Best Healthy Snacks for Energy
Looking for some healthy snack ideas? Snacks to satisfy your hunger and power up your energy? You’ve come to the right place.
But, before you dig into those snack ideas, check out my two earlier blogs to find out if you should be snacking in the first place:
- To Snack or Not to Snack: find out who will benefit from snacks – and who doesn’t.
- When to Snack for All Day Energy: one snack? Two snacks? Three snacks or more?
While this article lists some great snack ideas that may help you to power up your energy, there’s something we need to talk about first.
My list below is specific to what’s available at the stores in my world. But readers of this blog are from all over the world. So that you can evaluate some of the other snacks not listed here, let me share the criteria you can use to evaluate any snack for its energy powering potential.
What Makes a Snack Healthy?
As an expert on human energy, I look for snacks that will provide a good source of lasting energy (rather than a quick burst of energy followed by rock bottom). And because hunger is a distraction for me (you, too?), I like snacks that can satisfy my hunger. I want it to be filling, instead of continually tempting. And, of course, it must taste good.
#1 Criteria: Must Power Up Energy
Look up the word “calorie” and you’ll discover that calories are a measurement of energy. In other words, a food must contain calories to provide you with real energy for your body to use.
That means, caffeine does not provide energy. It’s a stimulant drug designed to increase focus and attention, but it can’t give your body actual fuel to operate on – for your heart to beat and your brain to run on. It just tricks your body into thinking it has fuel. That said, small amounts of caffeine serve a purpose, but it’s not energy production. This blog shares why small amounts of caffeine might actually make you feel more alert than having more.
Water is the same thing. Yes, it has a role in making you feel better, but it’s not fuel. Because the body is 60% water, sometimes when we’re feeling fatigued, drinking fluids might be just what your body needs. Read this article about how dehydration can make us feel fatigued and unfocused and learn about how much water you need every day.
The best snacks tend to be less processed foods because they provide more lasting energy. That includes fruit, nuts, and milk. Unfortunately, many of the 100-calorie snack bags tend to consist of highly refined cookies, crackers, and chips that can’t hold that promise.
In addition, your snack choice must also be adequate for your activity at the time. While snacking on a piece of fruit on a sedentary afternoon might be appropriate, it won’t satisfy the needs of someone who just completed an hour-long run. Oh sure, it might satisfy them for an hour or so, but not any longer.
On the other hand, when sedentary people eat a 200 calorie CLIF bar (designed for athletes) while sitting at their desk, they might experience rebound hypoglycemia followed by an intense craving for something else sweet. In addition, they will probably be less likely to “compensate” for those snack calories…leading to an overconsumption of calories at the next meal.
And because foods digest at different times, lasting energy often comes from eating smaller amounts of two or more foods, rather than larger amounts of one. For example, mixing nuts and fruit might provide longer periods of energy rather than several pieces of fruit at one time.
Therefore, when I’m hungry and my energy is dropping, I’m looking for a snack that has enough calories to fuel my body – and makes me feel better for more than just the immediate moment.
#2 Criteria: Must Contain Valuable Nutrients
There are many snacks available but most of those in the chip and cookie aisles are not healthful. Same thing goes for most of those 100 calorie snack bags. Most cookies and chips that are so refined that they consist of mainly carbs. And hardly any protein, fiber, vitamins, or minerals.
Same thing goes for candies that are nearly pure sugar (gummy bears, licorice, hard candies). While they contain calories/fuel in the form of carbohydrates, there are no other nutrients. On the other hand, in a pinch, I’ve been known to reach for nut/chocolate combinations (peanut M&Ms) or peanut butter/chocolate (Reese’s peanut butter cups) for their more lasting energy (though clearly the nutrients aren’t as rich as so many other snack food options).
On the other hand, sugar-free foods are not the solution. Diet soda contains no calories so it can’t provide fuel. Again, it might contain the water you need or the caffeine that might temporarily boost focus and attention, but it’s not a source of fuel. And, if you’re in need of energy, you’ll need a snack with some calories.
