It's 3 p.m. You're hungry again and feeling sleepy. You might be tempted to reach for one of these common -- and deceptively healthy -- treats to perk yourself up, but don't. Our nutrition experts offer smarter picks to avoid an afternoon crash and stay full until dinner.
1. SKIP: Pretzels
You may feel virtuous reaching for a bag of fat-free pretzels instead of fried potato chips. But don't do it. "It's not a snack that will energize you or keep your blood sugar level steady to get through the rest of your afternoon alert and focused," says registered dietitian Elisa Zied, author of Younger Next Week. "It provides calories, refined carbohydrates, too much sodium, and not much else to keep you nourished and satisfied long term."
Try instead: A whole-grain, high-fiber cereal mixed with two tablespoons of nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, or pecans, says Zied.
2. SKIP: Baked potato chips
It's true that baked chips aren't bad as the regular variety, but they're still mainly fast-acting carbs (hello, blood sugar spike) with very small amounts of protein, fiber, and fat. Even so, "There are so many better, more filling foods that provide these nutrients that won't lead to the blood sugar crash that saps your energy," says Samantha B. Cassetty, M.S., R.D., nutrition director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute.
Try instead: A different kind of crunch: dry roasted edamame. "A 1/4 cup serving has a whopping 14 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber with less salt than traditional chips," says Cassetty. "They're even a good source of iron -- a nutrient that many women fall short on."
3. SKIP: Sports and energy drinks
Don't let healthy-sounding names deceive you. Like soda, energy drinks are pretty much straight sugar, which can cause -- you guessed it -- a sugar-fueled roller coaster ride. "Because there's no fiber and these drinks are often consumed on an empty stomach, the sugar will be absorbed rapidly," says registered dietitian Joan Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor at Boston University and a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Try instead: Sipping on zero-calorie water or fun, flavored seltzers (also calorie-free). People often mistake thirst for hunger.
4. SKIP: An apple
Don't gasp. Yes, fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but eating it alone won't keep you going. "Adding a little protein to the mix will help make it even more filling," says Cassetty.
Try instead: Pairing your fresh fruit with a few nuts, a dip made from nonfat Greek yogurt, a small schmear of nut butter, or a slice of protein- and calcium-rich cheese (think mini Babybel).
5. SKIP: Frozen yogurt
The word "yogurt" makes it sound like a smart pick, right? Alas, frozen yogurt is full of sugar and calories (about 120 calories in a half cup). And it doesn't have as many probiotics or as much calcium as regular yogurt. Plus, it's very tempting to add some candy-based toppings.
Try instead: If you can't resist, indulge in moderation. "Get the smallest you can," says Blake. "And instead of adding candy on top, try fresh fruit." Better still: Grab a Greek yogurt topped with berries.
6. SKIP: Pita Chips
"They have this huge health halo," says registered dietitian Karen Ansel, a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "But they're really just straight carbs." And straight carbs will just cause your energy levels to crash.
Try instead: Munch on the whole grain version of these chips -- or better yet, fresh veggies -- with a small amount of hummus.
7. SKIP: Smoothie
"If it's a smoothie just made with fruit and juice (all sugar), then you know you're going to crash," says registered dietitian Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet. Fruit is primarily carbs, which digest quickly in your body and that can lead to a slump. "And juices tend to be made with lots of fruit -- and therefore have lots of sugar," adds Cassetty. "Juicing also eliminates the fiber -- the filling part of fruit that also helps modify its impact on blood sugar."
Try instead: Green tea is an energy-boosting options, say Ansel, because it contains an amino acid that aids alertness and concentration. Or, if you can't pass up the smoothie, go for a small size made with unsweetened yogurt.
8. SKIP: Candy bar
Tempting as it is, candy is obviously a no-no. "A little chocolate with its hint of caffeine can definitely perk you up," says Zied. "But your blood sugar will rise and fall flat soon after because candy's loaded with sugar and very low fiber."
Try instead: If it's a sweet treat you're after, get a nutty-chocolate fix from a protein-rich, low-sugar granola bar, like KIND or Kashi Dark Chocolate Coconut Layered Granola Bars.
- By Karen Springen
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