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 for caffeine or simple carbs like chips or cookies when we want a pick-me-up is understandable. But too much caffeine can deliver more than a jolt — it can also cause insomnia, anxiousness, nausea, headache, and upset stomach, per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And quickly digesting carbohydrates such as sweet beverages, white bagels, pretzels, and candy will cause your blood sugar to spike and give you a short-lived high that ends in a crash, notes the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“What’s more, the subsequent drop in blood sugar increases cravings for more energy-zapping foods,” says Kari Kooi, RD, of Houston Methodist Weight Management Center in Texas. 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.”
The main building blocks of a healthy, energy-boosting snacking strategy are foods with zero or hardly any additives, such as added sugars, which the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics describes as energy zappers. 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 L-tyrosine, an amino acid that prompts the brain to create concentration-boosting neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, per an article. “Protein improves focus, making you feel alert and on top of your game,” says Kooi. “When the midafternoon 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 down your weight and, in the long term, protect you from heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.
Scientists also think that improving your nutrition — even if you’re taking baby steps — may help protect you against the risk of Alzheimer’s, per the National Institute on Aging. According to a review published in 2020 in Current Nutrition & Food Science, your best bet is to follow a primarily plant-based eating pattern such as the Mediterranean diet. 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 on-the-go snacks, while others are smart choices for a lunchtime meal that will power you through the afternoon.