Americans love snacking. In fact, many of us often prefer to trade in regular meals for more frequent snacking throughout the day.
But if we aren't careful about what snacks we choose, we can do ourselves (and our health) a big disservice. Snacks play a major role in the healthfulness of our diets.
Luckily, by learning to make healthy food swaps for your snacks, you can still enjoy your snack time and take good care of your health at the same time.
The importance of smart snack choices
Snacks can either add to the overall quality of your diet and provide you with additional health benefits, or they can simply lead to excessive intake of things like added sugar and sodium that can lead to negative health effects.
For example, snacking can either help you to control your appetite and thus your weight, or it can contribute to weight gain – depending on your snacking choices.
Snacks can also affect mental health. For example, data shows that consuming fresh fruit is linked to less anxiety, depression, and emotional distress compared to consuming chips.
So how do you make sure your snacks are serving your physical and mental health, rather than working against you? The key is to make snack time an occasion to eat nutrient-rich foods, rather than nutrient-poor junk foods.
11 healthier snack swaps
Unfortunately, the most common snack foods out there are usually loaded with refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, excess sodium, and sugar. But when it comes to snacking, we need to stay away from sweet and savory snack foods that are high in those things.
We all have weaknesses when it comes to snacks. For some it's potato chips, for others it's fruity candy. Whatever your favorite indulgence may be, there's likely a healthy alternative that can still satisfy your snack craving without setting you back with your health.
Read on to discover 14 healthy alternatives to your favorite snack foods.
1. Instead of potato chips‚ choose kale chips or baked veggie chips
Potato chips are a salty temptation for many, but this highly-processed and fried junk food is high in salt, saturated fat, and starch and gives you next to no nutritional value. Instead, try out a healthier alternative like baked vegetable chips.
You can make your own kale chips by ripping up kale, tossing it with olive oil, sprinkling with salt and pepper, and baking in the oven until nice and crispy. To make your own veggie chips, thinly slice veggies like sweet potato, carrot, or beets (preferably using a mandolin); toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper; and bake until thin and crisp.
These options help you get in more servings of healthy vegetables and can satisfy your craving for crispy chips at the same time.
2. Instead of crackers‚ try sliced cucumber rounds
Crackers are usually made with white flour and are really just empty calories that can spike your blood sugar and contribute to other health concerns. Cucumbers give you the satisfying crunchy texture of a cracker, but they provide you with healthy nutrients and fiber instead of refined grains.
Plus, cucumbers are versatile like crackers – eat them on their own, spread them with healthy dips, or top them with gourmet appetizer toppings like smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers.
3. Instead of fruity candy or fruit snacks‚ go for whole fruit
Sour gummies, fruit chews, hard candy...these are all sweet indulgences that can easily work their way into your daily eating habits. But they are really just sugar formed into various colors, shapes, and sizes.
Fruit snacks may seem like a healthier option, but they aren't usually much better. Gummy fruit snacks are often loaded with added sugars and aren't actually the healthy alternative that they appear.
Instead, go for real, whole fruit. Bite into a crisp apple, peel an orange, or snack on a bowl of grapes. Try frozen grapes as an extra special treat, especially on a warm day.
4. Instead of French fries‚ try baked sweet potato fries
French fries are definitely an American favorite, but they are linked to several different health conditions and diseases like type 2 diabetes.[5,6]
Try making your own baked sweet potato fries instead. Sweet potatoes have more nutrients in them than potatoes, like beta-carotene and phytochemicals. Cut slices of sweet potatoes; toss with olive oil, salt, and your favorite spices; and bake in the oven until browned and crispy. Eat warm for a nourishing and filling treat.
Just be sure to still watch your portions. Like potatoes, sweet potatoes are still a starchy food that can spike your blood sugars so you don't want to eat too much at once.
5. Instead of a chocolate candy bar‚ try a few squares of high-quality dark chocolate
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which contain many powerful nutrients that offer important health benefits. Unfortunately, chocolate candy bars usually don't contain barely any actual chocolate at all. Instead, they are a highly-processed form of chocolate that is made largely of sugar, milk, and other ingredients.
But you can still get that rich, chocolate flavor without the downsides of a chocolate candy. Choose a bar of high-quality dark chocolate that has a high cacao content and low sugars, and eat a few squares at a time. Dark chocolate contains high amounts of actual cocoa bean, and it is an antioxidant-rich food that can help improve blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and lipids, for example.
6. Instead of tortilla chips‚ go for sliced veggies
Tortilla chips are a favorite happy hour, game time, and party snack. But they aren't the healthiest choice, because they basically only provide you with starchy corn fried in unhealthy fats and covered with salt.
Go for sliced veggies instead. The good news is that you can still dip them in guacamole, hummus, dips, or salsas. Slice up a variety of different vegetables like carrots, celery, zucchini, cucumber, and bell peppers to make a colorful party platter.
