When you're at home and the cupboards are stocked with healthy choices, it's fairly easy to eat well. But what happens when you're away from your own kitchen and have less control over what's available to nibble on -- like, say, when you're at work? If you're like a lot of people, you may find yourself being drawn to classic dietary obstacles: boxed donuts, birthday cake, and candy bars and chips from the vending machine.
One way to reduce your chances of going overboard on calories is to stock your desk or lunchbox with delicious, nutritious treats. Ignore the call of snacks that may give you a quick spike in energy, only to leave you crashing from all the sugar and artificial additives. The best workday snacks provide a mix of healthy complex carbohydrates, some healthy fats, and enough protein to provide energy and keep your metabolism and blood sugar levels on an even keel, advises registered dietitian Marissa Lippert, owner of Nourish, a nutrition counseling and communications practice, and author of "The Cheater's Diet." Here are her recommendations.
1. DRY CEREAL
A high-fiber cereal like Uncle Sam's, Kashi GoLean or Heart to Heart is convenient to store and easy to eat dry, though you certainly can add milk if it's available in the company cafe. Find a cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, which will help keep your energy up, your blood sugar level stable, and your hunger at bay throughout the morning and afternoon.
It's 2 p.m., and you're starting to drag. Instead of heading for the coffee pot, brew yourself a cup of green or white tea, which has less caffeine. Or make a refreshing cup of peppermint tea, which has been shown to boost mental acuity and alertness. Keep a few tea bags in your stash and just add water.
3. LOW-FAT POPCORN
Got a hankering for salty, crunchy goodness? Skip the chips and reach for a microwave-ready, low-fat popcorn like Newman's Own or Good Health. Besides satisfying your craving, you'll get a healthy dose of fiber. You'll even have enough to share, if you like.
4. NATURAL NUT BUTTER
Spread a tablespoon of natural peanut butter or almond butter on a couple of whole-grain crackers (such as Wasa, Finn Crisp, Kavli or Dr. Kracker) or a slice of whole-grain bread (one that supplies at least three grams of fiber). For variety, try cashew or even sunflower butter. The combination of complex carbohydrate, protein and healthy fat can give you the balanced energy you need to push through those last few hours of the day.
Whether you slice it and spread it with peanut butter or eat it fresh out of hand, nothing beats a ripe, juicy apple as a day-brightening snack. Instead of hiding it in your desk drawer, put your apple -- along with other fresh fruit -- in a pretty bowl on your desk. You'll have a week's worth of healthy treats right at your fingertips.
Roasted, unsalted nuts (think walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews and pecans) are powerhouses of protein and healthy fat. Walnuts, in particular, are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, known to boost brain health -- just in time for that big presentation. Keep a bag of your favorite nuts on standby or rotate through a selection.
7. LOW-CALORIE ENERGY BARS
Nothing beats an energy bar for convenience, but keep an eye on the fiber content (more is better) and calories (less is more). Try Kashi TLC granola bars, Gnu Flavor & Fiber bars or Lara bars for a ready-when-you-are, satisfying snack that delivers a dose of filling fiber for only around 200 calories each.
8. DARK CHOCOLATE
It's OK to indulge in a little chocolate -- especially dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa or higher), which is packed with antioxidants. Besides satisfying your sweet tooth, it may lift your mood a bit, possibly because of its effect on serotonin (or just because it tastes so good!). A serving of chocolate does contain more calories than most of the other snacks mentioned here, so enjoy in small bites -- think two or three small squares of dark chocolate. This is a case where quality definitely trumps quantity.
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