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Health(ier) Snacking Options | Nutrition Gone Wild

Healthy Snacks

Healthy Snacks That Are Better for You Nutritionally, And Also Feed Your Soul

As a college student, I was the constant snacker. Sitting down to study usually called for a side bowl of snacks to keep my hands and mouth busy. Some choices were healthier than others. I hold those Cadbury mini chocolate eggs responsible for at least a couple unwanted pounds gained every spring time midterm session…

I’m not the only one who can attest to this habit.

America is obsessed with snacking! Most people in this country probably do more snacking than eating actual meals.

According to a recent study looking into the snacking habits of Americans found that a whopping 94% of Americans snack at least once daily! This by itself this is not as concerning as the 70% of Americans who believe any food can be a snack (ummm, no your orange chicken bowl from Panda Express is not a snack).

I think the debate to be had here isn’t whether snacking is bad for you, it is the debate over what defines a snack. Is it a calorie limit? The size of the food itself? The food type? The time when consumed?

When I was researching for this article I even came across a group called the Healthy Snacking Research Center, but it appears that it is the invention of Frito-Lay, which makes me wary to their research (someday I’ll write an article that will shock you to the realities of how much conglomerate food companies spend their money backing research to make them look less terrible, YAY CAPITALISM).

When I was a junior in undergrad I attended a conference held by The Institute of Food Technology where I attended various lectures that ran the gamut of food related subjects. To this day (back in 2011), the discussion I attended about snack foods is still a memorable one.

The speakers were dietitians, researchers, and food company executives discussing the rising demand for snack foods and their struggle to define what those foods should be. There were over a dozen different definitions offered, and by the end of the session, not one had been decided on.

It is 2016, and the food industry and researchers are still trying to answer this question…

But why does the definition matter? Why not let the American people snack freely?

We are trying to understand in the nutrition community why the U.S. has suddenly become so obese in the last 50 years. There are so many different factors to take into consideration when trying to understand what has caused the America to become one of the most unhealthy countries in the world despite being the richest.

When we see a large trend like snacking take off so quickly, we have to wonder what role this has played in the obesity epidemic. It is of particular interest when a trend takes off but the people making our food are scrambling to understand what it all means…

Just think about that for a minute…


So, Can Snacking Be Part of a Healthy Diet?

I think the debate over that question is irrelevant to most people. You are going to snack, so let’s just get to the part where we decide on which snacks are healthy. 

With that in mind, let’s talk about the 5 most popular snacks in the United States, and discuss their nutritional value and healthy snack alternatives and options.





Through my internet searching, it appears that candy is one of the top most consumed snacks in the U.S.




OK yes, I have had my occasional candy binge (kind of necessary for break-up recovery), but how in the hell are Americans eating so much candy that it is one of the top snack foods nationwide?

So what about candy’s nutritional value?

Candy is defined as a confection in which SUGAR is the principal ingredient. I can feel the diabetes coming on just from googling that…


Real talk, let’s look at some of the nutrition facts of our favorite candies:

  • Butterfinger (standard size): 250 calories, 10g fat (5g saturated fat), 24g sugar
  • Jelly Belly (35 pieces): 140 calories, 27g sugar
  • Haribo Gummy Bears (17 pieces)140 calories, 18g sugar (if you’re gonna eat gummy bears, at least make them the good kind…)
  • Peanut M&Ms (1 serving bag): 250 calories, 13g fat (5g saturated fat), 25g sugar


If those are the snacks you are enjoying, let’s put some things into perspective:

If your daily calorie allowance is 2000 calories…And you eat a Butterfinger, 250 calories is 12.5% of your daily allowance used towards candy (containing virtually no good nutrients).

There are 4g of sugar in a teaspoon: Your 35 jelly bellies is equivalent to nearly 7 teaspoons of sugar!

If someone offered you 7 teaspoons of sugar for your coffee you would give them a weird look…

The American Heart Association suggests you keep your saturated fat intake at less than 13g per day. So your peanut M&Ms will cost you nearly 40% of your daily saturated fat allowance!

