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What they are, are they good?

Healthy snacks can contribute important nutrients to the diet. Snacking on low calorie foods may reduce the overall intake of calories if it keeps a person from impulsively opting for high calorie meals.

Reducing the overall intake of calories can be a goal for people looking to lose weight. It may also be a goal for people working to maintain a moderate weight.

Snacking can help promote weight loss, as long as a person chooses their snacks selectively and eats them in moderation.

This article discusses snacking and its relationship to weight. It also provides recipes for 20 tasty low calorie snacks.

Some research indicates that almost one-third of a person’s daily calorie intake comes from snacks.

There is no standard definition of snacking, but most people understand snacks to be foods, and sometimes drinks, consumed between meals. The term “snack” does not refer to the healthiness of a food.

People may snack for many reasons, including:

  • hunger
  • boredom
  • low energy
  • emotional reasons, such as to help deal with sadness or stress
  • social and environmental reasons

Some of these factors may also influence the type of snack a person chooses. For example, some research indicates that social norms that support healthy eating may increase a person’s intake of nutritious snacks.

Snacking can lead to weight gain or loss, depending on the type of snacks and snacking habits.

Types of snacks

When judging whether a snack is healthy, it is important to distinguish between nutrient-dense and calorie-dense foods.

The latter are high in calories and generally high in sugar and fats. What people call “junk foods” are calorie-dense and tend to have few nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. A person should eat these foods infrequently, especially if they have diabetes.

Nutrient-dense foods, meanwhile, tend to be much healthier. Snacking on these may help a person feel fuller for longer and reduce overeating at mealtimes, if this is a concern.

Several studies report that foods rich in protein, fiber, and whole grains enhance satiety, the feeling of being full. In this way, they may help with weight management. Some examples of snacks in this category include nuts, yogurt, and popcorn.

It is important to snack in moderation. Checking food labels to learn about portion sizes and calorie contents can help.

The MyPlate online tool from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a range of nutritious recipes, including many for healthy snacks.

A piece or handful of fruit can be a convenient, healthy snack — most fruits are low in calories and high in fiber. All fruits contain a variety of essential vitamins and minerals.

A 2019 review found that eating more fruit supported subsequent weight loss. Research also suggests that most fruits have anti-obesity effects.

Some people choose to get more than 70% of their daily calories from raw fruits, mainly, along with some seeds, nuts, and vegetables. But this diet, called a fruitarian diet, excludes many important food groups and generally does not include enough essential nutrients.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommend that people consume 2 cups of fruit a day, as part of a balanced diet.

The following healthy snacks each contain 100 calories or fewer and a range of nutrients.

The calorie counts come from FoodData Central, another searchable online tool from the USDA. A person can visit FoodData Central to check how many calories and nutrients are in specific servings of many different foods.

1. A serving or piece of fruit

Snacking on fruit may help curb sugar cravings, boost the daily fiber intake, and provide essential vitamins and minerals.

A person might enjoy:

2. Apple and peanut butter

Try spreading a half-tablespoon of peanut butter (48 calories) over slices of half a medium apple (52 calories) for a tasty snack that includes fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

3. Raw vegetable sticks and hummus

Cut half a raw carrot (12 calories) and one-third of a medium cucumber (10 calories) into sticks, and dip them in 2 tablespoons of hummus (78 calories).

4. Grilled cheese crispbread

Top 1 crispbread (37 calories) with a chopped plum tomato (11 calories) and 15 grams (g) of shredded, reduced fat cheddar cheese (47 calories).

Grill the crispbread until the cheese is bubbling and, if desired, top it with some chopped green onion.

5. Green olives

About 17 green olives (68 g) make up a snack with fewer than 100 calories.

6. Homemade orange popsicles

For a cooling treat, try these homemade orange and pear popsicles. Blend the fruit, pour it into molds, and freeze it overnight. Each fat-free popsicle contains 72 calories.

7. Homemade popcorn

Popcorn can be low in calories if is air-popped or made in a silicone microwave popper. It is also rich in fiber.

Three cups of plain, air-popped popcorn contain just over 90 calories. Some ideas for low calorie toppings include:

8. Smoked salmon and cream cheese roll-ups

Divide 50 g of smoked salmon (59 calories) into four strips. Spread each strip with 5 g of reduced fat cream cheese (39 calories).

Sprinkle these with dill, if preferred, then roll up each strip and enjoy.

9. Nuts

Nuts can make a filling snack that is easy to eat on the go. They contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

The following portions of unroasted, unsalted nuts contain 100 calories or fewer:

10. Almond and chocolate trail mix

Mix 14 g of dark chocolate chips (60 calories) with 5 plain almonds (35 calories) to make a satisfying, low calorie trail mix.

11. Sweet potato fries

Air-fryer sweet potato fries topped with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon can be a delicious low calorie snack. Twelve fries contain approximately 84 calories.

Find the recipe here.

12. Celery sticks with almond butter

Spread 1 tablespoon of almond butter (98 calories) on three celery sticks (2 calories). Try topping these with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

13. Turkey and avocado roll-ups

Place a slice of turkey (30 calories) on a plate or cutting board. Spread it with a tablespoon of hummus (39 calories) and add a 15-g slice of avocado (24 calories). Roll it up and enjoy.

14. Tuna lettuce wraps

Take a half-cup of canned tuna chunks packed in water and drained (70 calories), and mix it with 1 teaspoon of reduced fat mayonnaise (17 calories) and two chopped cherry tomatoes (6 calories).

Spoon the mixture into 2 lettuce leaves (2 calories) and roll these into wraps.

15. Poached or boiled egg with asparagus

Poach or boil an egg (72 calories) and serve it with four lightly steamed asparagus spears (13 calories) seasoned with black pepper and 1 tsp of grated Parmesan cheese (9 calories).

16. Greek yogurt with blueberries

Top 100 g of nonfat Greek yogurt (61 calories) with one-third of a cup of blueberries (29 calories).

17. Spiced edamame

Toss one-third of a cup of cooked edamame (75 calories) in a dry skillet containing chili powder, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Enjoy these warm or cool.

18. Chia seed pudding

Mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds (60 calories) with a quarter-cup of unsweetened almond milk (10 calories), a teaspoon of maple syrup (18 calories), and a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract (6 calories).

Refrigerate the mixture for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight, before eating.

19. Almond milk and banana smoothie

Blend 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk (39 calories) with half a large banana (61 calories). Some people might also add a few ice cubes.

20. Homemade vegetable soup

To make a low calorie soup, add chopped vegetables to a pot of chicken or vegetable stock and cook the mixture until the vegetables are tender. A person can blend the soup until it is smooth, if they prefer.

Healthy snacks can contribute nutrients to the diet, and snacking on healthy foods that are high in fiber, protein, or both and relatively low in calories may help with weight management.

Overall, it is better to limit the intake of snacks that contain refined carbohydrates, added sugar, and harmful fats.