The word "snacking" itself brings to mind sugary, salty, guilty-pleasure foods like cookies, chips and other unhealthy options. Even if you're just having a few cookies or a scoop of ice cream here and there, the calories can add up quickly. Sugary snacks can also leave you feeling unsatisfied if you're looking to curb mid-afternoon hunger, which is why replacing your fattening snacks with a healthier option will not only keep the pounds off, but keep you fuller, longer. Erin Palinski, a registered dietitian with Vernon Nutrition Center in Ramsey and Franklin, and author of the upcoming book "Belly Fat Diet For Dummies" offers these healthy snack alternatives to quiet your growling stomach.
Instead of: Potato chips
Why it's better: Potato chips are full of salt and fat, and are one of those snacks where you can easily end up mindlessly eating a lot before you realize what you're doing. Munching on dried apple chips cuts way down on the salt and fat, so that eating more than a couple of them won't do as much harm. The crispy texture mimics potato chips, and the natural fiber in apples helps to satisfy hunger pangs. Look for them in the supermarket produce aisle.
Instead of: Buttered microwave popcorn
Why it's better: Microwave popcorn isn't terrible for you, unless you're eating the kind with movie theater butter. But air-popped popcorn is lower in calories and sodium than even the conventional microwave variety, said Palinski. If you don't have an air popper, put three tablespoons of loose popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch-bag, fold the top of the bag over four times and put it in the microwave for three to four minutes, depending on your microwave.
Fresh fruit with chocolate
Instead of: Candy bars
Why it's better: While candy bars are obviously delicious, they pack a lot of calories into a small package. One plain Hershey bar contains 210 calories; a Snickers bar has 280 calories. Melting a few tablespoons of chocolate chips – or even better, good quality dark chocolate – drizzling it over strawberries or banana slices will satisfy your sweet tooth and give you some nutrients, too.
Homemade mini English muffin pizzas
Instead of: Frozen pizza snacks
Why it's better: Frozen convenience foods are often filled with a bevy of artificial ingredients and preservatives that don't have any nutritional value. Instead of firing up the oven for a frozen pizza, Palinski suggests toasting an English muffin, topping it with tomato sauce and part-skim shredded mozzarella and popping it in the toaster oven to melt the cheese. You'll get the same pizza taste with fewer artificial ingredients.
Yogurt mixed with a seasoning packet
Instead of: Ranch, dill, taco and other pre-made dips
Why it's better: Veggies with dip sounds healthy, but many dips are chock full of fat. Instead, make your own better-for-you version with protein-rich, non-fat Greek yogurt and a pre-made seasoning mix like onion soup or ranch (if salt is a concern, look for low-sodium varieties). Voila – same taste, less fat. (See photo #2 above)