So is there a snack alternative that still falls into the candy realm?


Healthy Snack Option for Candy:

You are in luck, dark chocolate has been found to have some real nutritional value!

Cacao, the bean used to made cocoa powder and chocolate is one of the most antioxidant rich food in the world!

The National Institute of Aging and the National Institutes of Health have developed a way to measure the antioxidant contents of foods, called Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. Cacao scores a 95,500µmol per 100g and dark chocolate candy, made with various percentages of cacao content scored an average 20,816µmol per 100g.

When you compare these numbers to antioxidants we often rave about, raw blueberries only score a 4,669µmol per 100g and the average red wine (with its resveratrol content) scores a 3,607µmol per 100g.

Studies have found that the flavonoids in dark chocolate have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. These flavonoids cause the release of nitric oxide in the arteries which leads the arteries to relax and lower blood pressure. A study at Harvard also found dark chocolate can improve cholesterol through a small decrease in LDL (bad) and increase in HDL (good). Dark chocolate has also been found to help increase insulin sensitivity in individuals with type 2 diabetes due to its polyphenol contents.

In addition to antioxidants, dark chocolate (with 70-85% cacao) contains high amounts of fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese.

I’m not saying you should be eating a whole candy bar a day, but 2 squares of your favorite dark chocolate bar a day isn’t something you need to feel guilty about. Just consider having dark chocolate the next time you want to eat your feelings or need to satisfy that sweet craving that just won’t go away…


Potato Chips


I have a total salt tooth.

I can eat one of two pieces of chocolate and put it away, but when I open a bag of chips, all bets are off and I will most likely find myself at the bottom of an empty bag…

Chips and alcohol are admittedly my vices.

In 2015, 85.6% of American households said they consumed potato chips in their household. In the U.S. chip sales were $5.69 billion, only second to cracker sales of $6.87 billion. Americans consume 1.2 billion pounds of chips every year!

Clearly, we love chips in this country. And the world loves our chips too! In 2014, the world spent $275 million buying up our potato chips. Interesting to also note, that French fry export from the U.S. made up ⅔ of all things exported from the United States in 2014…


Real talk, let’s look at some of the nutrition facts of our favorite chips:

If those are the snacks you are enjoying, let’s put some things into perspective:

First off, you are most likely eating 2-3x the serving. I rarely find myself eating less than 20 chips in a sitting.

So let’s say you ate a few servings of pringles (I mean they aren’t totally wrong when they say “once you pop, you can’t stop), that’s 450 calories and 27g of fat! A Big Mac from McDonald’s has 28g of fat, and at least you get to eat a whole hamburger for that amount of fat…

Chips are also contributing to our everyday sodium consumption. On average, Americans consume 3,400mg of sodium every day, which is two times the recommended daily intake. High sodium intake leads to hypertension, which over time can lead to kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke.

So is there a better chip?


Healthy Snack Options for Chips:

There are two things to consider when choosing a healthier chip: cooking process and the principal ingredient.

Pop chips in the world of chips, were the first of their kind to gain popularity. Rather than being fried or baked, they are made through heat and pressure, making them quite low in fat. The company also touts that they are natural with no preservatives, artificial color, hydrogenated oils, or msg (making them a better choice since they are actually made of food). Their sea salt chips (23 chip serving) contain 120 calories, 5g fat (0g saturated fat), and 190mg sodium (not so great on the sodium front).

Food Should Taste Good is another awesome chip company making delicious and healthier chips. They have an awesome line of tortilla chip line that are all gluten-free, GMO-free, low sodium, vegan, and cholesterol-free. My personal favorite is their sweet potato tortilla chips (great for dipping in salsa or hummus). Twelve chips will cost you 140 calories, 7g fat (0.5g saturated fat, and 80mg sodium (AWESOME sodium count if you ask me). Again made of real food, so if you’re gonna have a chip, these aren’t a bad choice.

