These 25 no added sugar snack ideas are great for anyone looking to cut back on added sugar. Plus, get the facts on natural versus added sugar.
Sugar has a terrible reputation, but it’s not all bad. As a matter of fact, sugar in the form of carbohydrates is the natural fuel source for exercise. But here’s the thing–not all sugar is created equal.
Added versus natural sugar
Added sugar is probably what comes to mind when you hear the word “sugar.” It’s added to foods for taste, and it’s found in products like soda, energy drinks, and candy, and it hides in some pasta sauces, salad dressings and breads.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 10% of your daily calories, or about 12 teaspoons (48 grams) on a 2,000-calorie diet. In other words, some added sugar is perfectly okay, and trying to cut it out entirely is extremely difficult and can cause some major eating anxiety.
On the other hand, eating too much added sugar can cause cavities, an increased risk of heart disease and obesity, which can lead to additional health problems like Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure.
Natural sugars, on the other hand, are inherently found in certain foods. Any food that contains carbohydrates, such as fruit, dairy products, vegetables, beas, legumes and whole grains, has natural sugar.
While a bottle of soda and a banana both have sugar in them, the natural sugar in the banana is paired with other nutrients and provides more of a nutritional bang for your buck.
Are sugar free snacks healthy?
Just because a snack is “sugar free” does not necessarily mean it is nutritious. For instance, some snacks are naturally free of sugar, like fruit or nuts. These foods provide plenty of nutrients to the diet ad are generally considered a healthy snack option.
Other foods are processed and contain sugar substitutes. These foods, such as a sugar free cookies, are made from refined flour and other less than healthy ingredients, and they do not provide much nutrition to the diet.
The most optimal sugar free snacks come from whole food, since they often have other nutrients that make them energizing and filling.
How to eat less sugar
Sugar is found in carb foods, but you don’t have to cut back on carbs to reduce your sugar intake. As a matter of fact, most people need 50-60% of their calories from carbs. That said, the best way to reduce added sugar in the diet is to eat whole foods that contain primarily natural sugar, such as fruit, vegetable, whole grains, beans and legumes.
Only about 10% of calories should come from added sugar. Unfortunately, sugar hides in many foods even if they aren’t sweet. For example, sauces, soups, breads, crackers, frozen foods, canned fruit, some fruit juices and other beverages, cereals, yogurts, granola and even trail mix, have a ton of sugar.
To reduce your sugar intake, look at the added sugar column on the nutrition facts label. Try to stick to foods that have less than 6 grams of added sugar.
Also, check out the ingredients list. Sugar comes in many forms, so look for these ingredients:
- cane sugar
- high fructose corn syrup
- maple syrup
- brown rice syrup
- coconut sugar
- fruit concentrate
These are just a few of sugar’s many forms.
Another way to reduce added sugar is to choose zero sugar snacks, such as the list below.
Any fruit is a great addition to the diet. The humble banana is the best of both worlds–easy to digest natural sugar and a tasty and portable snack.
Packed with nutrients like protein and omega-3’s, nuts are a healthy and filling non-perishable snack. Just try to keep the portion to a small handful since they are high in calories (To spice things up, try these Cinnamon Roasted Almonds).
Want a filling breakfast that will keep you full and energized? Whip-up this recipe for Loaded Oatmeal with SunButter to get an extra dose of protein and vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and iron.
Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? Buy plain kernels, make it on the stovetop and add your favorite toppings, such as sea salt or cinnamon and unsweetened cocoa powder. For a spicy kick, try this Spicy Cocoa Popcorn.
5. Plain Greek Yogurt
Unsweetened Greek yogurt may make your face pucker, but it’s easily sweetened up with some fresh fruit or unsweetened dried fruit. As a bonus, Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt, making it a good choice for post-workout. Use it in a smoothie with fruit, and you won’t need any added sugar!
Another good source of post-exercise protein and tasty to boot, a cheese stick is a 100-calorie portable snack!
Yes, pancakes! You may not think of pancakes as being a healthy food option, but it’s all in how you make them. This recipe for Blueberry Pecan Pancakes contains whole grains, healthy fats, protein, and antioxidants. Eat them before or after your morning workout.
