A juicy piece of fresh fruit may silence a nagging sweet tooth, but sometimes your body craves a more savory snack. When hunger hits, you don't have to settle for the potato chips in the vending machine just to satisfy your temperamental taste buds. Instead, use your snack time to work in extra servings of vegetables, whole grains, dairy and protein foods.
Vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but only 6 percent of Americans eat their daily recommended veggie servings, according to research by the Produce for Better Health Foundation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women eat 2.5 cups of veggies a day, so use your snack breaks to boost your servings of these healthy foods. Pack snap peas, carrot sticks and chopped peppers in a container with a side of low-fat dressing for dipping. Wrap leftover veggies and beans in a lettuce leaf for an instant all-veggie wrap. If you're craving a crunchy snack, make kale chips by roasting kale leaves on a cookie sheet with olive oil and black pepper, or make roasted chickpeas with cumin and garlic powder.
Whole grains provide fiber, an indigestible plant carbohydrate that prevents constipation, maintains the health of your digestive system and lowers your cholesterol levels. If you need a quick snack, grab a handful of low-sodium whole-wheat crackers and dip them in a hummus or black bean dip for extra protein. Cut whole-wheat pita bread into wedges and bake in the oven with olive oil and garlic powder to make tasty pita chips. When it's movie night in your house, fill a bowl with 3 cups of air-popped popcorn. Natural whole-grain, plain popcorn contains 92 calories, 1 gram of fat and 4 grams of fiber per serving.
The dairy group provides calcium and phosphorous, two minerals that keep bones strong. Women have smaller bones than men, which increases their risk for osteoporosis, a debilitating bone loss that can lead to fractures as you age. Keep your bones strong by eating 3 cups of low-fat dairy products each day. When you need a convenient snack, pack a piece of string cheese in your purse or briefcase. Top whole-wheat crackers with a slice of low-fat cheddar cheese. Instead of buying fatty sour cream dips for your veggies, make your own with plain low-fat yogurt and your favorite fresh herbs.
Protein consists of amino acids that your body uses to build tissue and create hormones and enzymes. A high-protein snack keeps you feeling full until your next meal, because protein slows the rate of digestion. When you need a quick snack that will keep you satisfied, grab a handful of toasted almonds, cashews or pumpkin seeds. Spread a tablespoon of sunflower seed butter on a slice of toast or a bagel. Make a snack-sized salad with a chopped hard-boiled egg, spinach, grape tomatoes and low-fat dressing. If you’re going meat free for the day, slice tofu into strips and bake with your favorite spices for a tasty finger food.
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Research: Fruits & Vegetables
- USDA: How Many Vegetables Are Needed Daily or Weekly?
- USDA: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent of Grains?
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Snacks, Popcorn, Air-popped, White Popcorn
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Fiber
- USDA: How Much Food from the Dairy Group Is Needed Daily?
- Harvard School of Public Health: How to Get to Your Healthy Weight
- CDC: Nutrition for Everyone: Protein
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.