When your energy is low, you might instinctively reach for a cup of coffee or a handful of candy to provide a quick boost. The desire to reach for caffeine, chips, or cookies when we want a pick-me-up is understandable. But too much caffeine can deliver the opposite of a jolt. And quickly digesting carbohydrates, such as sweet beverages, white bagels, pretzels, and candy — which give a quick hit of pleasure because they boost serotonin, the brain chemical that helps regulate mood — will cause your blood sugar to spike and give you a short-lived high that ends in a crash.
“What’s more,” says Kari Kooi, RD, of Houston Methodist Weight Management Center in Texas, “the subsequent drop in blood sugar increases cravings for more energy-zapping foods.” She says that energy boosting snacks are those that are rich in protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. “When you eat this combination,” she says, “the energy from the food is like a time-released capsule that’s slowly being released into the bloodstream and steadily keeping you fueled for hours to come.”
That’s the main building block of a healthy, energy-boosting snacking strategy: foods with zero or hardly any additives. Foods like nuts, plain yogurt, and whole grains will keep your snacks low in calories and high in satisfying fuel.
Protein in particular increases the production of a brain chemical that regulates concentration. “Protein improves focus, making you feel alert and on top of your game,” says Kooi. “When the mid-afternoon energy slump strikes, a well-timed, protein-packed snack can provide an instant pick-me-up and keep you satisfied for hours.” She suggests pairing proteins and fiber-rich carbs for what she calls “power snacks that will perk you up when there’s no time for a power nap.”
Smart snacking doesn’t just improve your day-to-day functioning, it can be part of a plan for a longer, healthier life overall. Better daily choices can curb cravings, which can help keep your weight down, which in the long term can protect you from heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.
Scientists also think that improving your nutrition — even if you’re taking baby steps toward it — may help protect you against the risk of Alzheimer’s. By snacking smart you’ll be giving your body the nutrients it needs to function — and function optimally.
Here are 10 great options for healthy, revitalizing small bites. Some are great as on-the-go snacks, while others are smart choices for a lunchtime meal that will power you through the afternoon.
Additional reporting by Carlene Bauer