Some sugar-free foods contain the sweeteners sorbitol or mannitol. This includes sugar-free hard candies and cookies. Look at the nutrition label. Most of these are NOT low calorie or even lower calorie – so in terms of providing lasting energy, they’re not a better choice than regular cookies or candy. In addition, in large quantities these sweeteners can cause gas and diarrhea.
Again, the foods that are most likely to provide nutrients to keep you healthy and provide a good source of lasting energy are less processed choices. That said, most energy bars are processed. Some more processed with others. And I still eat them on occasion. I call them my “emergency food” because they’re handy to keep with you when you’re stuck in a situation when your energy is waning, but you can’t just leave and get a snack. Here’s my blog about best energy bars.
#3: Must Be Filling
Can you identify with that old potato chip slogan, “Bet you can’t eat just one”? Sometimes foods are so delectable that it’s hard to stop eating. This is especially true for foods that are high in sugar or fat (or both).
That’s why I try to avoid these types of foods as stand-alone snacks. But that doesn’t mean I avoid them completely. When eating these delectable foods along with the satiating nutrients I’m going to talk about next, you’ll likely find it easier to stop at a more reasonable portion.
Research suggests that foods that are rich in protein and fiber tend to be more filling or satiating. That’s why you’ll see many foods on the list below that are high in protein and fiber. This includes protein-rich foods such as milk, jerky, and Greek yogurt. The list also includes fiber-rich foods such as fresh fruit, bean chips, veggies dipped in hummus, or kale salad.
#4: Must Taste Good
Maybe this criterion should be first on this list. Because I’m not going to snack on something that doesn’t taste good in the first place. But what tastes good to me isn’t necessarily the same for you so take a look at the list below – but also explore other options using these four criteria.
One more thing. While my snacks must taste good, this isn’t a stand-alone criterion. Let’s go back to the example of the potato chips. I’m likely not going to snack on chips because, while they do taste good, they just don’t satisfy me until I’ve eaten more calories than I need – and that’s not going to help my energy level.
In addition, while I know that many people love the sweet taste of Kind Bars, I don’t buy them. Why not? Because I’ve found that that taste so good that I want a second one 😊. I’d rather have a bar that tastes good but also satisfies me with just that one….without craving more.
List of Healthy Snacks to Power Up Your Energy
SNACK IDEAS – single foods
- piece of fresh fruit (or canned or fruit without added sugar) - this is a good idea when you're hungry and your next meal is an hour away. If you're really hungry, fruit only may not satisfy your hunger for more than an hour.
- 8oz Milk (select one that contains around 6-8g protein per 8oz). This includes dairy and soy. Most other non-dairy “milks” are mostly sugar and very little protein)
- 1oz Beef Jerky, lean meat sticks, or dried sausage such as Os-Trim Jerky or Turkey Perky Jerky
- 1-2 Eggs (hard-boiled or Deviled, perhaps)
- Tuna, salmon, chicken in single serve cup or pouch
- 1 Cup of Soup – such as a cup of split pea and black bean
- Latte with dairy or soy milk
- 100-calorie popcorn
- A slice of leftover pizza
- Peanut M&Ms (yup, you read that right. Chocolate covered nuts or chocolate peanut butter cups are probably the best balanced snacks if your energy is waning and sweets are the only foods available)
- Chocolate covered Almonds
- Chocolate covered Strawberries
- Low Calorie Frozen Dinner – such as those with 200-250 calories (mini-meal)
- Edamame – sometimes available in individual packets in the freezer section, ready to microwave and eat
- Cup of yogurt (Greek yogurt tends to have more protein)
- Fruit pearls (tiny balls of frozen pieces of fruit w/fiber produced by a company in Florida, mail order only)
- 1oz higher fiber chips such as Lentil Chips, Beanitos, or Glenny’s Soy Crisps. Note that most “single-serving” bags contain more than 1oz.
