20 Snacks That Will Keep You Energized Through the Day
Looking to bust through the afternoon lull? A snack can be a fantastic energy boost, but try your best to avoid those vending machines. Sure that tasty candy bar might give you a temporary high, but you'll come crashing down hard and have less energy than you started with. Plus, over time those quarters add up. If you spend $1.50 a day, that's $7.50 back in your pocket at the end of each week (and $30 a month and $360 a year!).
The following foods are great on their own, but even better in combination. Try pairing carbohydrates with protein or healthy fats for the most punch and hunger satisfaction. And be sure to substitute homemade treats in place of their packaged counterparts — it just takes a little planning ahead.
A super portable, energy-packed snack I often overlook? Nuts! I love grabbing a handful (about an ounce) of almonds or walnuts to eat with fruit, sprinkle crushed atop yogurt, or toss in oatmeal. The healthy fats and omega-3s are a smart choice and keep you fuller longer than sugars alone. Plus, it might help you live longer!
2. Dried Fruit
If you're like me, you tend to forget about fruit until it is beyond ripe. Dried might be more expensive, but it will keep longer and also satisfy your desire for a chewy snack better than, say, a Snickers bar. Plus, dried fruit is versatile. If you'd like to experiment with making your own, check out this awesome tutorial.
3. Fresh Fruits
Basically, you can't go wrong with fruit. However, since fruits do contain natural sugars, it's wise to keep your intake in check and avoid the highest rankers on the glycemic index. Good options include grapefruit, watermelon, prunes, pears, peaches, and apples. (See also: The Best Ways to Choose and Store Fruit)
4. Fresh Veggies
The same goes for vegetables. Did you know that cooked carrots contain more sugar than their raw brothers? It's true! Cooking some vegetables converts their starches to sugars, which bumps cooked carrots a bit higher up the glycemic index than uncooked carrots. So, be sure to stick with raw vegetables for the healthiest snacking (and dip in some hummus for bonus energy points). If you're not so great at grab-and-go, peel and chop veggies on the weekend and pack in containers or baggies to toss in your lunch box.
5. Hard-Boiled Eggs
Every Sunday I make a dozen hard-boiled eggs for the week. I follow Martha Stewart's easy method, and they turn out perfect every time. Eggs are a seriously fantastic and portable source of protein, and I love eating them cold. Prepping just takes 20 minutes, and they keep fresh for several days. (See also: 6 Ways to Cook Eggs Perfectly)
6. Greek Yogurt
An excellent, low-fat and low-sugar protein source, Greek yogurt pairs well with both sweet and savory items. Eat a cup of it with sliced fruit or — my favorite — whisk together with a little cocoa powder and dribble of maple syrup for a nutritious, pudding-like dish.
Garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) are a beautiful and cheap protein source. Since tahini, which is found in most traditional hummus recipes, is somewhat pricey, I just throw together my own mix in the blender:
1 can garbanzo beans
Splash of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Cumin (or whatever else I have on hand)
Then I mix however much water it takes to achieve my favorite texture. Serve with sliced carrots, whole grain crackers, or pita bread.
Along those same lines, beans of all varieties are full of healthy protein and fiber. They can be tossed onto greens, sandwiched in a wrap, or even used in baked goods (as you'll see later). (See also: Delicious and Healthy Bean Recipes)
9. Nut Butters
Natural mixes or homemade blends are best to avoid added sugar, but nut butters of all varieties are a good choice and pair well with fruit (think a tablespoon peanut butter with a banana), whole grain breads and crackers, and even oatmeal. My favorite peanut butter recipe can be processed together in a few minutes using just peanuts, salt, and a little oil.
Though I love string cheese for its portability, unit prices tell me that cubing my own is best. The protein and healthy fats make for staying power. Plus, cheese goes great with sliced fresh fruits and veggies and many grains. I even like to zap some in the microwave over whole wheat saltines for a melty snack. (See also: Fat-Filled Foods You Should Stop Avoiding)
11. Cottage Cheese
I have a serious love affair with low-fat cottage cheese. Just one cup contains an impressive 28 grams of protein. I like to top mine with sliced peaches or even just a sprinkle of paprika. I keep it simple, but cottage cheese is by far my favorite pick on this list.
My husband swears by canned tuna (packed in water) for his afternoon boost. He likes to eat it plain mixed with spicy mustard atop crackers. Sometimes he tosses it with sliced avocado and eats it like a salad. A 3-ounce serving contains 16 grams of protein, as well as 140 mg EPA and DHA combined.
Hungry? Slap a couple slices of lean turkey between two half slices of bread and squirt with mustard for a mini-sandwich. Or skip the bread entirely and instead combine with some apples and cheese for a meat roll-up.
14. Cereal and Milk
Maybe a little crunch might help invigorate you! Instead of grabbing greasy potato chips, try some healthy cereals (no sugars added, whole grain, etc.) with a serving of low-fat milk. It's one of the most classic carb and protein mixes, and its power should be harnessed beyond the breakfast table.
15. Trail Mix
Instead of opting for the packaged variety, take control over your trail mix by making it at home. You can combine your favorite ingredients and even save a little money in the process (check your favorite discount grocers and bulk sections for discounts on ingredients). I do about a quarter to a third cup of dried fruit mix with an equal ratio of nuts. Toss in some dark chocolate chips for a little sweetness.
16. Dark Chocolate
Yes, that's right. You can eat some chocolate if you're feeling sluggish — just keep it in moderation. I've written much already about the many benefits of eating chocolate, and experts agree that darker is better. Combine with fresh or dried fruit or nuts for added staying power. (See also: Flavonoid Content in Different Cocoa Products)
When I worked a desk job, one of my secret afternoon energy weapons was my homemade oatmeal mix. I stashed a container of it in my bottom drawer and would pull it out when I needed a hearty snack. With all the carbohydrates and fiber, you'll enjoy lots of sustained energy until dinner.
18. Energy Bars
Again, homemade is best when it comes to treats like energy bars. I love the secret ingredient in these delicious Chocolate Brownie Protein Bars — black beans, which give each around 7 grams of protein per serving. If you do choose packaged varieties, be sure to keep the sugar content in check. Some contain as much as your vending machine foes. (See also: 20 Homemade Energy Bars)
Combine low-fat milk, non-fat yogurt, fruits, and even greens in healthy smoothies. This snack can be hard to mix on the go, but don't fret! If you have a fridge at work, consider making a smoothie the night or morning before and saving for later slurping.
If you know your stomach is full, but you still find yourself dragging, think back to how much water you've had to drink. Often dehydration creeps in when you least expect it and can sabotage your day, week, or even month if not addressed. Adding lemon and lime to a nice, cold glass of water gives you a much-needed jolt without caffeine or sugar. Definitely worth a try on its own or in combination with these other snacks. (See also: Eight Natural Ways to Make Water More Flavorful)
What are your favorite high-energy snacks?