-Dr. Kathy Johnson, PhD, CMC
When it comes to healthy snacks, the age of the baby carrot is over. Sure, raw carrots are great for you, but so are plenty of other delicious foods. These ten delicious snacks are also “superfoods” – not only are they not bad for you, they have health-boosting properties to boot. Whether you crave something sweet, something salty, something crunchy, or something creamy, there is a superfoods snack for you. Note the serving sizes mentioned and enjoy all snacks in moderation for a healthy, varied diet.
1. Almonds have been shown to lower cholesterol and help maintain a healthy weight. About a ¼ cup of almonds is a beneficial serving. Enjoy them plain or roasted, whole or slivered. Almond butter – just a tablespoon or two – is a healthy treat, too. Try some on a whole grain cracker and a cup of green tea for a late afternoon energy boost.
2. Blueberries are as full of cancer- and disease-fighting antioxidants as any food around, so much so that they have been even shown to restore antioxidant levels. Also, like cranberries, they can help prevent urinary tract infections. Note that wild blueberries tend to have even more antioxidants than cultivated ones. Fresh berries are delicious all on their own or with a bit of Greek yogurt (see #5). Frozen berries can be used in smoothies or put on top of low-fat frozen yogurt. Use about ½ cup fresh or frozen berries as a serving.
3. Broccoli eaten either raw or lightly steamed contains tons of soluble fiber and antioxidants, as well as folic acid, calcium, ion, and potassium. Broccoli has even been shown to have the power to reduce diabetic damage. Don’t throw away the stalk/stem! Cut off the thick, fibrous darker green peel to reveal the tender, pale green vegetable underneath – it has the crunch of celery and a mild broccoli flavor. Try broccoli florets or peeled stems with a little drizzle of soy sauce or a simple dip made from fat-free Greek yogurt (again see #5) – stir in minced garlic and herbs, lemon zest and minced rosemary, or a sprinkle of cumin and cayenne to taste. About ½ cup of florets or peeled stem is a serving.
4. Cherries, tart ones in particular, have similarly insanely high antioxidant levels as blueberries, putting them in the position to fight memory loss, heart disease, and diabetes. They’ve also been shown to help reduce inflammation, helping alleviate arthritic and gout pain. Fresh, frozen, or dried (unsweetened) tart cherries make a great snack on their own or combined with other nuts (almonds, walnuts, pumpkins seeds) and fruits (blueberries, raisins). Count ½ cup fresh cherries or ¼ cup dried cherries as a serving.
5. Greek yogurt is thick and creamy in a way regular yogurt can only dream of. It’s high in calcium, of course, and contains good levels of probiotics, which aid healthy digestion. But did you know low-fat and fat-free versions contain twice as much protein as regular yogurt? The texture of Greek yogurt makes it a great snack – especially when topped with dried fruits like blueberries, tart cherries, or raisins – as well as a good substitute for fatty sour cream. Include in it your three servings (1/2 cup each) of low-fat dairy a day.
6. Pumpkin seeds give you protein, zinc, magnesium, and selenium, a potent combination that can fight heart disease and depression. Selenium, a trace mineral, is essential for proper thyroid function. Look for roasted pumpkin seeds, often sold as “pepitas,” that are unsalted and flavor-free. As with all nuts and seeds, a serving is about ¼ cup.
7. Raisins, like all dried fruits, contain a lot of natural sugars, but the fiber and iron in raisins, along with high levels of vitamin C, put them squarely in the super snacks category. Plus, the phytochemicals in raisins have been shown to fight the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Keep servings to about ¼ cup and buy only unsweetened raisins.
8. Soy beans (edamame) are a great source of protein as well as cancer-fighting flavonoids. Steamed or boiled fresh or frozen soy beans can be eaten like fresh sweet peas or in-shell peanuts – and, in fact, they taste a bit like a cross between the two – where part of the fun is getting the nugget out of the shell. Enjoy ½ cup shelled soybeans or 1 cup in-the-pod soy beans as a tasty, healthful snack.
9. Walnuts bring protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and precious omega-3s to the party. They’ve been shown to lower cholesterol, improve brain function, regulate sleep patterns, and fight cancer and heart disease. If you find walnuts a bit too bitter to enjoy them fully, use this trick: blanch walnut halves in boiling water for 30 seconds to remove some of the bitterness, drain them, and then toast them on a baking sheet in a 375-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes to bring back their crunch. As with all nuts, limit your serving size to about ¼ cup.
10. Dark chocolate – saving the best for last. Dark chocolate has tons of antioxidants, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, and phosphorous. Look for chocolate that contains over 70% cocoa to get the full benefit of chocolate’s antioxidant powers and limit your intake to about an ounce a day.