7. Instead of cheese puffs‚ try string cheese or popcorn.
Cheese puffs are a junk food made from highly-processed ingredients. They'll really only give you refined carbs, sodium, and added flavors – nothing near a healthy whole food. Sometimes, cheese puffs even contain added sugars.
Depending on if you are grabbing cheese puffs because you are craving the puffy crunch or the cheesy flavor, swap them out for a bowl of popcorn or a stick of string cheese instead. These are healthy, whole-food alternatives.
8. Instead of cookies‚ make your own simple-ingredient treats
If you have a hard time resisting cookies, you aren't alone. Cookies are a classic pleasure that can often find their way into snack time. But cookies are really a dessert food that is high in sugar, calories, and carbs. And they should only be saved for special occasions – not eaten on a regular basis.
Instead of traditional, classic cookies or store-bought options, make your own healthy treats made out of just a few healthy ingredients like oats, nuts, almond flour, and bananas. Experiment with different recipes to find a new favorite.
Alternatively, if you are looking for something a little sweet try fresh fruit or dark chocolate. To add an extra-special touch to fresh fruit, sprinkle a little cinnamon on it, which will add some natural sweetness without any sugar. Dark chocolate is another decadent treat that can satisfy your sweet craving without negative health effects.
9. Instead of soda‚ drink infused sparkly water, coffee, or tea
You might not consider soda a "snack," but many people actually turn to beverages when they are feeling hungry and are in the need for a little something extra. Soda, sweetened coffee, and other sugar-sweetened beverages are all popular drinks that can fall into the category of snacks. Unfortunately, sugar-sweetened beverages are a huge source of added sugar in the diet and can increase your risk for serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and more.
Make your own infused sparkly water with fresh fruit and herbs, like mint and lime or lemon and basil. Alternatively, choose unsweetened coffee or tea as other comforting beverages to turn to.
10. Instead of ice cream‚ try homemade banana ice cream
Ice cream is hard to say no to, especially on a hot day. But ice cream is a nutrient-poor food that gives you a lot of calories, sugar, and saturated fat in just a small serving.
To get that cool, smooth, creamy effect of ice cream, try making your own homemade banana ice cream. Simply freeze chunks of banana ahead of time, then blend them up in a food processor or blender. Scoop into a bowl and top with chopped walnuts, peanuts, or blueberries. It couldn't be easier to make, and you'll be surprised just how tasty this substitute is!
11. Instead of flavored yogurt‚ have plain yogurt with fresh berries
Yogurt itself contains live probiotics which support gut health, and it also contains other healthy nutrients like calcium. The problem is that most yogurt brands create flavored products to appeal to their customers, and in the process they add a lot of sugar. Flavored yogurts contain about double the sugar that unflavored yogurts do.
So choose plain yogurt instead. Add fresh fruit, like berries, to add your own delicious and natural flavor. You can even make a layered yogurt parfait with your favorite fruit, chopped nuts, or homemade granola.
The bottom line
Snacks are often hard to resist because they are so appealing to our taste buds. They make it hard to stick to our healthy eating goals, and we tend to eat more of them than we intend to. But most of us truly do want to eat well. We just want to enjoy foods that appeal to our personal preferences, have great flavor and texture, and are good for us at the same time.
Luckily, you can have the best of both worlds. You can enjoy tasty, appealing, satisfying snack foods that are also nutritious at the same time. You just need to slow down, consider smart snack swaps, and be more intentional with your choices moving forward.
Remember, the key is to choose nutrient-rich snack foods that will work alongside you in your health goals, not against you. So consider the snack swaps above, stock your pantry with several of the healthy alternatives, and the next time you have a hankering for a snack give something new a try!
Schlinkert C, Gillebaart M, Benjamins J, Poelman M, de Ridder D. The snack that has it all: People's associations with ideal snacks. Appetite. 2020 Sep 1;152:104722.
Smith AP, Rogers R. Positive effects of a healthy snack (fruit) versus an unhealthy snack (chocolate/crisps) on subjective reports of mental and physical health: a preliminary intervention study. Front Nutr. 2014 Jul 16;1:10.
Hess JM, Jonnalagadda SS, Slavin JL. What Is a Snack, Why Do We Snack, and How Can We Choose Better Snacks? A Review of the Definitions of Snacking, Motivations to Snack, Contributions to Dietary Intake, and Recommendations for Improvement. Adv Nutr. 2016 May 16;7(3):466-75.
Zhang Y, You D, Lu N, et al. Potatoes Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-analysis. Iran J Public Health. 2018 Nov;47(11):1627-1635.
Cahill LE, Pan A, Chiuve SE, et al. Fried-food consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease: a prospective study in 2 cohorts of US women and men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Aug;100(2):667-75.
Coyle DH, Ndanuko R, Singh S, Huang P, Wu JH. Variations in Sugar Content of Flavored Milks and Yogurts: A Cross-Sectional Study across 3 Countries. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2019 Jun;3(6):nzz060.
Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.