Good Healthy Snacks makes some healthier chip products, specifically their Avocado Oil chips. Avocado is rich in healthy unsaturated fats, which are good for your heart. Their single serving (5oz) bag of Avocado Oil sea salt chips will cost you 140 calories, 7g fat (4.5g monounsaturated fat), 45mg sodium (AWESOME on the healthy fat and sodium front). Worth mentioning that these chips are only made with potatoes, avocado oil, and sea salt.

Moreover, your goal in a healthier chip should be to aim for chips made with as few ingredients as possible (real food), made from foods that have high nutritional value to begin with (beans, lentils, ancient grains), and utilize a healthier oil in its production.

Ice Cream

Ice Cream


Last time I checked (more like an inner check of my sanity vs. the world), ice cream is dessert. This delicious, creamy, dairy concoction was reserved for special occasions, like your birthday, the 4th of July, or the last time you suddenly found yourself single…

But apparently ice cream is considered an everyday snack to Americans. In 2013, ice cream sales in the United States were $13.7 billion. 40% of Americans eat ice cream at least once in a two-week period.

There are hundred of different ice creams and ice cream products in America, so I will only barely be able to touch on the subject in this article. However, as of 2014 the most popular ice cream flavors are as follows: chocolate, cookies and cream, vanilla, cookie dough, mint chocolate chip, strawberry, and butter pecan.


Real talk, let’s look at some of the nutrition facts of our favorite ice creams:

If those are the snacks you are enjoying, let’s put some things into perspective:

Instead of having 250 calories of ice cream you could have:

All these items you get to have a lot more than ½ cup and there is some actual nutritional value to what you would be eating…

In the sense of exercise, how much time and energy does it take to work off 250 calories:

  • 70 minutes of walking
  • 29 minutes jogging
  • 21 minutes of swimming
  • 38 minutes of cycling

Of course there is some benefit to ice cream right?

More than 75% of Americans are calcium deficient. We need calcium to maintain the strength and structure of our bones and teeth. When we get into our older age, especially for women, our bones begin to become porous. This makes things like falling down or any activity more dangerous than it was in younger years. Our peak bone mass is reached around the age of thirty, so getting our daily calcium needs (varies by age and gender) in our younger years is key.

While ice cream is not an ideal source for calcium (with all that extra sugar and fat), but it is the “bright side” of the situation…

So is there a better ice cream?


Healthy Snack Options for Ice Cream

Ben and Jerry’s has introduced a line of greek frozen yogurt products. You will fare better here with a higher protein, yogurt-based ice cream. Their Raspberry greek frozen yogurt (½ cup) will cost you 140 calories, 5g fat (3g saturated fat), 16g sugar, and the added bonus of 4g of protein. The fat content is much lower, and the sugar content is reasonable given you are eating ice cream. Can’t hate on the added protein here either…

So Delicious makes awesome non-dairy ice cream treats from almond milk, soy, and coconut. For those who can’t have dairy, or simply want something different, these are great options (most of them are healthier too). Their Chocolate Almondmilk Ice Cream (½ cup) will only cost you 130 calories, 7g fat (4g saturated fat), 13g sugar, and the added bonus of 2g of protein. On a side note, if you suffer from food allergies their site is very helpful in helping you find a sweet treat that accommodates many different allergies.

Arctic Zero makes some great frozen goodies that are gluten-free, lactose-free, nut free, and are non-GMO. To be a healthier ice cream, there can still be milk and cream, but it’s much easier to be healthy when you take out those ingredients. Their Snickerdoodle Dandy (½ cup) will only cost you 75 calories, 1.5g fat (0g saturated fat), 8g sugar, and the added bonus of 3g of protein. If there was an ice cream that I would say eating the whole pint won’t ruin your day, it is this line of products. If you ate the entire pint of Snickerdoodle Dandy, that is still only 300 calories!

When picking a healthier ice cream, consider ice creams with fewer, more natural ingredients, less added sugar, and lower saturated fat content. If you can find a frozen yogurt based treat, the protein is very much welcomed!