- Roasted Seaweed Snacks
- Roasted chickpeas or edamame (or mixed with dried fruit)
- Package of (plain) instant oatmeal (the flavored ones have added sugar – and calories). Perhaps add your own raisins or fresh fruit
- Scoop of protein powder mixed with water
SNACK IDEAS – combos of 2 types of foods
- Apple and Nut Butter (Almond, Peanut, Cashew)
- Half peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread
- Apple and String Cheese
- Grapes and lowfat BabyBel cheese
- Vegetable juice with cheese
- Tomato and Mozzarella salad with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and basil
- Tuna Salad with Crackers such as Charlie’s Light Lunch kits (tuna, mayo, and crackers)
- Greek Yogurt with Strawberries and Blueberries
- ½ cup Hummus with raw broccoli, carrots, cauliflower…
- Kalamata olives and carrots/cucumbers
- Celery with peanut butter or cream cheese
- Veggie and Chicken Quesadilla (or any other ½ sandwich)
- Artichoke Hearts with dip
- Pears with Ricotta cheese
- Deli Meat and Cheese rollups
- Bean Chips and Salsa
- Chicken Salad with a few crackers or slice of bread
- Nuts and dried fruit such as NUTrition and small, individual bags. Can use ¼ cup plastic containers to make your own half/half combination such as cashews & cherries, almonds & apricots – 2T each.
- Coconut Yogurt and Mango Chunks
- Cottage Cheese and Fruit - 1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese + 1/2 cup drained peaches (no sugar) or pineapple, apples, etc.
- Savory cottage cheese - cottage cheese mixed with chopped tomatoes and a sprinkle of dried basil
- Lettuce Wrap - Wrap a lettuce leaf around one ounce of lean luncheon meat or leftover meat. Add some fruit such as 15 grapes (110 calories, 2 grams fat)
- Popcorn and Hot Cocoa – 100-calorie bag of popcorn + sugar-free hot cocoa mix
- Small baked sweet potato with a bit of butter
- Half cup cereal with milk
SNACK IDEAS – make it yourself
- Waffle - 1 whole grain waffle with a dollop of jam
- Toast with Peanut Butter (I use mostly PB fit for more protein)
- Small Salad with 1-2 oz of meat or cheese
- Smoothie – blend frozen fruit, milk, perhaps yogurt or protein powder. Chocolate smoothie with peanut butter.
- Bagel and ricotta cheese - Toast 1/2 smaller bagel (try cinnamon & raisin, onion, or blueberry). Top with 2 Tablespoons low fat ricotta cheese and place under broiler until bubbly. Or spread 2T. Weight Watchers cream cheese spread. Sprinkle cinnamon and sweetner on top if desired.
- English Muffin Pizza – toast ½ English muffin, spread pizza sauce and cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is melted and sizzling.
- Crunchy Fruit N Yogurt – yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, sprinkled with granola.
- Jello Sugar-Free Pudding - Prepare the instant or cook-n- serve (½ cup has 80 calories w/nonfat milk)
- Nifty Nachos – Top 4-6 restaurant-style tortilla chips with shredded cheese (and perhaps chopped tomatoes, chili peppers, jalapenos…). Place under broiler until melted.
- Leftovers: A small serving of last night’s dinner or half of today’s lunch
Restaurant or Convenience Store Options:
- Appetizers such as Vegetarian Salad Rolls -Julienne of carrots, celery, sweet red peppers, mango and jicama wrapped in rice paper…served with spicy peanut sauce
- Kid’s menu – such as Chick-Fil-A’s 4 grilled chicken pieces
- Side Salads – Chick-Fil-A’s kale salad
- A-la-cart style ordering – such as cup of soup
- Small Plates
- Starbucks or McDonald’s – oatmeal
- Individual yogurts (most convenience stores offer these and the others listed below)
- Raw veggies/hummus
- Fresh fruit with almond butter
- Cheese sticks
Do you like to snack on bars such as Nature Valley, Kind, Rx, or Clif bars? Want to know which are the best for energy? Read this blog and find out.
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