Now that it’s National Nutrition Month, doctors and dietitians are sharing their advice left and right. For many people (myself included), the biggest challenge of healthy eating doesn’t happen during regular meals, but during those in-between moments when cravings strike. So I reached out to Perri Halperin—Clinical Dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York—and asked for the most indulgent yet guilt-free snack recommendations…..Here are her top picks.
Barring those with a nut allergy, peanut butter is one of the most delicious snacks that are extremely good for you. Loaded with protein, phosphorus and magnesium, it’s filling and pairs beautifully with apples, celery, whole grain crackers, chocolate chips or just by itself. However, since two tablespoons of peanut butter have 16 grams of fat, portion wisely. Stay away from added palm oil and high fructose corn syrup, and look for peanut butter made from just ground peanuts and salt instead. If you’re watching your sodium intake, opt for salt-free.
With plenty of unsaturated “heart-healthy” fat, fiber and micronutrients like potassium in avocados, creamy guacamole can be added to your snacking routine—provided it’s homemade. First, mash a small avocado with chopped tomatoes and onions. Second, squeeze a little bit of lime. Then add a dollop of plain nonfat Greek yogurt for extra creaminess and protein. Just remember: skip the chips and go for healthier choices such as bell peppers, carrots or cukes.
Throwing a party with cheese and crackers doesn’t mean throwing away good health. With about eight grams of protein and almost half the recommended daily value of calcium in two ounces of cheese, it can be a smart, healthy treat. Get pre-portioned cheese sticks and cut them into cubes to keep serving size (and fat content) under control. And instead of crackers made with refined grains, pair cheese with whole grain crackers, grapes or a few pieces of dried fruit to up the fiber factor.
For a snack that seems pretty fancy, shrimp cocktail is an excellent bargain in the health department. An average jumbo shrimp has about 15 calories and three grams of protein, plus very little carbohydrate or fat to tip the scale. So if you dip a four oz.-serving (that’s roughly four to five shrimps) in cocktail sauce, you will find yourself consuming less than 100 calories and more than 10 grams of protein.
Congratulations! You can enjoy fancy truffle without guilt just by sprinkling truffle sea salt on air-popped popcorn—another delightful treat. Given popcorn is a high volume food; there’s the additional benefit of eating a lot for fewer calories. Many may jump for joy that a three-cup serving of popcorn only has about 100 calories and four grams of fiber, but scale back if you’re prone to bloat. “The mix of salt and fiber can leave you feeling puffy, and there’s nothing fancy about that.”
There may be different camps for white, milk or dark chocolates, but on the health front, the choice is unanimous. With at least 70% cocoa content, dark chocolate boasts many anti-inflammatory and health protective properties, which makes it the healthiest option. Sadly, for milk chocolate fans, the popular variation has little of those benefits left after processing. But if a square of dark chocolate or two just doesn’t cut it for you, pair a few milk chocolate chips with nuts and dried fruit to make a healthier trail mix—“Keep portion size to a tablespoon or two, and make sure the dried fruit has no sugar added.”
If you like beautifully composed desserts, try yogurt parfaits. With an enticing balance between colorful, creamy and crunchy components, they’re also an excellent source for protein, fiber and gut-healthy probiotics. However, many premade yogurt parfaits—with their flavored yogurt, syrupy fruit filling and crunchy granola—are jam-packed with sugar and empty calories. So go for a DIY version with non-fat plain Greek yogurt (plus a drop or two of vanilla or almond extract for some sugar-free flavor), fresh fruit and a sprinkle of chopped nuts like pecans or almonds. Layer everything in a mason jar and make yourself a sweet yet protein-rich snack to go.