If your eyes are drooping as you read this (and whose aren’t right now?!) you could probably use a little pick-me-up. We’re challenging you to think beyond the coffee cup and go more nutrient-dense with some of the best snacks for energy, from high fiber snacks to high protein snacks to complex carbohydrates.
“When properly planned, snacking can be valuable for meeting overall energy needs and filling in nutrient gaps,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN. “Snacks can help to keep blood sugar stabilized, and potentially prevent overeating at mealtimes.” Newgent shared some of her favorite energy-boosting foods and explained to us why they’re ideal for that afternoon slump.
Snacking for a balanced diet
To reap the maximum benefits of snacking, follow this simple rule: don’t go more than five waking hours without something to eat (unless you're intermittent fasting). So, if lunch is at 12pm and dinner is at 7pm, make sure you eat a healthful snack in between.
But not all snacking is created equal, Newgent warns. Look for nutrient-dense snacks rather than foods high in sugar or carbohydrates. This way you’re adding value to your diet rather than empty calories. “Ideally, you want to keep your energy revved up throughout the day with healthy, balanced foods to avoid a crash,” she explains.
The other key is to make sure your healthy snack fits into your balanced diet is portion control. Foods are not always properly portioned in a snack size, and when eating out of a box or a bag—or a seemingly bottomless jar of peanut butter—you can mindlessly lose track of how much you’re eating. Without proper portion control, snacking can be a ticket to overeating which can lead to a slump in energy or even weight gain.
Boost your energy with food
If you're going to boost our energy with food, it’s helpful to know where that energy is coming from. “Blood glucose—which is also called blood sugar—is your body’s main energy source,” explains Newgent. “When your blood sugar level drops, your energy level also drops. However, for those with diabetes, when blood sugar level is too high, it can actually cause a feeling of being overly tired.” Regulated blood sugar is key to energy, as blood sugar spikes and crashes can lead to more hunger and less energy.
Newgent tells us a good snack size is between 100 to 250 calories, and she recommends including a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats to keep blood sugar levels regulated. It’s also great to look for high fiber snacks with at least 2 grams of fiber to help you feel fuller for longer and to support your digestive system. When choosing your carbs, find a complex carb without added sugar like vegetables, fruits, or whole grains.
Best snacks for energy
There isn’t a magic formula for most energizing foods beyond balancing the main essentials of carbs, protein and fats. Instead, Newgent suggests a quick and easy way to pair ingredients to make a snack that will give you energy and not spike your blood sugar for a crash later. Just pair a produce and a protein. Try these easy energizing snack ideas:
Bell pepper or carrot sticks + hummus
Hummus is a snack favorite with chickpeas and tahini providing 10 grams of protein per serving. If you’re used to eating hummus with chips or crackers, make sure you’re checking the ingredients for whole grains, but even better try pairing with a vegetable for added nutrients.
Dried tart cherries + pistachios
This delicious combo is perfect before bed. The tart cherries (or their juice) may help you fall asleep or stay asleep longer, and the pistachios provide a crunch and some protein and fat to keep you satisfied and full.
Raisins + peanuts
Grapes + goat cheese
Crisp grapes cut through the tart creaminess of the goat cheese for a flavor combination that will satisfy your need to nibble. The grapes are full of antioxidants (which may play a role in preventing disease) and the goat cheese may help to suppress your urge to snack later on according to a study done at the Universidad de Málaga in Spain.
Berries + Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt is our top yogurt choice for its protein and richness, plus it can help you de-stress with gut-friendly probiotics. Berries are a nutrient-dense choice to add to yogurt, because of their sweetness and their antioxidants (another stress-buster!). Just look for a plain yogurt without excess sugar.
Sliced apple or celery + peanut butter
You know the saying, an apple a day keeps mindless snacking at bay. Apples make a highly satisfying snack with soluble fiber to keep you feeling satiated. Scoop on some peanut butter for a blend of protein and fat to round out your snack, but watch your portions as a tablespoon of peanut butter (which packs in 100 calories) can turn into a jar if you're not mindful. Looking for another PB-vehicle? Celery has a ton of crunch without a ton of calories.
Pineapple + cottage cheese
Pineapple contains bromelain, known historically for its medicinal properties, and continues to be studied for its role as an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and immune-boosting properties. Pairing sweet pineapple with creamy cottage cheese (which also packs vitamin C as well as protein) chases away hunger.
Pan-grilled asparagus spears + boiled egg
For the ambitious snacker, asparagus is a nutrient powerhouse with iron potassium and calcium, and light on calories. Boiled eggs (hard, soft, or in-between) pack in protein, potassium, and Vitamin B-12, which is key in preventing anemia. Add some sea salt and plate it up for a sophisticated snack.
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