food groups, you'll be nourishing your body with what it needs between meals.
Think whole-grain crackers with nut butter, veggies with bean dip, sliced turkey wrapped in lettuce leaves or even fruit mixed with yogurt. These might not be zero-carb snacks, but each of these will give you a combination of protein and fiber you need to hold you over until your next meal (and even prevent you from overeating when you finally sit down to it).
- MedlinePlus: “Snacks for Adults”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “When Should My Kids Snack?”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Low Calorie Diets”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Going Low-Carb? Pick the Right Proteins”
- MedlinePlus: “Counting Carbohydrates”
- MedlinePlus: “Carbohydrates”
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Center: “Is Popcorn a Healthy Snack? It Can Be!”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Why—and How—You Should Steer Clear of Added Sugars”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Added Sugar: What You Need to Know”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Can My Child With Diabetes Eat Nuts?”
- MyFoodData: “Peanut Butter, Smooth”
- MyFoodData: “Peanut Butter, Smooth, Reduced Fat”
- MyFoodData: “Apple”