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Sneaky Snacks: Packing More Calories Than You Think?

Sometimes we crave a snack in between meal times, and snacking can be healthy–if done right. 

My stomach is growling, but dinner is hours away. 

While indulging my rumblings with a late-afternoon snack is a healthy way to keep myself going until dinner, says nutritional wisdom, it can be hard to tell when we cross the line into the spoiling-dinner category. Just how easy is it to slip up and turn a seemingly healthy snack into a silent diet saboteur? 

The Skinny on Snacking
Yes, snacking is a healthy habit. It’s become common diet knowledge that continually stoking our bodies with food throughout the day, instead of waiting until we’re famished between meals, is a smart way to keep our metabolism moving and our appetite under control. Of course, we know these ought to be healthy snacks—not chips or blocks of cheese. But what if choices we think are skinny jean–friendly are actually sneaky calorie bombs? My diet sleuthing uncovered some scary facts about foods that I’d been munching on happily, believing they were the smart choice. Turns out, they were quietly adding around a thousand calories to my daily diet. No wonder my jeans aren’t getting any looser. 

Drink Smart
It’s easy to forget (maybe on purpose?) that liquids have calories, too. From juice to protein shakes to our beloved coffee-candy concoctions, these drinks can be all it takes to cross into the zone of caloric excess. 

Juice
An eight-ounce cup of fruit juice, like apple or orange, contains more than 100 calories. Healthy alternatives include flavored teas and waters (either store-bought or spruced up with some fresh fruit). 

Soda
An eight-ounce soda contains around 100 calories, not to mention a ton of high-fructose corn syrup. To burn off those calories, you’d have to walk for an extra fifteen minutes at some point in the day.

Protein Shakes
Even though they’re marketed as weight-loss tools, many are packed with sugar and calories. This makes them great for bodybuilders but dangerous for anyone trying to consume a reasonable amount of calories. All it takes is a browse through the supplement section to see that some of these puppies can pack over 300 calories—before you add the milk to mix them with. Burning off one shake would take about thirty minutes of running on the treadmill. 

Medium Iced Vanilla Latte
This seemingly healthy coffee choice weighs in at 330 calories, plus a whole lotta extra sugar. Going nonfat will save about 50 calories. Better choice? A black coffee with a dash of milk and sugar mixed in. 

Caramel Frappuccino
In the smallest size, this candy-bar-in-a-cup is 380 calories—with fifteen grams of fat. Yikes. Opt for a square or two of dark chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth—you’d have to ride the stationary bike for nearly an hour to burn off this bad boy. 

Healthy Impostors
It takes an avid label-reader to distinguish between good and bad versions of these potential pitfalls. 

Popcorn
We all know how dangerous the theater stuff is (it often weighs in at around 1,000 calories), but the corn we pop in the microwave can be just as bad. Many store brands are packed with trans fats, a couple hundred calories, and loads of sodium. Look for 100-calorie pops and brands that are truly fat-free to reap the benefits of the corn’s fiber and light, crunchy taste. 

Crackers
Think you’re playing it safe with those pretzels? They may not deserve their healthy reputation: just one ounce contains over 100 calories. (And who stops at a measly ounce?) Plus, pretzels are all refined carbs and salt, leaving us even hungrier than before we ate them. 

Energy Bars
This is another one of those foods that clever marketing has caused us to equate incorrectly with healthy snacking. Chocolatey Special K Bliss bars (half the size of an average bar), for example, are 40 percent sugar and have less than a gram of fiber—which makes them nutritionally similar to a small cookie. Read ingredients and look for raw, all-natural bars. Lärabars are my absolute favorite—they come in a variety of yummy flavors (including chocolate) and are vegan and gluten-free. 

Dried Fruit
If fruit is healthy, dried fruit’s gotta be good for you too, right? Not exactly. While pure versions of dried fruit do exist, they’re hard to find, even in gourmet, organic grocery stores. Most are absolutely loaded with sugar and preservatives, and therefore extra calories. Some brands of dried pineapple have nearly 200 calories in a small serving. 

Healthy … in the Right Amount
These foods are valuable nutritional choices—as long as you limit yourself to a reasonable serving size. 

Nuts
A quarter-cup serving of nuts has around 200 calories, making it a smart and nutritious combo of protein and healthy fats. Go over that small handful, though, and those calories will add up fast. 

Guacamole
I rejoiced when I learned that avocados are actually good for me, providing heart-healthy fats. That said, a quarter of an avocado adds about 100 calories to a sandwich or salad. How many quarters do you think are in that bowl of guacamole? 

Hummus
This is another sneaky dipper. While hummus is chock-full of healthy nutrients, protein, and wholesome carbs, there are about 70 calories in just two tablespoons. So scoop wisely, and don’t go back for more. (Opt for low-cal salsa if you still have the urge to dip.) 

Nut Butters
As long as they’re the all-natural kind (not loaded with high-fructose corn syrup or anything other than their namesake nut), these spreads can add filling protein to a slice of bread or fruit. Two tablespoons (one serving) has nearly 200 calories, though, so use only a thin smear—as in, less than a tablespoon. 

It really comes down to making informed choices. Snacks are sneaky only if we let them be—after all, the ingredients are listed right there on the back. With a little planning and prep, it’s easy to have healthy foods on hand when hunger strikes. Here’s to choosing wisely and feeling satisfied.

Updated on March 7, 2010

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