When you're trying to be healthy, snacking becomes something of a mystery. You're supposed to snack – nearly every guide out there recommends small meals with snacks throughout the day – but most snacks are patently not good for you. Although there's nothing wrong with eating potato chips or a brownie every once in a while, these kinds of treats shouldn't fill your daily snack slots. So what do you turn to instead? When you've got a craving for one of these indulgent treats, try one of our healthy alternatives:
Skip the Chips
Potato chips are a great place to start because they have a number of characteristics you might be craving, and most swaps will only satisfy one. So if you're jonesing for a salty snack, and someone recommends crunchy carrot chips instead, you're not going to be satisfied. Here's a quick breakdown of what you might love about potato chips, and how you can satisfy that craving with something a bit healthier:
- You love the crunch: Go for fruit or veggie chips. You can either find dried veggie chips at the store, or you can make your own at home with a mandoline slicer. Carrots are the go-to raw veggie for this, but they're not the only piece of produce with a satisfying crunch. Another great option: an apple. Slice it into thin chips and you'll have a perfectly crunchy snack.
- You love the salt: If you're not attached to chips' texture, we recommend going for pickles instead. These treats are super low-calorie, but they can be high in sodium. Keep an eye on how much salt you're taking in, and consider grabbing low-sodium pickles if you're interested in eating more at once.
- You love the whole package: Dedicated to that flavor and texture combo? You might be surprised by how well kale chips hit the spot. Set pieces of kale on a cookie sheet, drizzle them with olive oil and lightly sprinkle some salt overtop. Bake the chips at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then check on them. Kale burns easily, so it's important to keep an eye on it – as soon as the edges start turning brown, your chips are done. Let them cool completely before eating – they'll get a bit crispier as they cool off.
Cut the Cookies
If you're looking for the full cookie experience without the calories or super-high sugar content, grab some whole-wheat graham crackers. Not only are these sweet little squares way lighter in calories, but they're also a great source of fiber. Just have a taste for something sweet? Fruits like oranges and grapes can satisfy a sugar craving while offering vitamins and nutrients cookies don't.
"Dried fruits can be perfectly chewy and sweet."
Fans of gooey, chewy cookies might find that dried fruits satisfy their cravings. Dried peaches and apricots, for example, are perfectly chewy and sweet, and still offer some of the nutritional benefits of their hydrated former selves. Be aware, however, that dried fruits are usually pretty high in sugar for relatively small amounts, so keep an eye on your serving sizes.
Forget the Fries
French fries are ingrained in our culture so deeply that avoiding them can seem nearly impossible. If you're looking for a quick and easy snack to have instead of this starchy side dish, look for something that offers the french-fry experience. After all, they're more than just salty potato sticks. To satisfy a french-fry craving, you'll need something you can sit down with and just enjoy for a while. There are, in my opinion, two solid alternatives:
- Sweet Potato Fries:By swapping out a russet potato for a sweet potato, you're instantly lowering your calorie count and upping your fiber. You're also diving into a far more nutritionally dense vegetable. Chop up the potato into sticks, toss in olive oil, and sprinkle salt and other seasonings (whatever you like) overtop. Bake them at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, turning occasionally.
- Edamame: Sweet-potato fries give you the look and feel of a french fry, but if you're willing to give that up, edamame might be the perfect alternative. Sure, we think of edamame as health food, but it has its place in the junk food arena – after all, it's standard bar food in Japan. On top of being easy to snack on (and low enough in calories that you can do so without worry), edamame is full of vitamin K, protein and fiber. You'll get way more out of it than you will out of fries while still indulging your craving.
If you're in the mood for a Snickers or a Milky Way bar, healthy alternatives are probably far from your mind. Good news: They do exist, and they're not even that much of a reach. If you're in the mood for a big combination of flavors, trail mix will hit the spot for sure. Get the kind with lots of dried fruits to make sure you're taking in plenty of nutrients.
If you just want a candy bar, do it – but go for something with more nutritional benefits to offer. Dark chocolate with 70 percent cocoa content or higher can actually be good for you in reasonable quantities. It's full of antioxidants, which balances out its high sugar content. You'll still need to focus on serving sizes, but you can definitely have a rich, decadent piece of chocolate when you're in the mood for candy.