When you're trying to lose weight or simply eat healthier, snacking may be the challenge that leads to the downfall of your diet. It's easy to forget how many times your hand reaches into a bag of potato chips or how many chocolate-covered almonds you've plucked from the decorative centerpiece at work. Because of the mindlessness associated with snacking, it often causes people to eat more calories per day than their bodies need, leading to weight gain and missed health goals. However, there are some guilt-free snacks that you can indulge in while sticking to your healthy lifestyle -- you just have to know what to look for.
Here's what you should know about the caloric content of some typical snack foods, the exercise needed to work off those extra calories, and guidelines for choosing guilt-free snacks that are still tasty.
Typical Snack Profiles
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture's average calorie levels for a serving of your favorite snack food may seem reasonable, keep in mind that you'll probably eat more than one serving at a time. Here's a few examples:
- Salted potato chips. One serving is 22 chips and contains 150 calories.
- Chocolate-covered pretzels. One serving is just five pretzels and contains 140 calories.
- Cheese puffs. One serving is 13 puffs and contains 150 calories.
- Chocolate-covered almonds. One serving is nine almonds and contains 230 calories.
Working Off Your Snack
With those calorie levels in mind, here's how much exercise the CDC says you need to burn off one serving of your snack:
- Briskly walking for 30 minutes burns 150 calories -- the equivalent of one serving of potato chips.
- Jogging for 30 minutes burns 210 calories -- not quite as many calories as are in one serving of chocolate-covered almonds.
- Swimming for 30 minutes burns 150 calories -- just enough to work off your cheese puffs or chocolate-covered pretzels.
Opt for Guilt-Free Snacks Instead
The key to choosing a healthy snack is to ensure that you have at least one fruit or vegetable and a source of protein. The common snacks above contain little protein, which is why they don't fill you up. The protein within a food is what will keep you feeling fuller for longer, allowing you to get the most energy from just one serving -- plus the fruit or veggie will provide you with the nutrients you need for well-rounded health.
Here are some great protein-filled snacks that you can mix and match based on your needs:
- Several slices of bell pepper with 3 tablespoons of hummus contains about 100 calories and 4 grams of protein.
- A sliced apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter contains 170 calories and 4 grams of protein.
- 1 cup of chicken noodle and vegetable soup contains around 100 calories and 6 grams of protein.
- 1/4 cup of regular trail mix contains approximately 170 calories and 5 grams of protein.
- One serving of low-fat yogurt with fruit contains around 200 calories and 12 grams of protein.
When you're trying to maintain your weight, the amount of food you eat is what will make a big difference. When trying to avoid chronic illness, on the other hand, it is the quality and content of the food that matters.
The choice is yours: Either stick with conventional snacks and eat reasonable portion sizes, do extra exercise to make up for your snacks, or choose more nutrient-dense foods. Any of these paths can fit into a balanced and healthy lifestyle.