I have a bad habit of eating an entire bag of chips, an entire jar of salsa and some toast with peanut butter on an almost nightly basis, so I can totally relate to this recent Reddit thread that poses a very, very important question: “Rather than eating a family size bag of [chips] in 20 minutes, what are some healthy snack alternatives that can be consumed in large amounts?”
It’s an important question, because sometimes you don’t just want to eat something tasty: You want to eat said tasty thing until your jaw aches from chewing, then cradle your distended stomach and moan as you gently fart yourself to sleep.
I asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, what she thought about all this. Admittedly, I didn’t hold out much hope of a reassuring answer: Americans like myself already go above and beyond when it comes to portion size. But surprisingly, Hunnes gave me a whole list of foods to snack on without piling on the calories. “You can eat an extraordinarily large size of these foods and not worry too much,” she says. “They’re the closest you can get to ‘free’ foods that are out there.”
Without further ado, here are her binge-able, but still relatively healthy snack recommendations:
1) Air-Popped Popcorn with Herbs: Air-popped popcorn is basically just popcorn that was popped without oil and all the extra unhealthy ingredients they put in those convenient microwavable popcorn bags. It’s essentially the purest form of popcorn, and as such, it’s much healthier than the highly-processed alternatives. “Popcorn is a very low-calorie treat when it’s air-popped without a bunch of added butter and oils,” Hunnes says. “One cup only has about 40 calories or so — and a lot of fiber. It won’t necessarily feel that satiating, because it’s a lot of air, but you’ll be chewing on it so long that either your mouth or your stomach will feel full before you put in too many calories.”
2) Seaweed: “While it’s terrible for the environment to buy seaweed snacks, which use a lot of packaging, buying big sheets of seaweed that’s often used in sushi, and then trimming them into smaller sizes, is a good low-calorie snack,” Hunnes says. “Again, it can take a while to eat, tastes good and takes care of those salty, crunchy cravings without overdoing the calories.” In fact, a cup of dried seaweed only contains about 50 calories.
3) Edamame: “This is a food that takes a while to eat and also satisfies the munchies without causing you to eat too many calories, especially if they’re still in the shell,” Hunnes says. One cup of cooked edamame contains 188 calories.
4) Fruits and Vegetables: “You can go to town with cut-up fruits, berries, vegetables and hummus,” Hunnes says. “You get a lot of nutrients from them without breaking the calorie bank.” One cup of blueberries, for instance, contains only 84 calories, while a cup of broccoli contains about 30. Just don’t go too hummus crazy — one tablespoon contains 35 calories, which can definitely add up if you eat the entire container.
5) Baked Kale Chips: “Without much added fat, you can eat a bunch of these without thickening your waistline,” Hunnes says, adding that the same can be said for thinly-sliced baked potatoes. “Add some low-calorie salsa or hummus for protein,” she suggests. About half a cup of baked kale chips contains only 50 calories.
Meanwhile, David Friedman, author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction, tells me that his go-to low-calorie nosh is mixed nuts. “Yes, they’re high in fat, but it’s the healthy kind,” he says. “Research shows that eating nuts can help you lose weight and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease. Nuts also offer a great source of protein and gut-healthy fiber, and they only contain around 175 calories per ounce.”
Friedman also says that cucumber slices with hummus are another bingeable low-calorie snack. “Hummus is made from chickpeas, olive oil (which lowers LDL, ‘bad’ cholesterol) and garlic (which has anti-inflammatory properties),” he explains. “A cup of sliced cucumbers dipped in four ounces of hummus has about 180 calories.”
Now then, what did we learn today? That I can safely eat about 62 cups of air-popped popcorn in a day while sticking to a 2,500-calorie diet. And if that’s not a good day, I don’t know what is.