February combines two of my favorite campaigns: American Heart Month and National Snack Food Month. Snacks often have a negative connotation when it comes to health. Many of us think of the ready-to-eat, ultra-processed, packaged snacks and desserts that, while delicious, are typically high in added sugars, sodium and fats.
Snacks can be an essential bridge between meals to help keep us full and energized. Snacks can also help increase our consumption of food groups that we don’t get enough of. According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 80-90% of us are not eating enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Help manage blood pressure and cholesterol
We are also falling short of eating enough nuts, seeds and beans. These foods naturally contain dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which are helpful for managing blood pressure and cholesterol.
Fruits, otherwise known as nature’s candy, can be a healthy and delicious way to satisfy a sweet tooth. Some fruit-based snack ideas include:
- Parfait made with Greek yogurt and the fresh or frozen fruit of your choice.
- “Nice cream,” a frozen dessert made with bananas.
- Fresh fruit slices dipped in a melted square or two of dark chocolate.
Vegetables are probably not the first idea that comes to mind when making a list of snacks, but they are full of fiber, which can benefit your heart. When paired with flavorful dressings or spreads, veggies make an equally healthy and delicious option.
- Celery sticks filled with natural peanut butter and raisins (“ants on a log”).
- Baby carrots with home-made ranch dressing.
- Sliced cucumber topped with hummus or salsa.
Whole grains are an important part of many heart-healthy eating plans, including the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) plan to lower cholesterol and the Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plans. Many packaged snacks are made with refined grains that lack fiber.
These whole grain snacks are great alternatives:
- Pop your own popcorn using plain kernels and olive oil or avocado oil. Season with Italian blend dried herbs or a sprinkle of parmesan cheese instead of salt.
- 100% whole wheat unsalted crackers with part-skim cheddar cheese or low-sodium Swiss cheese.
- Energy balls made with oats.
Nuts, seeds and beans are often under-utilized snack foods with numerous health benefits. Did you know that snacking on nuts regularly may help reduce your cholesterol levels?
- Roast chickpeas with oil and seasoning of your choice for a crunchy and savory snack. Try paprika, chili powder or garlic powder instead of salt. Use canned low-sodium beans that have been rinsed and patted dry before placing in the oven.
- Make your own trail mix with your favorite unsalted nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds to your smoothie.
As you can see, snacks, when chosen wisely, can help protect your heart. If you’d like more information about heart-healthy eating or any other nutrition-related topic, contact your PACT team registered dietitian.