Nowadays, everyone has an on-the-go lifestyle, which makes healthy eating – especially when it comes to snacks – a bigger challenge. Reaching for a bag of chips is certainly easy, but there are so many options that are more nutritious and just as efficient. Nutritionist Mike Roussell, Ph.D., shares his favorite picks to curb those afternoon hunger pangs.
If a person’s nutrition goals are focused on weight loss and not on exercise performance, a snack composed only of protein is sufficient. “Nuts are a big one, and I always recommend pistachios, because you get more per ounce – 49 pistachios as opposed to 23 almonds – than with other nuts,” Roussell says. “Plus, you have to shell them, which forces you to eat them more slowly and makes you feel like you’ve eaten more.” However, if you’re not trying to restrict calories and can carry a Greek yogurt without it spoiling, eating your nuts on top of unflavored yogurt creates a nutritious snack balanced with protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Roussell also recommends beef jerky as a protein-dense snack, because it is portable and shelf-stable, but urges his clients to choose a low-sugar variety. “In order to make something really popular, companies add sugar,” Roussell explains.
“So stay away from anything labeled barbecue or teriyaki, or you’ll end up with a product that has more sugar than protein.” - Mike Roussell, Ph.D. - Nutritionist
Oranges, apples and pears, all below 100 calories, are great on-the-go snacks. Their high-water content – around 85 percent for each fruit – and high fiber content make you feel fuller for longer so you won’t ruin your next meal. However, Roussell recommends choosing fruit that is medium-sized over some of the gigantic fruits found in our grocery stores today. “Choose a baseball,” he says. “Not a softball.” Again, if you’re not counting calories, eating your piece of fruit with some unflavored Greek yogurt or an ounce of nuts creates a snack with more balanced macros.
It is often easy to find snacks high in carbohydrates and fats when you are traveling or on-the-go, and easy to find those macros when putting together a meal in a restaurant. But it is not always so easy to get adequate protein, so Roussell recommends traveling with protein powder. “When you can’t control what is being served in a restaurant, have half the serving of protein powder before your meal and half after,” Roussell suggests. “That way you are sure to not have a protein deficit.”
With hundreds of protein bars on the market today, they remain one of the easiest and most portable snacks available. However, many are loaded with sugar and processed ingredients, so Roussell recommends reading labels carefully to find the best options. “Look for a bar with at least 15 grams of protein and ideally less than 25 grams of carbohydrates,” he says.
Many bars today have also replaced sugar with sugar alcohols, which are organic compounds derived from sugar, but with fewer calories. They also have a lower glycemic index than sugar, so they have little to no effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. However, many people do not digest sugar alcohols very well. According to Roussell, a few grams of sugar alcohols in a protein bar are OK, but 10 to 15 is way too much.