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Are your snacks actually healthy or junk food in disguise?
Snacks are a great way to keep yourself, and your family, nourished between meals. They can tide you over until lunch, bust you out of a mid-afternoon slump, or amp up your energy before exercising.
The problem is, many store-bought convenience snacks, even the seemingly “healthy” ones, aren't all that good for you. Often containing anywhere from 5 to over 15 unnecessary ingredients (many unpronounceable), most grab-and-go snacks are made with excess sugar, sodium and vegetable oils. Thanks to slick marketing and misleading information, these outlaws are more like junk food that's disguised as a nutritious snack.
Because shopping for healthy snacks can be so confusing, we wanted to share some of the top offenders that often claim and appear to be healthy.
Here's a look at some of the WORST “healthy” offenders
Despite your best efforts in choosing healthier snacks, many of these choices might be sabotaging your health and your weight.
Store-bought granola and protein/breakfast bars
These seemingly “healthy” snacks certainly sound nutritious, but are often more like a candy bar than a health food. They're typically highly processed (with upwards of 20 ingredients listed) and loaded with sugar that has been ADDED by the manufacturer. So much so, that we even wrote a spoiler alert on them.
The good news: If you love granola or snack bars, healthier homemade versions are simple to make. Here are some of our favorites:
- Homemade Granola Bars (add your favorite ingredients)
- Apricot Almond Granola Bars
- Chocolate Lover's Granola
- Crunchy Maple Coconut Granola
- Crunchy Pumpkin Spice Granola
Pretzels or other carb-heavy snack foods
Most carb-heavy snacks are void of essential nutrients. They're often made with refined white flour rather than healthier whole grains, so they're digested extremely quickly (similarly to eating a sugary snack). You may get that initial quick burst of energy but it's often fleeting and leaves you feeling lethargic, rather than leveled-up.
Because veggie chips tend to be associated with vegetables such as beets, carrots or sweet potatoes, people often gravitate toward them when choosing a snack. In reality, veggie chips are really no healthier than potato chips. Just like potato chips, they're a combination of starchy vegetables, salt, oil and other added ingredients.
Store-bought trail mix
Nuts and dried fruits mixed together? Sounds pretty nutritious, but this seemingly “healthy” snack mix is often filled with highly processed junk (ranging from from RED 40 dye to added oils), excess salt and sugars. Be sure to read your ingredients labels closely OR in less than 5 minutes, you can make your own Healthy Homemade Trail Mix.
Nut butter, especially reduced-fat peanut butter
Nuts are PACKED with protein, low in carbs and HIGH in healthy fats. The problem is, most big name companies' nut butters, especially reduced-fat versions, take the fat out and add fillers like sugar and palm oil. As long as it's the real deal, nut butter is a good addition to your diet (again in moderation). Just be sure to check that it's 100% natural nut butter containing only the nut and limited salt. If you want to know more about the dirty truth when it comes to store-bought nut butter, check out THIS spoiler alert.
Cubed FAT-FREE cheese
Contrary to popular belief and many trending diets, there's nothing wrong with fat when the right portions are embraced. In fact, fat helps you feel full, which is why it's an important aspect of your daily diet (in moderation, of course). Eating small amounts of healthy fats with, or between, your meals can actually help you to feel satisfied, which leads to less overeating. When you gravitate toward fat-free cheese, you're missing out on heart-healthy fats. Not to mention those fats are likely being replaced with extra sugar or sodium to compensate for the lost flavor.
If you peruse the aisles of the grocery store and start checking ingredients, you'll find that even most of the seemingly healthy brands add as much sugar as ice cream into their sweetened yogurts (along with a handful of other not-so-great ingredients). We don't know about you, but we'd rather indulge in a decadent dessert than a sugar-laden yogurt! If you or your family aren't fans of the tangier taste of plain yogurt, add a small amount of honey, maple syrup, vanilla or fresh fruit at home. This way you can add amazing flavor while controlling the sweetness.
So, how do you snack in the healthiest way possible?
Choosing snacks that are high in protein and fiber (such as a hard-boiled egg or almonds) helps reduce hunger and keeps you feeling full hours later.
Ideally, your snacks should be based on the same ingredients as your meal choices. Focus on including a variety of whole foods from each food group, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and nutrient-rich foods.
If you're going to grab prepackaged, take a minute to check the ingredients listed before buying them. Aim for ones made with FfL-friendly (minimally processed, delicious and healthy) ingredients.
To make things easy, we came up with THIS LIST of more than 70 simple, yet healthy, snacks for you and your family to enjoy. This list is a great resource because it takes the guesswork out of smart snacking. You can even laminate a copy and let your family use dry erase markers to choose their weekly favorites.
If you're looking for a guided approach to planning, preparing and enjoying nutrient-dense snacks without spending crazy amounts of time in the kitchen, then Healthy Snacks Made Simple is a great next step.