Every so-called healthy snack has had its time in the spotlight – remember rice cakes? Even though they tasted like cardboard, they were the “it” healthy snack for a while. But are rice cakes and other similar munchies actually good for you – or are they more like treats?
Strictly speaking, a snack should be a mini-meal that offers a nutritious pick-me-up, while a treat is often high in fat, sugar and/or calories and has little nutritional benefits to speak of. In some cases, “a snack may be no better for you than a cookie or candy bar,” says Paula Meyer, R.D., a dietitian in Westport, C.T.
Read on as we rate eight popular snacks and whether you should stick with them or ditch them.
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Snack #1: Rice Cakes
This once uber-popular “diet” snack has a mere 35 calories, but consists of high-glycemic, puffed-up white rice with a low nutritional profile. “They’re mostly made of air,” says Sharon Palmer, RD, a dietician and author of The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan For Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today. “You’re better off choosing a low-glycemic snack that keeps you feeling full longer.”
Verdict: Ditch it. “You want to get as many nutrients as you can with your calories,” Palmer says. “You can enjoy a cup of fresh strawberries for those same 35 calories and you’ll get more flavor and nutrients.”
Snack #2: Kale Chips
The latest “it” snack is a mixed bag, nutritionally speaking. While kale itself is rich in vitamin A, C and K, your bag of kale chips may contain more additives than you’d think. “With oils, flavorings and salts, some kale chips contain as many calories as potato chips – 160 calories per ounce – and loads of salt,” Palmer says. “Also, some veggie chips contain nothing but dehydrated potatoes and tiny amounts of dehydrated vegetables.”
Verdict: Ditch it and make your own. Roast kale with a small amount of olive oil and seasonings to get the maximum benefit. Or if you’re going to buy kale chips, look at the label and make sure kale is listed as the number one ingredient.
Snack #3: Sweet Potato Chips
If you think that swapping regular spuds for sweet potatoes would be a healthy upgrade – you’d be right. Sweet potatoes contain more fiber and vitamins A and C than regular potatoes. Just be sure to read the label of those sweet potato chips you’re snacking on to make sure you’re not getting some unwanted ingredients. “These chips should contain only sweet potatoes, vegetable oil, salt and maybe some seasoning,” says Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Verdict: Stick with it.