Snacking serves an important purpose in our daily nutrition, providing an opportunity to refuel and nourish our bodies between meals. However, not all snacks are created equally. Choosing nutrient-dense snacks can help support overall health and energy levels throughout the day. Here are some practical tips to help you make nutritious choices that will keep you energized and satisfied until your next meal. (1)
Choosing a Balanced Option
When it comes to snacking, creating a balanced snack can be very helpful. Opting for nutrient-dense snacks that offer a good balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats), fibre, and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals). This will help you stay full and satisfied for longer throughout the day. (2)
Carbs: Carbohydrates get broken down into glucose, which is the main energy source for your body. Choose complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread, oats, and quinoa, as they provide a steady release of energy due to their higher fibre content. Include fruits (another source of carbs) and vegetables in your snacks for additional fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
Proteins: Protein keeps you full for longer and helps with muscle and tissue growth. Incorporate protein sources such as Greek yogurt, lean meats like chicken or turkey, eggs, legumes, nuts, and cheese into your snacks.
Fats: Healthy fats provide satiety and flavor. Include sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil in moderation. These fats also help with nutrient absorption.
Balanced Snack Options
Fresh fruits and vegetables: These provide fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Pair them with a source of protein or healthy fat, such as cheese slices, nut butter, or hummus, for a more satisfying snack. Include foods like apples, bananas, snap peas, and baby carrots that require minimal preparation. You can also experiment with vegetable and fruit smoothies for a refreshing and nutritious option. Keep in mind, fruit is a source of carbohydrate/energy whereas non-starchy veggies provide fibre and nutrients but not much energy.
Nuts and seeds: Packed with healthy fats, protein, fibre and various vitamins and minerals, these make for a portable and nutritious snack option. Pair them with a fruit or vegetable for a source of fibre. For example, have a handful of almonds with a sliced pear or sprinkle chia seeds or hemp hearts over your Greek yogurt.
Greek yogurt: Rich in protein, calcium, and probiotics, Greek yogurt can be a filling and versatile snack. Sprinkle some chia, hemp, or flax seeds for extra nutrients. Add some berries or granola for added flavor and texture. If you’re dairy-free, opt for a plant-based yogurt alternative just keep in mind many may not contain protein.
Granola Bars: Choose bars with fewer ingredients, lower sugar content, higher protein, and fiber. Look for options that provide sustained energy and avoid those with excessive added sugars.
Understanding the “WHY” to determine the “WHAT”
Snacking serves different purposes for different individuals. It can help curb hunger, maintain steady blood sugar levels, boost nutrient intake, and provide an opportunity to enjoy a tasty treat. Understanding your snacking goals can guide you in making appropriate choices. First simply pause to check-in with yourself to know the “why” behind wanting a snack and then you can determine the best snack option to have based on the why.
Feeling Hungry: If you’re snacking to manage hunger, focus on options that are rich in protein as well as some carbohydrates. Having a fibre rich carbohydrate source is even better to promote satiety. The carbohydrate will provide your body with some much needed energy (hence the feelings of hunger). The protein and fibre will help you feel more satisfied for longer. Incorporating foods like Greek yogurt, hummus with veggies, or a handful of almonds. Often protein and carb pairings work best.
Example: 1 fruit + greek yogurt or crackers + cheese or a fruit + small handful of nuts.
If you are still feeling hungry, then choose a different food from another food group.
Example: 1 fruit + greek yogurt + small handful of nuts and then as much veggies as you like as they’re a great source of nutrients and fibre!
Delaying Next Meal: If you know you’ll be eating your next meal later than usual, consider having a balanced snack to prevent feeling overly hungry or “starving” come mealtime. It would be the same idea as above to choose a balanced snack that provides a combination of carbohydrate and protein. This pairing helps maintain energy levels and keeps you satisfied for longer. Try whole grain toast with nut butter or some higher fibre cereal with milk (ideally a milk beverage that contains protein).
Enjoying a Tasty Treat: If you’re snacking to satisfy a craving, start by asking the “why” question again. Why might you be having this particular craving? Did you eat enough that day, was one of your meals lighter than usual, were you more active than usual, where are you in your menstrual cycle, how are you feeling (happy, bored, tired, relaxing from a busy day, lonely, etc)? And then, based on the why, ask yourself the “what” question. What food(s) will really hit the spot? What taste or flavour would you most enjoy right now? Salty, sweet, sour, etc. Are you craving a particular texture? Crunchy, creamy, fizzy, etc. Simply pausing to ask yourself the why and what without judgment (keyword: “without judgment”) will help you determine the kind of food or treat you’ll enjoy the most. Don’t underestimate the importance of truly enjoying the food you eat. The greater the enjoyment, the stronger the mind gut connection will be, and the more satisfied you’ll feel. If you’d like the treat to be more satiating, consider pairing your treat with a source of protein, fibre or healthy fat such as fresh fruit or nuts/seeds to make it more balanced. For example, enjoy some chocolate alongside a handful of mixed berries or a slice of cake or cookies paired with a glass of milk or Greek yogurt.
Tips on Snacking:
1. Plan Ahead
To avoid mindless snacking, plan your snacks. Prepare snack-sized portions and keep them easily accessible in your cupboards. Consider pre-washing and cutting up veggies in advance, portioning servings of nuts and/or whole-grain crackers into grab-and-go containers when you’re on the go. Pre-washing and chopping fruits and veggies can make having those snacks more accessible and easier to grab when you’re in a hurry. (1)
2. Listen to Your Body
Bottom line, if you feel hungry, eat. Don’t try to push through the hunger and wait until the next mealtime, have a snack. Pushing through or ignoring the hunger will often just set you up for feeling overly hungry come mealtime or having more intense cravings in the evening. If you aren’t hungry but would enjoy a snack simply check-in with yourself and how you are feeling to make the best choice. Remember that hydration is also important, so if you’re feeling lower energy or tired it could also be a sign of dehydration.
3. Mindful Snacking
Practice mindful eating even during snack times. Take the time to savour and enjoy your snack, focusing on the flavors, textures, and sensations. Avoid eating in front of screens or while multitasking, as this can lead to mindless overeating. Engage your senses and appreciate the nourishment you’re providing your body with.
The Bottom Line:
Snacking can be an essential part of a balanced diet, providing nourishment, energy, and satisfaction between meals. By choosing nutrient-dense options, planning, and practising mindful eating, you can make snacking a habit that supports your overall well-being. (1)
Remember, snacks should complement your main meals and contribute to your nutritional goals.
Don’t forget all foods can fit. These nutrient-dense snacks are amazing choices, but it’s important to strike a balance and to not demonize or needlessly restrict foods you enjoy while still focusing on overall healthy eating habits.
If you’re interested in learning more about creating balanced snacks tailored to your specific needs, contact the Nutrition Assessment Clinic to set up an appointment with one of our registered dietitians. They can provide personalized guidance and support on your snacking journey.
Written by Erin Ostler, RD and Juliana Crimi, BScFN, MHSc (candidate), Virtual Assistant for nutritionassement.com
- Canada, H. (2023, March 16). Healthy snacks. Canada Food Guide. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/healthy-snacks/
Macronutrients: A simple guide to macros: Avita health system. Avita Health System | About Life. About You. (2023, January 26). https://avitahealth.org/health-library/macronutrients-a-simple-guide-to-macros/