Every five years, there's big news in the U.S. nutrition world: New dietary guidelines are released. The 2015–2020 version came out earlier this month and nutrition experts were eager to review it and make recommendations. While a lot of the advice has stayed the same, there are some notable additions, such as the suggestion to make small shifts in healthy snacks to turn them into more nutritious choices.
But, uh, what does that actually mean? Like other government documents, the new recommendations leave a lot to the imagination. So here are some useful tips for deciphering the latest snacking guidelines. Remember, most snacks should be small (about 200 calories or less) and ideally eaten no sooner than three hours after a filling meal. They should also contain a combination of healthy fat, protein, and fiber to help you feel fuller for longer.
Government lingo: Shift high-calorie snacks to nutrient-dense snacks.
Dietitian explanation: What the heck is "nutrient-dense" anyway? It describes a food offering a lot of nutrition (vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fat, etc.) for not a lot of calories. That means sidelining the doughnut and instead having pear slices spread with almond butter. Another good option is to top plain Greek yogurt with walnuts.
Try it: 1 sliced pear + 1 tablespoon almond butter; 6 ounces Fage 2% plain Greek yogurt + 1 tablespoon walnuts
Government lingo: Shift from fruit products with added sugar to fruit.
Dietitian explanation: I love this one. It means that you should eat the whole fruit and not a processed version of it. So skip the fruit roll-ups, fruit-filled bars, and sugary fruit drinks. Instead, opt for kiwifruit, grapefruit, orange, or persimmon—all available from U.S. farms (and maybe a farmers' market near you!) in winter. Pair them with string cheese or an individual cheese wheel.
Try it: 1 piece in-season fruit + 1 Mini Babybel
Government lingo: Shift refined grains to whole grains.
Dietitian explanation: White bread and cookies? Eat them in moderation, and opt more regularly for whole-grain crackers and popcorn. But don't stop there: Pair your grains with healthy fats or protein to keep feeling full. Spread avocado or guacamole on crackers, or use sunflower oil to pop your own popcorn on the stove.
Try it: 6 whole-grain crackers + 1 Wholly Guacamole Classic 100 Cal Minis (or 1/4 avocado); 1/4 cup popcorn kernels + 1 tablespoon high-oleic sunflower oil
Government lingo: Shift snacks with added sugars to unsalted snacks.
Dietitian explanation: Yep, this means trading candy bars or even some energy bars for plain, unsalted nuts. Try in-shell pistachios which take longer to eat. Pair a small handful with a few dried apricots.
Try it: 1/3 cup Wonderful Pistachios No Salt + 3 dried apricots
Government lingo: Shift from solid fats to oils.
Dietitian explanation: This one is pretty straightforward: Swap butter for oils with healthy fat, like olive oil or grape seed oil. Many snack foods, like hummus, are made with healthy oils. Pair hummus with crudités: visit your local farmers' market to buy in-season produce, like endives (available in winter) or sliced bell peppers (available year-round).
Try it: 1 Tribe Classic Single Serve Snackers + 1 cup crudités
Government lingo: Shift from beverages with added sugars to no-sugar-added beverages.
Dietitian explanation: There are so many healthy beverage options to pair with your snack. Try seltzer with a lime wedge, hot green or black tea, or iced herbal tea (my favorite is hibiscus).
Try it: The Republic of Tea Hibiscus Sangria Large Iced Tea Pouches
Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition. She is a nutrition consultant, motivational speaker, and journalist. She sits on the Wonderful Health Consumer Advisory Board and is a brand ambassador for Tribe Hummus.