10 Best Healthy Snacks, According to Dietitians
Keep these healthy snacks on hand to boost your nutrient intake and tame afternoon hanger.
A walk down the snack aisle can leave your head spinning. From new-to-the market snacks made from the vegetable du jour (cauliflower everything, we see you!), to front of package health claims like "low sugar," it can be hard to decipher what's actually good for you and what might just be really good marketing.
But your snacking habits can significantly impact your day. "Snacking is a good way to tame hunger if you're going more than four to five hours between meals," says Samantha Cassetty, M.S., RD. To build a satisfying snack that keeps you full between meals, aim to get a mix of protein, fiber, and fat (or at least two of the three). (See our 10 best snacks for weight loss.)
Snacks are also an opportunity to "boost your intake of nutritious food groups like fruits and vegetables as well as key nutrients like fiber," notes Beth Stark, RDN, LDN. While whole foods are a sure way to boost your nutrient intake, many packaged snacks can contribute important nutrients and keep hunger at bay, too. (Learn about the best and worst late night snacks, according to a dietitian.)
To help you stock your kitchens, we've pulled together some of the best (and easiest!) options to always have on hand.
1. Apple or Pear with Nuts or Nut Butter
This powerful combo is a popular go-to snack for several of the dietitians we interviewed, and for good reason. "Apples and pears contain fiber, especially if you eat the skin, and nuts are packed with a mix of plant-based protein, healthful fats, and fiber, so they do a great job of satisfying your appetite while managing blood sugar," notes Stark. Almost any seasonal fruit provides similar benefits and seeds like pumpkin or sunflower seeds can be a good swap for nuts as well.
Beyond the nutritional benefits, "unlike many trendy packaged snacks, an apple with nut butter is more reasonably priced," notes Stark. Jennifer Lease, RD, Owner of ChefGirl Nutrition LLC agrees, adding that they are "super convenient, readily available, and easy to take on-the-go."
Craving something crunchy? "This high-fiber whole grain is the ultimate snack," says Kelsey Pezzuti, M.S., RD. "It's inexpensive, easy to prepare, and packs the perfect crunch," she adds. Whole grain snacks like popcorn not only boost your fiber intake, but also add vitamins and minerals like B vitamins and iron. "Replacing refined grains with whole grains may also lower cholesterol, specifically low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides," says Jody Bergeron, M.S., RN, BSN, CEN.
Popcorn is versatile and can be enjoyed as a sweet or savory snack. But watch those toppings! A heavy hand with butter, salt, or caramel can take it from healthy to indulgent quickly. If you're making it at home, try our Everything Bagel Microwave Popcorn, Lemon Parm Popcorn, or for a sweet option, Cinnamon-Sugar Microwave Popcorn.
When buying it in the bag (or box), look for options lower in added sugar (<4g per serving) and sodium (<200mg per serving) and use plant-based oils instead of butter for flavor. Quinn Snacks Popcorn, Lesser Evil, and Skinny Pop are three brands that have great options.
"Chickpeas are a great snack because they have a trifecta of nutrients for satisfaction: fiber, protein, and slow-digesting carbs," says Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. A can of chickpeas is inexpensive and can be turned into multiple snacks options. Roasted chickpeas satisfy a crunch craving—and, like popcorn, can be made sweet with cinnamon and maple syrup or savory with herbs or spices. "You can also include pureed chickpeas in dips, hummus, and even as an ingredient in homemade bars," adds Palmer. Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim also recommends snacking on a chickpea salad made with olive oil and vegetables.
4. Beet Chips
Perfect for dipping, beet chips are a great way to boost your veggie intake in a more fun way than raw vegetables. Beets are not only packed with fiber, B vitamins, vitamin C, and potassium, they also contain inorganic nitrates, which have been linked to a number of health benefits including lower blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health. Unlike many veggie chips and veggie straws, beet chips are actually made with beets.
Find beet chips in the snack aisle or make our Beet Chips recipe at home.
