February isn’t just a time to gift candy hearts to your Valentine, it is also American Heart Month! One easy way to make heart healthy diet changes is to switch up your snacks. According to NHANES data, 65% of Americans ate 2 or more snacks per day in 2007-2008 compared to 1977-1978 when 78% of Americans snacked only once or not at all. Since snacking can be a more significant source of calories, you want to make sure you are getting the most nutrients out of your snacks. The only problem is that it can be hard to ignore the siren call of the vending machine around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. With a little planning you can be prepared with an arsenal of healthier alternatives. These snacks all provide a satisfying balance of protein, fiber, and fat to keep your stomach from growling again before dinner time as well as promoting a healthy heart.
1. Hummus (3-4 tablespoons) and fresh vegetables. Fresh vegetables are low calorie and loaded with fiber and antioxidants. Hummus is a better choice than ranch dressing since it is so much higher in protein and heart healthy fiber.
2. One ounce of nuts. Numerous studies have linked the consumption of nuts with lower risk of heart disease and they’re easy to keep in your car during appointments or in your desk.
3. Apple and 2 tablespoons peanut butter. A classic combination of fiber filled fruit with peanut butter which is a good source of protein and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Make sure to look for peanut butter without any added sugar.
4. Plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese (1/2 cup) and fresh berries. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are both great sources of protein to help keep you feeling full. Limit your intake of added sugars by choosing plain yogurt and adding your own flavor with fresh or dried fruit.
5. Trail mix (1/3-1/2 cup). Dried fruit is a great source of fiber while nuts offer heart healthy unsaturated fats.
6. Nut based granola bar. Granola bars can be loaded with sugar while providing little nutritional benefits so choose wisely! The best bars have less than 5 grams of sugar, more than 3 grams of fiber, and at least 5 grams of protein. Check the labels and find one that works for you.
7. Small latte, skip the syrups. To flavor, just add a dash or two of cinnamon and nutmeg at the counter where they set the milk. You’ll save yourself a lot of calories and added sugar by skipping any flavored syrups. You could also ask for soy milk. Most places use the sweetened version so it has just enough sweetness to make it easy to skip the flavored syrup.
8. Popcorn. Skip the usual buttered microwave popcorn, which can be loaded with trans fat. Instead, use this easy method of making popcorn in a brown paper bag in your microwave! Then, add your own healthy seasoning like olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, onion powder and garlic powder. Take it to work in a small container or zip lock bag. Yum!
9. Fruit smoothie made with 1/2 cup yogurt or milk and 1/2 cup fruit. Whip up a simple fruit and yogurt smoothie for a satisfying snack with protein, fiber, and carbs to keep you going.
10. Cheese stick and fresh pear. String cheese isn’t just for kids! It’s an easy on-the-go snack that is a good source of protein and calcium. Pair it with some fresh fruit for a no-prep needed snack.
11. Whole grain toast topped with mashed avocado (1/2), dash of salt and ground black pepper. Avocado toast is super popular right now for good reason. Avocado is a great source of heart healthy monounsaturated fats. If you have a toaster at work this makes a great mid-morning or afternoon snack.
12. Hard boiled egg and a fresh peach (or other fruit). Hard boil a few eggs on the weekend and you’ll have them as a handy snack all week. They are a great source of protein and healthy fats. Paired with a piece of fresh fruit you have the perfect balance of protein, carbs, and fat for a satisfying snack.
13. Handful of whole grain tortilla chips and 1/3 cup salsa. Look for tortilla chips that offer at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and pack them with your favorite salsa for a healthy snack.
14. Kale chips. These are a surprisingly tasty way to enjoy the health benefits of kale! It is so easy to make your own at home too. Check out these fool-proof tips for making kale chips.
15. Roasted soy nuts or endamame. Soy nuts are packed with fiber and protein and when roasted make for a tasty snack with a bit of crunch.
Keep a stash of these heart healthy snack options in your desk or work refrigerator for any midday munchies. Are any of your favorite snacks included in this list? What other favorites do you have?
Deborah Davis MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian who practices clinical dietetics in Chicago, Illinois. She shares practical nutrition tips and healthy recipes on her personal blog, Dietitian Debbie Dishes. In her free time, you’ll likely find Deborah in the kitchen, camera and spatula in hand, developing recipes for her blog and freelance pieces. You can also connect with Deborah on Twitter and Instagram.