In the past, I’ve shared snacking tips and explored the helpful role snacks play in our day. As a retail dietitian, and also a mom and snack lover, I appreciate how snacks have changed over the years. The changes reflect consumers interest in better-for-you, unique, and flavorful snacks. February is National Snack Food Month, so it’s the ideal time to highlight these changes. I’ll also share how to find options with good, better, and best nutritional value to bridge you between meals. And, I’ll cover which salty snacks to choose for those times when they’re on your list.
Shopping for Snacks
The pandemic may have momentarily altered the need for on-the-go snacks, but the bar aisle has grown anyway. The growth has particularly been among supplements, “energy” bars, and those bars enhanced with extra protein. As we’ve noted before, it remains a section where a shopper tool like Guiding Stars is particularly helpful. Many bar options appear to be healthier than they are, with some having more sugar, sodium, or saturated fat than consumers realize (watch out for those chocolate coatings!). To illustrate this, search “granola bars” on the Guiding Stars Food Finder, and you will be greeted with 264 options. When you filter to just Guiding-Stars-earning granola bars, the search drops to 20 results.
In 2006, snacking giant Frito Lay announced it would be switching to sunflower oil to lower the saturated fat in its potato chips. They also have grown the initiative to include lowering sodium across its product line by 2025. This set the path for expansion of baked chips, chips made with other vegetable oils, and more lightly salted options. While these changes don’t make potato chips “heart healthy”, they do help consumers work toward a diet lower in saturated fat and sodium. It also contributes to more options in this category earning Guiding Stars.
Bean Chips, Popcorn, and Other “Natural” Options
There are a growing number chips and salty snacks made from vegetables, whole grains, and beans like black beans, chickpeas, or lentils. With these, consumers can satisfy their snack cravings, while still consuming the plant-based protein, fiber, and overall nutrition they’re seeking in their diet. Add a growing popcorn variety, and there are many options for the more health-conscious consumer. With the category seeming to grow and change every day, lean on Guiding Stars to read the labels of these products for you so you can find options with good, better, and best nutritional value and get right to snacking.
Beyond the snack aisle: DIY snacks
Of course, it wouldn’t be a dietitian’s post if I didn’t mention that your ideal snack may not be found in the snack aisle. After all, bars and packaged products are helpful when you need them. And, the nutrition offered in a combination of fresh vegetables and hummus, or fruit and a bit of nut butter, is ideal. Those combos help control your hunger between meals. And, they increase your intake of fruits and vegetables (something most of us need to work on). You can also elevate your snacking game with these ideas that will ensure a balanced snack is always within reach.