As much as we may love them, carbs get a bad rap. And that’s probably because they’re a little confusing. Carbs are our body’s primary energy source, and whole-food sources of carbs (like whole grains, fruit, veggies, yogurt, and legumes) also provide a variety of valuable nutrients.
It’s the carbs from sugar or refined foods, like white bread, that tend to be limited in their nutritional value. They can wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels, often leading to bloating, fatigue, and even weight gain when consumed in excess. But, heck, when portions aren’t in check, even those healthy carb sources can keep you from feeling svelte!
Research suggests carb-controlled diets can help stabilize blood sugar—which is crucial for those with diabetes or hypoglycemia—and reduce triglyceride levels, which cuts risk for heart disease. But because wholesome carb sources contain other nutritional benefits—on top of your body needing fuel—I don’t recommend completely ditching carbs long-term, even when you’re trying to lose weight. (I’ve seen severe carb restriction lead to carb overload too many times.) Still, though, your health—and midsection—will thank you for cutting back on those processed, sugary carbs.
1. Chicken Jerky
This portable, protein-rich snack can be a good on-the-go nibble when you’re going easy on the carbs. Your average serving of chicken jerky comes in around 80 calories, with nine grams of protein, three or four grams of fat, three grams of carbs, and three grams of sugar. Many jerky varieties are packed with sodium, so look for an option with less than 300 milligrams.
A handful of nuts is one of the easiest, most satisfying snacks in the book. And they provide a nice balance of protein, fat, and fiber without many carbs, says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N. An ounce of nuts weighs in at about 160 calories, six grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, three grams of fiber, and six grams of carbs—though exact nutritional info varies from nut to nut. Just go for an unsalted variety to avoid unnecessary sodium and keep thirst at bay, she says.
3. Apple & Almond Butter
Camilla Lee R.D.N., owner of Bloom Wellness, munches on this crunchy, creamy apple-and-almond butter combo when she has a hankering for something sweet and satiating. It packs antioxidants from the apple in addition to healthy fat, fiber, and protein from the nut butter. A small, peeled apple with two tablespoons of almond butter makes for a balanced snack when your inner hunger monster is really rearing its head. The combo clocks in around 265 calories, with seven grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, six grams of fiber, and 23 grams of carbs.
4. Protein & Produce Bento Box
A container of fresh veggies and pre-made protein can help you tackle hunger when you’re on-the-go, says Julie Stefanski, MEd, R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., C.D.E. Stefanski recommends packing chunks of grilled chicken or cheese for your protein, along with produce like avocado (which pack heart-healthy fats that may reduce cholesterol levels), and grape tomatoes (which are rich in the antioxidant lycopene).
5. Baby Carrots & Peanut Butter
Carrots are an excellent source of beta carotene, an antioxidant that’s essential for eye health, while peanut butter provides decadent, healthy fat and protein to keep you feeling full, says Lauren Manganiello, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. A combo of 12 baby carrots with two tablespoons of peanut butter is about 250 calories, with 9 grams of protein, 18 grams of fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 16 grams of carbs.
6. Blueberry Pistachio Frozen Yogurt
The pistachios’ healthy fats and blueberries’ light sweetness really jazz up the Greek yogurt in this recipe from Mary Ellen Phipps, M.P.H., R.D.N., L.D., owner of Milk & Honey Nutrition. This sweet snack (or dessert!) is 235 calories, with 18 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, three grams of fiber, and 18 grams of carbs. Just make sure to read your labels and go for the Greek yogurt with the lowest sugar count, she says.
7. Egg Salad With Veggie Sticks
Eggs are budget-friendly proteins that supply lutein and zeaxanthin (nutrients that promote eye health), among other important vitamins, like vitamin D. This four-ingredient egg salad from Trish Casey, MS, RDN, LDN, co-owner of Advanced Nutrition Consultants, makes a great dip for veggie sticks, like baby carrots, celery, or raw zucchini.
A serving of the egg salad is just about 100 calories, and provides 10 grams of protein, six grams of fat, and five grams of carbs. It’s a great (and unexpected!) high-protein, low-carb snack.
8. Almond Pistachio Bites
These flavorful nut bites from Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., are the perfect make-ahead snack for when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth in a pinch. Each bite contains oats, nuts, and seeds, and is flavored with vanilla extract and unsweetened cocoa powder—no added sugar! One bite clocks in at 180 calories, with six grams of protein, 13 grams of fat, five grams of fiber, and 12 grams of carbs.
Pin this handy infographic for the next time you need a healthy snack idea in a flash:
Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.