These dried fruits are the perfect natural sweetener. Eat them on their own for a sweet treat, add them to a pre-workout smoothie or try these Peanut Butter Pretzel Date Balls.
9. Sweet Potatoes
This tuber is a nutritional powerhouse. They are packed with anti-inflammatory compounds called carotenoids, and they are exceptionally high in potassium, which can help with muscle contraction and fluid balance.
10. Fruit Ice Cubes
Looking for substitution for a sugar sweetened beverage? Fruit infused water is an easy way to add flavor to your drinks without sugar. These Watermelon Lime Ice Cubes will help keep you cool and hydrated during summer workouts.
Though they are traditionally thought of as a breakfast food, eggs can be eaten at any time of day. Scrambled, hard boiled or poached, there are many ways to enjoy this vegetarian source of protein and B12. Spice up your egg routine with these Green Egg & Quinoa Muffins or Freezer Mushrooms & Egg Burrito.
12. Peanut Butter
This nut butter is so easy to pair with other foods, like toast, oatmeal or smoothies. Just make sure to read the label to avoid unnecessary added ingredients such as sugar.
Veggies don’t need to be boring! There are so many ways to eat vegetables. You can go simple by just cutting up some carrots or cucumber sticks, or get a little fancier by trying recipes such as this one for Crinkle Cut Jicama Fries.
Either way you’re going be eating a nutritionally dense food that gives you a large number of nutrients for the compared to the number of calories.
Pretzels are a tasty low-calorie carbohydrate source. The salt on pretzels can even be a good source of sodium for athletes who have lost a lot through sweating. While some pretzels do have added sugars, others do not. Again, read that label!
Many stores, like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, sell bags of frozen edamame. Just pop them into the microwave for a couple of minutes, sprinkle on some salt, and you have yourself a healthy, high protein snack.
16.Cereal with Milk
This is another snack where reading the back label is important. There are quite a few healthier cereals on the market that contain whole grains, are fortified with important vitamins and minerals, and have no added sugars. Plus, the milk offers additional calcium and protein.
Canned beans make the perfect base for a hearty and protein packed dip that has no added sugar. Mix beans with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor and blend until smooth. Try this recipe for Spicy White Bean Dip!
Yes, this one is could be considered more of a meal than a snack, but when it comes to carb loading for a long event, pasta is an easy go too. For an extra dose of fiber choose a whole grain option. To make it a meal, combine pasta with veggie meatballs.
19. Roasted Chickpeas
Crunchy chickpeas are a healthier alternative to potato chips. They are salty, crispy and satisfying. Plus, they are full of protein and fiber to fill you up, without any of the added sugar. Grab the recipe to make your own Crunchy Chickpeas at home!
20. Seedy Whole Crackers
I love a hearty and seedy whole grain cracker. Some do have added sugar, so check the label. But most healthy crackers, like Wasa or a Norwegian crispbread, contain only healthy ingredients.
Not only are these crackers a delicious vehicle for additional toppings like peanut butter or hummus, they also contain just a few simple ingredients.
21. Natural Applesauce
Although some applesauce brands add a decent amount of sugar to them, you can find some that are just apple and spices, like cinnamon.
Creamy and full of unsaturated fat, avocados can be mashed on top of toast, mixed in with cottage cheese, or eaten plain with a little bit of salt. Avocados also contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants which are great for exercise recovery. Put some mashed avocado on toast with a splash of lime juice and freshly cut radishes.
There’s already a few items in this list that you could add to a smoothie, but smoothies themselves can also be a healthy snack option. Sweeten your smoothie with ripe bananas, natural coconut water or dates in place of sugar. Get my post work-out smoothie formula here!
This chickpea based snack is rich in protein and fiber and completely free of added sugar. Plus, it pairs well with veggies, crackers or pretzels. If you’re bored with the original, give this Turmeric Hummus a try.
25. Roasted Seeds
Many people forget about seeds, but these tiny foods pack a nutritional punch. Seeds contain protein, fiber and healthy fats, making them an incredibly nutritious part of the diet.
Larger seeds, like pumpkin or sunflower seeds, are great for roasting. Just toss them with a dash of olive oil and salt and roast in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Spice things up by adding other herbs and spices.