Snacking has gotten a bad rap, perhaps because too often it translates into potato chips or candy bars. But having a midmorning, midafternoon or late-night snack can actually help keep you from overeating — if you snack wisely.
"If you find yourself digging up change for the vending machine or eating out of a full-sized bag or box, your snacking strategies might need a makeover," says registered dietitian Jennifer McDaniel.
When you want a snack, think about convenient, healthy finger foods and creative stuff to dip them in. In other words, skinny dipping! It's a good way to sneak in an extra portion of veggies, grains or fruit. Top the snack off with a small glass of fat-free milk for a nutritional boost.
Many traditional dips are heavy with calories from mayonnaise, ranch dressing, cream cheese, sour cream and other fatty bases. We asked McDaniel to suggest ideas for lower-calorie dips — some smooth, some chunky, some spicy.
Choose a healthy base
Here are some suggested ingredients that can be processed into a smooth and creamy base for dips. You can mix and match according to your taste preferences.
- Beans. "Any legume makes for an ideal base," McDaniel says. "The starchy carb provides the perfect dip consistency yet also boosts fiber." You can use a food processor or blender to make a smooth dip out of cooked soybeans, black beans, chickpeas (hummus), lentils, lima beans or edamame.
- Cottage cheese. "Go with a light or fat-free cottage cheese for a skinnier option," McDaniel says. It blends into a smooth, creamy paste perfect for a dip.
- Light cream cheese. Substitute this almost any time cream cheese is called for.
- Fat-free Greek yogurt. "This is a great substitution for mayonnaise, butter or cream cheese-based dips," she says. Think spinach-artichoke or spicy buffalo dip. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sour cream, substitute ½ cup fat-free Greek yogurt and ½ cup light sour cream, she says. Fat-free yogurt with just a touch of honey is a great dip for all kinds of sliced fruit.
- Salsa. Always a good standby.
- Guacamole. "Avocado is already a healthy fat, and when eaten in moderation is a perfectly healthy food," she says. "I have, however, seen recipes where they actually mashed green peas in with the avocado to lighten it up and add protein."
- Seafood. Shrimp or surimi (imitation crab) can be processed into a seafood dip using any of the above ingredients as a base. "Both are very light in calories, low in saturated fat," she says. Just make sure to let others know that the dip has seafood in case they are allergic.
Spice it up
Once you've prepared your base, you can flavor it using all sorts of ingredients to create a signature dip.
Some ideas for add-ins: grated horseradish, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire, jalapeños, green chiles, minced onion, dill weed and various spices, and parmesan or feta cheese. "The more pungent the cheese, the less you have to use to add flavor to a dip," McDaniel says.
Other healthy additions, finely chopped or blended until almost smooth: olives, artichoke hearts, green onions, frozen spinach (thawed and well-drained), minced garlic, or red pepper flakes for an added kick.
What you dip is as important as the base you dip it in. Traditional veggie platters might include sliced celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and cucumber. McDaniel offers some other creative and healthful ideas:
- Whole wheat tortilla strips
- Sliced jicama (similar to a radish in texture)
- Red bell pepper (it has more vitamin C than an orange, McDaniel says)
- Sugar snap peas
- Sliced apples (sprinkle with lemon to inhibit browning)
- Dried fruits, such as apricots
- Imitation crab sticks
- Homemade baked corn tortilla strips or triangles
There are a variety of new chips on the market, McDaniel says. Those include soy, lentil, kale and sweet potato chips.
With so many nutrient-dense options, don't be afraid to dip into a midday pick-me-up. "Snacking often leads to higher intakes of fruits, whole grains and milk compared to those who do not snack," McDaniel says.
Indeed, snacks are built into the sample menus at ChooseMyPlate.gov and are part of the U.S. dietary guidelines.
Just make sure your snacks don't push your total calories past your target range for your daily needs. Talk with your doctor or registered dietitian if you're not sure how many calories you should be eating to maintain or lose weight.
Created on 03/22/2013
Updated on 03/22/2013
- American Heart Association. Healthy snacking.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010.
- United States Department of Agriculture. MyPlate.