Healthy Snack Foods to Keep You Full

Experts weigh in on high-fiber snacks with a low glycemic loadWhen hunger pangs strike in between meals, they can come on suddenly and persist, leaving little room for concentration on the task at hand. Whether it's 2 p.m. and you're at the office, trying to get some more papers shuffled around, or afterschool and you're at soccer practice, trying to warm up, or on a long, long road trip with nary a rest stop in sight, reaching for that bag of chips, cookies, or candy may seem awfully tempting. And once you've done the dirty deed, it seems like only minutes later, hunger strikes again.

Click here to see 11 Healthy Snack Foods to Keep You Full

But it doesn't have to be that way. With a little advance planning, you can eliminate the vending-machine mentality. That's why we've consulted a couple of experts on the best healthy snack alternatives that will hold you over until the next meal, instead of triggering cravings.

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Meet Matt Terry, a certified personal trainer and former Olympic athlete with a list of letters after his name that would rival most doctors. Terry says, "The best snack foods really depend on someone's goals and current body composition. For example, if you are an endurance athlete who runs five miles a day, your snack choices will be far different from someone on a fat-loss program who leads a sedentary lifestyle." Ultimately, that means someone who is training for a marathon is probably going to be able to eat more foods higher up on the glycemic index without seeing the same negative impact as the couch potato. That's an important point, because admittedly, the aim of this article is indeed to help out the couch potatoes out there, or perhaps more generously, the active couch potatoes. (Yes, there is such a thing, apparently.)

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But, let's back up a second. What is the glycemic index (GI)? In a sense, not all carbohydrates are created equal, and the GI helps tease out the differences. According to Terry, it's simply a measure that determines how quickly a carbohydrate will affect blood sugar levels. The scale runs from one to 100; a rating of 55 or below is considered a low GI for a food item, 56 to 69 is a "moderate" GI rating, and 70 or more is considered high. A higher rating indicates that the carbohydrates in the food item in question will increase blood sugar levels faster in a set period of time, and ultimately, means that it will be easier to store as fat.

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However, an even better measure is the glycemic load (GL), which takes into account how much each carbohydrate per serving will increase blood glucose levels. For a single serving of a particular food, a GL of 10 or less is considered good, and 20 or more is considered high. Most people will not want to exceed a total glycemic load of 100 per day. Terry says that your stomach has stretch receptors that tell your brain when it's full, and a good way to fool your brain into thinking your stomach is full is to snack on foods with a low glycemic load.

How can someone look up the glycemic load of a particular food? There are myriad resources out there, but one site worth checking out is, which pulls data from the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Upon searching for a particular food item, users are presented with a nutrition facts label (like the ones on the side of cereal boxes) as well as a more in-depth analysis of the various vitamins and minerals, and assessment of the quality of the protein content of the snack in question, in addition to an estimated glycemic load.

That being said, hunting around for the glycemic loads of various snacks through trial and error probably isn't the most effective use of time for most people. That's why we turned to Amber O'Neal, nutritionist, certified personal trainer, and proprietor of Café Physique, a mobile fitness and nutrition service based in Atlanta. O'Neal has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, as well as the NBC Nightly News. She emphasizes the benefits of a low GI/GL diet, which include a reduction of bad cholesterol (LDL), a corresponding increase in good cholesterol (HDL), decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and increased blood glucose control in those who already have diabetes. Plus, keeping blood sugar at a fairly steady level throughout the day (instead of sending it spiking and dipping with high GI/GL snacks) keeps our bodies performing at their best and can leave you in a better mood overall. She gave us the lowdown on what snack foods should be on your short list the next time the munchies strike.

Credit: Stock.XCHNG/aweeksHummus
This seems to be very nearly everyone's favorite dip these days, and the fact that it made O'Neal's list is, at least in our view, an added bonus. Serve with whole-wheat pita bread, or simply dip some veggies or fruit into it. As with many foods, this one is probably better homemade.

Credit: Steven de PoloCorn
Corn (EGL: 11) has gotten a bad rap lately. From its controversial use as a fuel source (and its subsequent effect on market prices for food staples) to its equally controversial use as a feed source for livestock, and its penchant for sneaking into everyday products (even, as it happens, things that aren't food… like batteries and ink), corn hasn't been getting a whole lot of good press. I do appreciate Michael Pollan's work, and it's true that ruminants probably shouldn't be eating corn, but when we're just talking about eating straight corn, it's actually OK for you. It's a fairly complete source of protein, contains a decent amount of fiber (1 cup yields 17 percent of the daily value) and is a decent source of vitamin C. Work it into salads and salsas for tiny bursts of sweetness.

Credit: Zoonar/ThinkstockAll-Bran
OK, fine, it does taste a bit like cardboard. But with 20 percent of the daily value of fiber, and a full day's worth of vitamin C and iron, it's certainly a quick and convenient way to knock some essential nutrients out of the way, Jetsons style. Enjoy with some fresh berries and skim milk.

Credit: iStock/EasyBuy4uBeans, Peas, and Lentils
Work these into salads, or mix some canned black or red kidney beans with corn to make a quick salsa that you can serve with whole-wheat pita chips. Legumes are full of fiber and can help keep that stomach from grumbling in the middle of a meeting.

Credit: Veer/SmitNuts
Almonds (EGL: 0) are a great source of calcium and iron. Just make sure to consume these in moderation since they are fairly high in fat (although most of it is heart-healthy unsaturated fat) - one ounce contains 15 grams of fat. O'Neal suggests working these into nonfat Greek yogurt for a delicious snack.

Credit: flickr/mellowynkPumpernickel Bread
Well, you don't absolutely have to choose pumpernickel bread every time, but it is a good example of what O'Neal is going for. Basically, any coarse, whole-grain bread will do, and the courser, the better. It's usually a sign of high fiber content. Try spreading some nut almond butter, sesame butter, or peanut butter on a slice for a quick and easy snack.

Credit: iStockphoto/thinkstockSteel-Cut Oats
O'Neal says that instant oatmeal (EGL: 13) just doesn't "cut" it (forced pun intended). The processing that oatmeal undergoes to become "instant" strips out a good chunk of the GL-lowering fiber. Steel-cut oats take a considerable amount of time to prepare (anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes) so it's probably best to make a large batch on a Sunday and save it for the week. Serve with some fresh fruit and nuts.

Credit: Stock.XCHNG/pontuseMuesli
It's not just for breakfast. While muesli (EGL: 41) looks like it's off the charts at first glance, O'Neal suggests looking for a brand or mix that cuts out the raisins, which is where most of the sugar load comes from. Many muesli mixes are high in iron and fiber and can help you stay satiated longer than most typical cereals.

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- Will Budiaman, The Daily Meal