Snack Swap: Snack Smarter With These 6 Healthy Choices

It’s 3 p.m. and you’ve got a bad case of the munchies. Lunch is over but dinner is still hours away and you find yourself eyeing the office vending machine, craving something to get you through the rest of the workday. Before you push the button for something fattening, salty, or sugary, consider how that choice could affect your health: Eating unhealthy food may give you a temporary boost, but you’ll feel lousy, and be hungry again in no time.

Making Healthy Choices

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a snack at work, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and president of Nutrition Today with Amy J. The key is to make every bite count by selecting something nutritious and filling so your body and mind will be satisfied.

What to Avoid

Jamieson-Petonic recommends steering clear of foods "that are very high in fat, saturated fat, and added sugars. The reason is that these foods tend to increase inflammation in the body and may start off a metabolic cascade of heart disease, diabetes, and other aging processes."

What to Look For

Consuming healthy snacks will keep you energized and productive throughout the day. "I suggest snacks that are nutrient-dense, meaning that they provide more nutritional bang for your buck for the calories invested," says the dietitian, who adds that you often don’t have to forego your favorite foods but might just need to find more healthful versions of them. Alternatively, you could switch to a snack that has a similar texture or taste (such as chewy or sweet) but is lower in fat and more nutritious.

Snack Swaps For Smarter Snacking

The following snack swaps can help you improve your overall health, and your waistline will thank you for it, too. Plus, once you become accustomed to eating smart at the office, Jamieson-Petonic says you’ll probably find yourself seeking out healthier choices at home as well, so your whole family will benefit.

Snack Swap #1

  • Avoid: Processed cheese and cracker packets (250 calories loaded with saturated and trans fats)
  • Better Option: Four whole-grain crackers with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter (200 calories)

Snack Swap #2

  • Avoid: Doughnuts (300-400 calories in just one jelly or cream-filled pastry)
  • Better Option: A small whole-grain bagel with light cream cheese (200 calories)

Snack Swap #3

  • Avoid: Cookies (200 to 250 calories with little to no nutritional value)
  • Better Option: Trail mix made with old-fashioned oatmeal, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit (Although a 1/4 cup has 200 calories, you’ll get essential vitamins and fiber, too.)

Snack Swap #4

  • Avoid: Potato chips (150 calories and 10 grams of fat in 10 chips)
  • Better Option: Whole grain pretzels (150 calories and no fat in a small handful)

Snack Swap #5

  • Avoid: Deep-fried veggie snacks (200 calories)
  • Better Option: Whole grain pita or tortilla chips made with flax seed (150 calories in a small handful)

Snack Swap #6

  • Avoid: Regular soda (150 calories in 12 ounces of sweetened soda)
  • Better Option: Fruit-infused water (10 calories)

Remember that it’s not just what you eat, but also how much, Jamieson-Petonic cautions. "The palm of a woman's hand is about the correct portion—really," she says. Also, get into the habit of reading nutrition labels so you know what you’re buying and whether or not it fits with your health goals. "Try to keep saturated fat below 4 grams per serving, keep the sodium under 400 milligrams per serving, and the added sugars to less than 4 grams per serving," she says. Finally, limit your snack to 250 calories.

A Calorie-Free Treat

If your snack is done but you’re still craving more food, Jamieson-Petonic says that chewing a piece of sugarless gum can be a good strategy: It will keep your mouth busy without blowing your calorie allotment for the day.

Exercise Your Options

Unfortunately, smart food choices alone are not enough: "Everyone should make time to exercise during the day," stresses the health expert. "If you are able to get in 10,000 steps per day (the equivalent of five miles), you can really improve your health, mood, productivity, and creativity." There are plenty of great, free fitness and weigh loss apps for smart phones and other portable devices to help you track your accomplishments. Jamieson-Petonic especially likes Lets Move it, Lose it! and the My Fitness Pal apps.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, LMT, reviewed this article.


Amy Jamieson-Petonic , RD, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson, and president of Nutrition Today with Amy J. Email interview 19 March 2014.