Need an afternoon mood boost? Grab a handful of walnuts. A recent study showed walnut eaters may have lower rates of depression and other research suggests they may improve your mood. While all nuts (and seeds) make a healthy snack, "walnuts stand out because they're the only tree nut that is an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA," says Cassetty. They also contain fiber and protein, providing all that you need to stay satisfied between meals.
Cassetty recommends making trail mix with walnuts and dried fruit. If you crave chocolate in the afternoon, Lauren Manaker, M.S., RDN, LD has you covered with one of her favorite snacks — walnuts dipped in dark chocolate (yes please!). "Since both walnuts and chocolate contain magnesium, this is a great treat that also supports your bone health and mood," says Manaker. Try these healthy homemade trail mixes with dried fruit, nuts, seeds and yes, chocolate.
6. Cottage Cheese with Fruit or Vegetables
An often pushed aside dairy product, cottage cheese is a healthy and satisfying snack. It's packed with protein, and is a good source of calcium, B vitamins, and selenium. It is, however, relatively high in sodium, so consider how it fits into the rest of your day. (Here's more about why cottage cheese is healthy.)
While the high protein content already helps fill you up, full-fat cottage cheese may be even more filling because fat can slow digestion. Some research suggests that dairy fat may not be as problematic for heart health as other saturated fat, but it's still recommended you account for it in your daily allotment or choose the low-fat options.
To build a balanced snack, pair cottage cheese with fruit or vegetables. Try our Cottage Cheese with Raspberry Honey or Cottage Cheese Salad. It can also be used to boost the protein content of dips, like in our Creamy Spinach Dip.
7. Energy bars
Bars make the perfect grab-and-go snack for busy days. But not all bars are created equal — many bars masquerading as healthy can actually deliver as much sugar as a candy bar.
Whether you make them yourself or buy them, choose ones that are made mostly from whole foods, contain 5g or less added sugar, and contain a mix of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
8. Greek Yogurt
You may only think of yogurt for breakfast, but it makes a great snack, too. "It's filling because it's high in protein and it also contains calcium," notes Young. Lease likes to pair it with nuts or seeds for some healthy fat and Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, Owner Sounds Bites Nutrition recommends pairing plain Greek yogurt with frozen berries. "The juice from the fruit (when melted) naturally sweetens the yogurt," she notes.
Beyond your typical yogurt parfait, plain Greek yogurt can be used to make either sweet or savory dips and paired with fruit, vegetables, or whole grain crackers.
In the warmer months, there are few things more refreshing than a popsicle. Popsicles can boost hydration and, if made with fruit juice, add important nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to your day. Manaker makes her own with 100% orange juice (yes, that's it!). "It's a no-added-sugar snack that satisfies my sweet tooth while also giving me a boost of vitamin C, folate, thiamin, and a slew of other nutrients," she says.
Making your own is incredibly easy and can be a fun way to get creative in the kitchen (get the kids involved, too!). The flavor combos are limitless; for inspiration check out our healthy popsicle recipes. Popsicles may not be as filling as some other snacks, but they're fun to eat and can be a great choice for hot days.
In the freezer aisle, look for options made with 100% fruit juice and contain little to no added sugar.
10. Chia Pudding
These tiny seeds have big health benefits. Just one ounce of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) contains 9 grams of unsaturated fat (including some omega 3's), 11g of fiber, 4g of protein, and are a good source of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, along with many antioxidants. The high fiber content may also help balance blood sugar, promote gut health, and reduce risk for cardiovascular disease.
Chia seeds create a tapioca pudding-like texture when mixed with liquid, making them a snack that can feel like dessert. There are dozens of flavor combinations, so get creative or try one of our favorites such as Chai Chia Pudding, Apple Cinnamon Chia Pudding or Mango Coconut Chia Pudding (pictured above).
Snacks can be a part of a healthy diet whether you're making your own or relying on something from the package. Choose options made primarily from whole foods, pair foods that include protein, fiber, and fat, and limit added sugar and salt to stay energized between meals while also reaching your wellness goals.