Almonds Are Healthy Snacks


Nuts are actually a great snack! They contain those heart healthy unsaturated fats I’m always raving about and while high in calories, they will keep you full from one meal to the next.

However, in America we tend to like to take a good thing and ruin it with sugar. Right off the bat I’m just gonna say that if there is a flavor to your nuts that isn’t just “nuts” or “lightly salted nuts” just stay away. Likely they cooked a sugary syrup over those bad boys…

In 2015, Planters nuts was the second highest in nut sales in the U.S. bringing in $932.1 million in sales. Competition over which nuts will become the most popular in America has been fierce, with the almond and pistachio industries duking it out. In 2012, pistachio sales had increased by 24% since the previous year and the financial impact of pistachio sales was about $1.3 billion. Since 2005, almond demand has increased by 220% (the average American now consumes 2lbs of almonds every year). The growth in sales of both these nuts can be attributed to the increasing interest in their health benefits.


Real talk, let’s look at some of the nutrition facts of our favorite nuts (these are all dry roasted and lightly salted):

  • Almonds (1oz, 22 pieces): 169 calories, 15g fat (1.1g saturated fat), 96mg sodium, 6.3g protein
  • Pistachios (1oz, 49 pieces): 161 calories, 13g fat (1.6g saturated fat), 115mg sodium, 6.1g protein
  • Cashews (1oz, 18 pieces): 163 calories, 13.2g fat (2.6g saturated fat), 182mg sodium, 4.3g protein
  • Walnuts (1oz or ¼ cup)170 calories, 16g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 240mg sodium, 4g protein
  • Pecans (1oz of pecan halves): 201 calories, 21.1g fat (1.8g saturated fat), 109 mg sodium, 2.7g protein
  • Peanuts (1oz, and technically a legume): 166 calories, 14.1g fat (2g saturated fat), 230mg sodium, 6.7g protein


This discussion is going to be a little different since nuts are ACTUALLY good for you (some are better than others, but I will get there in a minute).

Which nuts are the best nuts?


Healthy Snack Options in the Nut Category

If you are aiming for a nut with the least amount of calories given volume, you get to eat quite a few pistachios for only about 160 calories and the high protein content is awesome for our vegetarian friends who commonly use nuts as an alternative source of protein. Because of pistachios’ high monounsaturated fat and antioxidant content, studies have shown that regular consumption of pistachios can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. Pistachios have also shown promise to help in weight management and blood sugar control.

Almonds, like pistachios, have been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol (by an average of 10% when ½ cup is consumed daily). Eating almonds can also help to control spikes in blood sugar because of it scores low on the glycemic index. Studies have shown that when consuming almonds with a higher glycemic, the almonds will actually help to counteract the other foods, bringing the overall glycemic load lower.

Overall, you can’t go terribly wrong with any of these nuts, if anything, a combination of them all will bring you the benefits of nuts. I would continue to tout the benefits of each nut, but I think I will save that for an article all about nuts…




We all grew up with Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. And as adults, we have watched Cookie Monster get off the hard stuff (chocolate chip cookies, duh) and move on to more fruits and vegetables. Now, the tune he sings is “Cookies are a sometimes food,” which I can totally get behind, given the childhood obesity rates in the U.S. (which is almost 40% as of 2012).

Americans love cookies and we sell a whole lot of them. In 2011, cookie and wafer shipments in the U.S. equated to about $6 billion dollars. Nabisco’s Oreo cookies brought in $711.42 million nationally (globally $3.28 billion) in sales in 2015 (which doesn’t include the sales of double stuffed Oreos that brought in $260.75 million). And let’s be honest, if I’m having an Oreo, it better be double stuffed…

There are obviously other cookies than Oreos, but clearly someone needs to thank the person who invented that cookie because it’s the clear favorite both stateside and globally. I mean the cookie has its own separate fucking website…and a twitter… for a cookie…ughhhh


Real talk, let’s look at some of the nutrition facts of our favorite cookies:


If those are the snacks you are enjoying, let’s put some things into perspective:

The lesser of the evils here are the Nilla Vanilla wafers. At least with all that sugar and fat you got to eat a whole 8 of them. I’m not saying you should eat them, I’m just saying if those cookies are already your jam, you could do worse.

