Hummus with carrot sticks. Top view over white timber.
You know that portion control is a key aspect of any healthy diet.
But if you’re human, you also know that practicing perfect portion control 100 percent of the time just isn’t realistic.
Whatever the reason, there may be occasions where sticking to the recommended serving size just ain’t gonna fly. While it shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence, it happens. The key to preventing an occasional pig out from torpedoing your overall diet is picking the right foods. Opting for foods that are lower in calories and added sugar but higher in nutrients like fiber and protein can help you get fuller faster and feel a whole lot less guilty after engaging in a bout of mindless munching. Next time you know you’re really ready to chow down and don’t have the time or energy to make an entire meal, go for one of these five foods.
1. Air-Popped Popcorn
Popcorn really only qualifies as junk food if it’s doused in toppings like butter, cheese or caramel. Popcorn kernels themselves are actually quite nutritious. While air-popped, oil-popped and microwaved popcorn all boast solid nutrition facts, there’s no doubt air-popped is the healthiest choice. Air poppers are affordable, but you can also make air-popped popcorn using little more than a paper bag. Air-popped popcorn is quite low in calories and fat, yet high in a number of important nutrients.
Popcorn qualifies as a high-fiber food, serving up four grams per serving. Fiber is super important for a variety of bodily functions, yet most people don’t get enough of it. According to the National Institutes of Health, teens and adults should eat between 20 and 38 grams of fiber each day. The average American eats only 10 to 15 grams of fiber daily. Popcorn’s high in magnesium, an important mineral used by every organ in the body. It activates enzymes and plays a role in energy production. Many Americans fall short of their recommended amount of dietary magnesium, and inadequate amounts have been linked to depression and hearth failure. Popcorn’s also a great source of polyphenols, a specific type of antioxidant which does a wealth of good all throughout the body.
A one-ounce serving of popcorn contains between 242 and 363 mg of polyphenols, while fruit like apples contain about 160mg of polyphenols per ounce. Almost all of the antioxidants in popcorn come from the hulls of the kernel—the part you frequently get stuck in your teeth. Need a healthy topping to make your air-popped popcorn a little more savory? Try nutritional yeast, a vegan-friendly seasoning which tastes remarkably similar to cheese.
2. Non-Fat Greek Yogurt
Non-fat greek yogurt has a lot going for it. For one, it’s relatively low in calories. Two, it contains no added sugar. Three, it’s absolutely packed with protein. Protein not only helps build muscle mass, it also plays an important role in satiety and weight management. A 2014 study published in Nutrition Journal found that a high-protein yogurt snack helped healthy women stay fuller for longer and consume fewer calories throughout the day better than a high-fat snack with an equal number of calories. The type of protein found in Greek yogurt (casein) makes it especially attractive for those who want to pack on lean muscle, as it contains all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be produced by the body—we must get them through food.
Another big benefit of Greek yogurt is its high probiotic content. Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that live inside your gut. When you ingest probiotics, they enter what’s known as the “gut microbiome.” The gut microbiome consists of yeasts, fungi and roughly 3 to 4 pounds of bacteria. More than 5,000 species of bacteria live in the gut, and the bacteria balance inside the gut plays a huge role in overall health.
Add the fact that non-fat greek yogurt is high in calcium (key for strong bones and optimal heart, nerve and muscle function) and vitamin B-12 (which helps create red blood cells, maintain healthy nerve cells and produce DNA and RNA), and it’s clearly a nutritional winner. Non-fat plain greek yogurt can be a bit bland, so feel free to toss in some toppings. Tasty, healthy additions include fresh fruit, nuts, seeds and all-natural nut butters.
3. Steel-Cut Oats
Steel-cut oats are made by taking the inner kernel of whole oats and chopping them into smaller pieces. Their minimal processing means they take longer to digest than most other forms of oats, which helps increase satiety and prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.
Steel-cuts oats possess a chewy texture, which can help you eat slower and consume fewer calories. But even if you wind up binging on steel-cuts oats, you can take solace in the fact that there are much worse foods to overindulge on. Some healthy additions you can add to your steel-cuts oats include fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, and natural nut butters.
Historically, the two biggest knocks against eggs have been that they’re high in cholesterol and high in fat. However, we now know that eating a food high in cholesterol doesn’t necessarily have a negative impact on your cholesterol levels—and such is the case with eggs. Additionally, much of the fat found in eggs is of the healthy variety.
There’s also so many things to love about eggs from a nutritional standpoint. They’re high in protein, as one large scrambled egg serves up 6 grams. The protein found in eggs is especially useful because it contains all nine essential amino acids, which are critical for continued muscle building; and we must get all nine from dietary sources since our bodies cannot produce them. Eggs are also fairly low in calories, as one large scrambled egg contains 91 calories, one large boiled egg contains 78 calories and one large poached egg contains 71 calories. Eggs are also a diverse source of vitamins and minerals, as one large scrambled egg contains at least 5 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-5 and selenium.
One large egg also contains 250 mg of choline per serving, specifically inside the yolk. Choline is a vitamin-like essential nutrient that helps keep metabolism normal and aids in the transport of lipids. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, choline deficiency can cause muscle damage and abnormal deposition of fat in the liver. The recommended adequate intake of choline is 425 mg a day for women and 550 mg a day for men. Eggs are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are critical for eye health. Consuming adequate amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin greatly reduces the risk of age-related eye disorders. Seasonings and spices are an easy way to add additional antioxidants and flavor to your eggs without causing the calorie total to balloon. Prefer hot sauce on your eggs? Even better, as hot sauce has been found to have some serious health benefits.
5. Veggies and Hummus
It’s nearly impossible to overdo it on fresh veggies. Whether it be peppers, cucumbers, carrots, celery, cauliflower or any other number of vegetables which can be consumed raw, you can eat a huge volume of these foods without consuming a substantial amount of calories or fat. This is largely due to the fact that most vegetables are roughly 90 percent water. The high fiber content of raw vegetables should also help you stop eating much earlier than you would if you had your hand inside a bag of potato chips. Raw vegetables may offer even greater cancer-preventing benefits than cooked vegetables, as a 2004 review found that more of the reviewed studies “showed a statistically significant inverse relationship between raw vegetables and cancer than either cooked or total vegetables” (though the authors do admit more research needs to be done).
But plain, raw vegetables isn’t exactly an appealing snack for many people. That’s why you should feel free to add hummus to the mix. Hummus isn’t exactly a low-calorie food, but it’s miles better for you than many other popular dips (such as french onion dip or cheese-based dips). A 2016 review published in the journal Nutrients found that “substitution of common dips and spreads with hummus helps to increase diet quality.”
The most nutritious hummuses will contain little more than chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Hummus is high in both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats help to reduce blood pressure and protect against heart disease. They can also help the body better absorb vitamins and more efficiently use protein. Polyunsaturated fats can reduce blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. It’s also high in protein and fiber. The more processed a hummus is, the more unhealthy it typically will be. If you want to spice up your hummus, try adding in a vinegar-based hot sauce.