With the possible exceptions of sex and puppies, food just might be the best thing this Earth has going. Thus it’s natural to want to hook yourself up with a snack while you’re working, studying, or binge-watching Master of None when you should be studying.
The problem? When you’re hungry, you reach for whatever’s convenient, which is usually a bacon-wrapped cookie or something else terrible you’re ill-advisedly keeping around. Part of this is timing; according to Doctor On Demand’s Dr. Tania Elliott, eating before you actually get hungry is the key to keeping cravings in check. But for the inevitable times you can’t resist a Netflix-and-snack binge, stock up on the following foods to make your time on the couch a little healthier.
Pistachios in the shell
Peanuts, cashews, and walnuts are all good options to keep around for when hunger strikes. But the pick of the bunch just might be pistachios.
“Pistachios in the shell are great because they also keep you busy opening them, which can help slow your intake and curb portions,” says Elliott. Just be aware of over-salted or honey-roasted nuts, packed with extra ingredients that might not necessarily be so healthy.
If you only have one food in your pantry, it should be almonds, according to Vanessa Chamberlin, nutritionist and author of The Fire-Driven Life: How to Ignite the Fire of Self-Worth, Health, and Happiness with a Plant-Based Diet.
A small handful of almonds packs a big punch: “One ounce has 3.5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein, which helps regulate blood sugar, and keeps you feeling full,” Chamberlin says. “Plus, [almonds] are crunchy and savory, making them a great first line of defense against hunger and junk food cravings.”
Healthy snacking doesn’t have to suck! “One serving of dark chocolate is much different than the nutritionally lacking milk chocolate that’s common in most candy bars and desserts,” Chamberlin says. “It’s a source of powerful antioxidants and flavanols, and can help heart and brain health.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that dark chocolate tastes great. Just try not to down three dark chocolate bars and claim it’s “for your health.”
Popcorn is light and airy, but also crunchy and filling, provided you’re not going to the movie theater and covering a Prius-sized bag in fake butter. “Three cups of air-popped popcorn has about 100 calories, and can be one of your three daily servings of whole grains,” Chamberlin says. “On top of that, popcorn is also loaded with antioxidants, it’s very inexpensive, and it will stay fresh [if left] unpopped in your snack drawer or pantry for months.”
Also known as “any fruit you can just pick up and eat,” this move is pretty easy: fruit is sweet, rich in fiber, and is nature’s ultimate snack food, complete with its own packaging (bananas truly are amazing). Chamberlin recommends keeping a fruit bowl on your counter, or even in the office kitchen to make steering clear of cravings easier. Just don’t let fruit stay out of the fridge too long, or you’ll be cleaning up mold.
Natural peanut butter
Eating apples doesn’t just ward off the doctor; they can also keep you from inhaling that entire queso burrito in the fridge you intended to be lunch the following day, especially when you add some filling nut butter. Get the kind that only has one ingredient (peanuts, natch), and you’ll get protein to go along with the apple’s fiber. Just stay away from that caffeinated peanut butter.
Dried fruits -- think banana chips or small packs of raisins you can stash in your desk at work -- are sweet and tasty, and come in lots of shapes, sizes and flavors. Perfect for a midday pick me up!
“Dried fruit keeps well at room temperature, and has a whole whole of nutritional benefits,” Chamberlin says. “Just don’t go overboard: they are high in natural sugars, and have enough fiber to potentially have a laxative effect.” Hey, at least all those trips to the bathroom will interrupt your eating, right?
OK, this isn’t a food per se, but teas come in a large variety of flavors, which can satisfy just about any taste you’re longing for, Chamberlin says. But maybe not pizza -- we can’t promise miracles. As an added benefit, tea is also almost entirely water and has virtually no calories, so you’ll feel full while staying hydrated, too.
Chamberlin recommends roasted pumpkin seeds for a satisfying, crunchy snack. Not just a seasonal treat, pumpkin seeds are pretty dense in minerals like magnesium and zinc, and, like nuts, they’ll help keep you fuller for longer.
Ready to hit the supermarket?
While this isn’t a definitive shopping list, it’s definitely a good place to start. And if you want to maximize your healthy habits with these options, don’t forget about H2O.
“Drink water while you’re snacking,” says Elliott. “It will help you feel fuller!”
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Erin Kelly is a writer, marathoner, and triathlete who enjoys snacking on anything with cheese. Follow her on Twitter at @erinkellysays.