Sugar across the board seems to stay mostly the same, except for those damn Oreo cookies (maybe that is why they are so popular?).

Those Milano cookies weigh in with the most calories at 180 calories. For 180 calories, you could have a 7 oz pour of your favorite red wine or a double vodka soda (might cost you a little more, but not much more).

The true problem with cookies is that they are empty calories. There is no real nutritional value to cookies, just a whole lot of sugar and fat. It’s like you invited a squatter to live in your house every day, but they don’t pay rent or contribute anything to the household…just a whole lot of nothing in the benefits department…

So is there a better cookie?


Healthy Snack Options for Cookies

Caveman Cookies are granola based cookies that fall into the paleo diet rules. I’m not a big purveyor of diets based around the diet ideals of a people who rarely lived into their 30’s, but I can appreciate a cookie made of only real food ingredients. Their Original Caveman Cookies only contain honey, almond meal, walnuts, raisins, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. All ingredients that are worthy of your consumption. Two of these cookies (they are not small) will cost you 130 calories, 8g fat (0.5g saturated fat), 13g sugar, and the added bonus of 3g of protein and 1g fiber.

Kashi TLC cookies are not a terrible choice given its high fiber content and whole grains. Kashi has become a household name for the healthier option, and their cookies are worthy of the reputation. One oatmeal dark chocolate cookie will cost you 130 calories, 5g fat, 8g sugar, and the added bonus of 4g fiber and 2g protein. I make the case for these cookies mostly for the lower sugar content and fiber content.

As far as other cookie options, there are a lot of promises made of cookies with nutrition, but I’m not impressed. Who-Nu cookies weigh in with the same nutrition facts as Oreos, they just added vitamins and minerals. Even the claims they are making about their cookies appear to fall short of anything true. Trickery if you ask me…

Cookies should just stay what they have always been, dessert. They aren’t really much of a suitable snack for everyday eating. If you want to have a cookie, just have a fucking cookie. As long as you see it as a treat, I don’t think there is much to worry about.

So what have we learned here?

Snacking is a trend that isn’t going anywhere, and I give it some serious time before anyone can agree on a definition.

If you are going to snack, make sure there is some value to what you are eating, both nutritionally and for your soul. Who cares if your snack is healthy if you gain no satisfaction from it. You will end up eating something else after and really pack on the extra calories…

Of the snacks we spoke of, nuts are definitely the snack I would push you to choose, I suggest staying away from cookies. But there are many foods to be utilized as snacks that we didn’t talk about (because I felt it more pressing to discuss what snacks we mostly choose to eat already), like fruits and veggies.

Since most Americans have polled that any food can be a snack, I’m sure that many of you have your own favorite snacks that don’t make it onto a list. I would love to hear and see what you find yourself snacking on! Take a picture of your awesome snacks and tag me on instagram or tweet me.

And don’t forget, if you loved this article and learned something new, please don’t be afraid to share it:

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  • Health(ier) Snacking Options | Nutrition Gone Wild

    Healthy Snacks

    Healthy Snacks That Are Better for You Nutritionally, And Also Feed Your Soul As a college student, I was the constant ...
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About Kaitlin Cushman

Welcome to Nutrition Gone Wild. I'm Kaitlin, I have 2 degrees in nutrition, and I want to make a promise to you: I'm going to offer advice that is easy, beneficial, and applicable to your everyday life. This advice is meant to empower you to make these small changes that ultimately will benefit your overall health without taking the fun out of your daily schedule. Join me on this journey to living health(ier), wild and free!

Being healthy doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good cocktail…

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Half the calories, all the fun.