Part of our month-long series on Food & Drink and how they enrich our lives.
You don’t need to be a genius (or a dietitian) to know that excessive snacking and overeating can cause us to put on weight, especially in the midlife-and-beyond years when our metabolism loses steam. (Sorry—as if you needed a reminder.) And did you know that the mere mention of a snack can prime us to overeat, according to recent research?
But none of us need to give up munching. Instead, try these healthy snack ideas. Sure, they’re still snacks, but think of them as better body fuel since each was specifically chosen to crush hunger and nourish your midlife body in a healthful way. And since food is meant to be enjoyed, each of these healthy snack picks happens to taste delicious.
We often reach for yogurt for breakfast, but it’s a fantastic idea for a yummy snack as well. The probiotics in yogurt can help you optimize your gut health, which gives your immune system more might. What’s more, plain nonfat Greek yogurt packs 17 grams of protein per serving, which is more than twice as much as two boiled eggs. As you’ve probably heard, protein is an anti-hunger nutrient, but what may surprise you is the fact that there is something special about yogurt’s nutrient package. Studies have shown that yogurt eaters put on less weight over time, so just any old protein source may not compare.
Studies have shown that yogurt eaters put on less weight over time.
When it comes to making yogurt a healthy snack option, it’s all about the type you select. Plain is of course better than the sweetened varieties, but nonfat or 2 percent are fine, depending on your preferences and what you’re adding to it. If plain yogurt doesn’t sound appetizing, consider livening it up with fresh fruit and a spoonful of nuts or lower-sugar granola. Next best is to choose a lower-sugar yogurt, such as Siggi’s Icelandic Skyr or Chobani’s Hint of Flavor line. I’m sorry, but as a registered dietician, I can’t give a pass for slurping up those dessert-flavored yogurt.
Nothing’s wrong with everyone’s current go-to dip—hummus—but guacamole is another creamy chip-enhancer that makes a stellar snack. Avocados are one of the richest sources of monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), and one recent study found that when compared to people who don’t eat avocados (who knew these people existed!), avocado eaters had slimmer waistlines and weighed less overall.
Avocados are so satisfying they reduce the desire to eat for a period of up to five hours.
A separate study found that avocados are so satisfying that they reduce the desire to eat for a period of up to five hours. That’s a total win in my book! The only hitch: Your favorite dipper might not be the best option. To keep things crunchy, try red pepper strips or jicama over corn tortilla chips, or go 50/50 to keep things light.
3. Pistachios in Their Shells
Nuts are rich in protective nutrients that slow down the aging process and may improve memory and thinking skills. On top of those already awesome benefits, pistachios bring more mindfulness to your snacking. In one study, participants who cracked open pistachios from the shell ate about 40 percent fewer calories compared to those who were eating them already shelled. It’s thought that the shells provide a visual go-slow reminder, which helps prevent overeating. And let’s be real: Sometimes it’s hard to keep portions in check, so anything that helps jog our brains off of automatic pilot and helps us to not overdo it is a huge bonus.
You may be wondering about carbs now that you’re squarely in the “I see a piece of bread and I gain weight” years. But let’s get clear on whole grains since not all carbs are created equally. Regularly consuming whole grains has been linked with a lower risk of obesity, and studies show that making the swap from refined grains to whole ones promotes weight loss and shrinks belly fat. Whole grains are more satisfying than refined grains, and eating a variety of whole grains provides an assortment of vitamins, minerals, and other protective plant substances. Additionally, diverse types of fiber promote a healthy gut. These are some post-45 perks to get behind!
Popcorn is a crunchy and delicious whole-grain snack, and you can eat a big, filling bowl while still keeping your snack on track, provided you don’t go crazy with the faux-buttery movie-theater variety. Start with plain air-popped popcorn and play around with seasonings. Two favorites of mine: Smoked paprika and parmesan, or cocoa powder, cinnamon, and a little chili pepper. For days when even making popcorn sounds like too much, good options are Angie’s BoomChickaPop or Skinny Pop.
5. Dessert Hummus
This is not a typo for “desert” hummus. This is a relatively new kind of snack that cross-pollinates the healthfulness of chickpeas and the sweet flavors a lot of us love. Like the base of traditional hummus, dessert hummus is made with the same delicious legume—a good thing because studies link chickpeas to a lower risk of being overweight or obese, a leaner waistline, and a more nutritious diet in general.
Chickpeas have been linked to a lower risk of being overweight and a leaner waistline.
You can find DB Dessert Hummus in decadent flavors, like chocolate and snickerdoodle. The best way to incorporate it into a healthy snack is to pair it with fruit dunkers. Sliced apples, pears, strawberries, and bananas add extra nutrition while keeping your dessert in a better-for-you zone.
6. Roasted Chickpeas
While we’re on the subject of chickpeas, take a pass on the potato chips and pretzels and grab a handful or more of crunchy roasted chickpeas instead. Chips and pretzels are fast-acting carbs, which produce a strong (unhealthy) uptick in your blood sugar. A healthier snack idea is to munch away on roasted chickpeas, which have six grams each of protein and fiber per serving, and come in chip-like flavors, such as BBQ and ranch. Biena is one terrific brand to try.
7. Dark Chocolate
It’s true: Dark chocolate is a great, healthy snack idea! Cocoa beans, from which chocolate is ultimately made, are rich in a source of plant substances called flavanols. Though flavanols are found in other healthy foods, such as blueberries and green tea, cocoa flavanols have tremendous benefits. The key to their healthfulness is thought to relate to their impact on improving blood flow.
Cocoa flavanols help your body maintain optimal nitric oxide levels, thereby relaxing artery walls, lowering blood pressure, and improving blood flow throughout your body. This translates into SO. MANY. BENEFITS. In one study among women over 40, cocoa flavanol supplementation was found to prevent the progression of wrinkles. A separate study found that these beneficial nutrients help protect the skin from UV aging. They’ve also been linked to improvements in memory and thinking skills as we age.
Flavanols in dark chocolate have been found to protect the skin from UV aging and to improve memory.
Here’s the catch (there had to be one, right?): Despite what you may have heard or read, you can’t simply select a dark chocolate bar and expect to be consuming these precious nutrients. In fact, the percentage of cocoa alone—say, 70 percent or 85 percent or 90 percent is not a good indicator of cocoa flavanol content, according to independent tests done by Consumer Lab. Factors like growing conditions and roasting methods play a role in flavanol content. To make sure you’re getting a bar that delivers on flavor and flavanols, select one that has the flavanol content listed on the label. Flavabar is one brand that fills the bill.
At the end of the day, the secret to healthy snacking is finding delicious ways to satisfy between-meal hunger so you can stay focused and energized until the next meal rolls around. Finding better-for-you foods that you actually want to eat is what makes a healthy lifestyle sustainable. These seven snacks should give you plenty of enjoyment as well as body-loving nutrition.