UPDATE: Just as busy over the weekend as you are during the week? Read up on which snacks you should be grabbing at your local Duane Reade. This article was originally published on February 15, 2012.
It's time we redefine "fast food" — not because it isn't delish, but because McLunches aren't doing anything to help our health or energy levels (not to mention our waistlines). Instead of going for no-good-for-you grub the next time you need food in a flash, try something that will actually fill you up in a good way. Enter Keri Gans, nutritionist and author of
The Small Change Diet, who let us in on some tasty alternatives. Don't freak: Remember, we're talking small changes here, and, of course, that means staying practical. The solution? Knowing just which nuts, bars, shakes, and yes, even candy to carry in your bag for daily fuel. Oh, and the best part: These little craving cures can be found at every local bodega on the block. So, go ahead, you've finally got permission to satisfy the munchies.
Click through for the best on-the-go snacks and tips on how to optimize those little in-between-meals meals.
Nuts: "I love all nuts! They are packed with heart healthy monounsaturated fats that always make a great grab-and-go snack. Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are probably my favorite picks in any variety except honey roasted – don’t see the point of adding sugar to something so good. The fat and protein mix keeps you well satiated. Just make sure to eat no more than 1 ounce serving otherwise the calories will add up."
What's one of the biggest risks you take if you skip meals from being busy? What does that cause throughout the day and in the long run?
"If you skip meals, you will start to feel fatigued. It is similar to running a car without gas: You are not going to get very far. Skipped meals also lead to lack of nutrients needed for optimal health. Additionally, most people who skip meals tend to make unhealthy food choices when they do sit down to eat because they are so hungry they can’t make any decisions."
Bars: "Another great grab-and-go snack as they are easy to throw in your bag or briefcase. Luna, Kashi, and Kind Bars are probably my top picks. I look for bars that are typically less than 200 calories, have a minimum of 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, little added sugar and does not contain ingredients I can't pronounce. The carbohydrates in the bar will give you quick energy and the fiber and protein, which digest slower, will help keep your blood sugar stable."
What are the benefits of snacking vs. three meals?
"With our busy schedules, snacks are often needed to keep us going when we don’t have time to stop for a full meal. It’s really about balancing the two as much as possible with your schedule. I cannot say that there is a benefit to one OR the other but rather the two together are ideal. The bottom line is that it's important to keep your body fueled throughout the day so you keep your energy up and don’t become ravished at mealtime. A snack is also a good opportunity to get nutrients you might have missed at a mealtime, i.e. calcium, fiber, Vitamin C."
Photos: Courtesy of Kind, Luna Bar, and Kashi
Chips: "I prefer those that are available in individual servings bags, less than 200 calories. I look for those that are baked versus fried, are low in fat, and have no additives. Ones I typically recommend include: Stacy’s Pita Chip, Pop Chips, and Soy Crisps. These are good on the energy front but if eaten alone, you will most likely be hungry 30 minutes later. I recommend mixing chips with a single serving of cheese like Mini Baby Bell, Laughing Cow, or Cabot."
What are the best times to snack?
"There is no set time in the day, however, I do recommend if it is longer than four hours since your last meal and it isn’t time for your next meal, then a snack is needed."
Photos: Courtesy of Genisoy, Stacy's, and Popchips
Dried Fruit: "I’m not usually a fan of dried fruit, since typically they are high in calories and most people tend to overeat them. But of all the dried fruit available, I would go with dried plums (aka prunes), they tend to be lower in sugar and calories. My runners-up would be raisins and cranberries."
What are the most essential diet tips for girls on the go?
"I prefer not to use the word 'diet,' but rather healthy eating tips. Number one guideline is to be prepared. In other words, if you are on the go and you know it will be many hours before you eat again, bring a snack with you. Otherwise you may find yourself starved when you do finally eat and probably will overeat."
Photos: Courtesy of Sun-Maid, Sunsweet, and Ocean Spray
: "As much as I would like to say to pass on the candy, every once in a while it is ok to have a little. Little being the key word here. First choice would be dark chocolate
because of the flavonols. Sugar Free Jelly Beans
would be another pick, each bean contains only about 2 calories, so a healthy handful may be around 80 calories only. Lastly hard candy like Werthers
can go a long way; five Sugar-free Werther's Original candies have about 40 calories."
Why is snacking important?
"In addition to providing you with an opportunity to nourish your body with the nutrients it needs, taking a break to refuel your body can also refuel your mood and be just the little breather you need to get through a busy day. The Power of Snacking
study calls this the 'notion of positive snacking,' and I think if snacking is done with intention (not mindlessly), snacking can be a positive and enjoyable experience."Photo: Courtesy of Jelly Belly, Prestat, and Werther's Original
Shakes: "I typically prefer homemade shakes, especially if low fat dairy or soy is added. Most shakes purchased out are large portions, very high in sugar and therefore a lot of calories. The ideal shake has a serving of protein (i.e. one cup nonfat milk and/or yogurt) and a serving of carbs (fruit). The carbs provide the energy and the protein helps to repair muscle damage. While I’m not a big fan of packaged shakes because they are usually too high in calories, if I had to choose, I’d select DanActive, V-Fusion Smoothie, and Stonyfield."
Need some more healthy snacking options? Here are some of Keri's favorites!
Low fat Greek yogurt, with one cup of fresh berries
One whole grain crispbread, spread with one tablespoon of almond butter
One hardboiled egg, with one small banana
Thomas’ Lite Multigrain English muffin, with a tablespoon of hummus and slice of cheese
One cup of melon, with a Mini Baby Bell cheese
One cup of raw veggies, with ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese
Got a favorite go-to snack that's easy on the waistline? Let us know in the comments below!
Photos: Courtesy of Stonyfield Farm, V8, and Dannon