Some snacks have a bad reputation for being unhealthy—but I’m setting the record straight on these six foods.
Popcorn originally gained a bad reputation thanks to movie theaters frying popcorn in coconut oil and folks drowning it under buckets of artery-clogging butter. But corn is a whole grain and, when air-popped, it contains about 30 calories per cup along with 5% of the recommended daily dose of fiber. Sprinkle with a touch of sea salt or a drizzle of olive oil, and you’ve got a smart snack. (For added flavor, try Ellie’s Parmesan-Paprika Popcorn, above, from Food Network Magazine.)
#2: Dried fruit
Dried fruit’s bad name came about due to its high sugar content. When fruit is dried, the sugar and other nutrients become more condensed, making portion control important. (Seven apricot halves or 2 tablespoons of raisins or cranberries have the same amount of calories as a fresh pear or apple.) That said, dried fruit offers an easy way to add fiber and antioxidants into your diet, plus it’s a good alternative when fresh varieties are out of season.
#3: Hot cocoa
A cup of hot cocoa made with low-fat or nonfat milk is a wonderful way to satisfy a chocolate craving, get a dose of vitamin D and help meet the recommended daily servings of dairy. The milk also contains hunger-fighting protein, which helps keep people satisfied until the next meal.
Although 1 medium avocado has 250 calories, it supplies heart-healthy unsaturated fat. And there’s no need to snack on the entire avocado. Spread about 1/5th on whole grain crackers for a super-filling snack. The fiber (from the crackers) and fat (from the avocados) take longer to digest, keeping you more satisfied. Avocados also contain the antioxidant lutein, shown to help maintain eye health, and the plant sterol beta-sitosterol, shown to help lower cholesterol.
#5: Trail mix
Many store-bought trail mixes typically contain ingredients that are fried in artery-damaging types of fat. The smartest bet is to make your own using raw or dry roasted nuts, whole grain cereal and dried fruit. Pre-package into single-serve bags so you can always have a calorie-controlled, healthy snack on hand.
#6: Peanut Butter
Not all peanut butter is created equal. Some are made from only peanuts and salt (which is what you want), while others are a combo of peanuts, sugar and a variety of oils (including hydrogenated fats). Reduced-fat peanut butter may seem like the healthier choice, but the fat oftentimes is replaced with more sugar or preservatives. Peanut butter contains both hunger-satisfying protein and healthy fat. It also has a high antioxidant content, with loads of vitamin E. When snacking on peanut butter, stick with 1 tablespoon portions to dip fruit or spread on whole grain crackers.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »