Adding nutrient-dense snacks to your daily diet gives your body the fuel it needs while working alongside a reduced appetite. No matter how hungry you are (or aren’t), a snack can provide critical nutrients without feeling like a chore.
Snacks are usually treated as less important than meals, but they’re just as much a part of your daily diet. Everyone has unique nutritional goals, and sometimes meals can’t meet all of them.
Your body has a unique problem when you’re recovering from an illness or surgery, or even when you’re under significant emotional stress. You need more nutrients, but you’ll often have less of an appetite.
But what are the best nutrient-dense snacks? And what are the nutrients you need in the first place? Let’s dive into the details.
What are nutrients?
Choosing nutrient-dense snacks starts with understanding what “nutrients” are to begin with. But there isn’t a specific dietary definition for “nutrient”. It’s a catch-all term that covers many different components in our food.
Broadly speaking, calories are what your body burns for energy, and nutrients are what your body uses to build, repair, and protect itself.
Not all food is nutrient-dense, and even the most nutrient-dense foods don’t contain all the nutrients your body needs.
A variety of different foods is the best way to prevent nutritional deficiencies, especially if you have any pre-existing conditions that might cause your body to need more of any particular nutrient.
Medical nutrition therapy can help you come up with a plan to address any nutrient deficiencies. You’ll want to talk with your doctor to make sure that your unique needs are being addressed.
Why should you choose nutrient-dense snacks?
Much like “nutrient,” “snack” is another word that can be interpreted pretty broadly. Snacks are smaller than meals, so can you even have a nutrient-dense snack? Absolutely! It all depends on what you reach for.
Some snacks are high in calories, but pretty low in nutrition. Others are high in nutrition, but might not make you feel full. The best snacks will have a balance of nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Using a protein supplement as part of your snack can be a great way to help balance it, especially when you use an easily digestible protein source like collagen peptides. What are collagen peptides?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and it can be found in a variety of different foods, as well. Collagen peptides are collagen molecules that have been broken down for easy digestion, so your snack won’t make you feel overly full or bloated.
What foods are the most nutritionally dense?
There’s a huge variety of nutrient-dense foods, and all of them are rich in different nutrients.
Eggs, for instance, contain a huge variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as protein and healthy fats.
Fruits, meanwhile, are rich in other kinds of vitamins, as well as carbohydrates and fiber.
Comfort and “junk” foods have significantly fewer nutrients than fresh ones. The problem is, these foods are much more friendly when you don’t have much of an appetite. When you’re trying to decide what to eat when you have no appetite, balance is key.
Look for nutrient-dense snacks you already enjoy and add more of them to your routine. There’s no need to completely deprive yourself of your familiar favorites, just enjoy them alongside a nutrient-rich snack.
14 nutrient-dense snacks to add to your daily routine
So how do you pick a snack that is nutrient-dense? First, you’ll need to know how to read nutrition labels.
Unfortunately, there are tons of unhealthy snacks disguised as the nutrient-dense snack you’re looking for. Learning how to read nutrition labels can help you avoid extra sugar, salt, and “bad” fats so you get the most nutrient-dense snacks possible.
You’ll also need to remember to keep plenty of variety in your snacks. Choosing a few snacks to keep on hand at any given time is the best way to meet all your nutritional needs.
Finally, make sure your snacks always have protein in them or alongside them. Protein can help you feel full, stabilize blood sugar, and keep you from feeling hungry again too quickly.
Now, let’s look at the top nutrient-dense snacks you can add to your diet.
Peanuts and peanut butter are incredibly nutrient-dense snacks. High in protein, healthy fats, and fiber, peanuts are one of the most accessible snacks out there.
For people struggling with how to get enough protein, incorporating a serving of peanuts or peanut butter can give your protein intake a big boost! Peanuts are also rich in micronutrients like vitamin A, iron, and magnesium, and are highly digestible.
Much like peanuts, cashews are high in protein and healthy fats, but they’re packed with different nutrients from peanuts. Cashews are a great snack for boosting bone health since they’re rich in copper, magnesium, and manganese.
So should you opt for peanuts or cashews? Both! The key to nutrient-dense snacks will always be variety, so incorporate different nuts into your routine to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are versatile little beans packed with nutrients. High in protein, iron, and vitamin B9, chickpeas are nutrient-dense snacks in all their forms.
Pre-made chickpea snacks can be helpful for people who enjoy the taste and texture of snacks like potato chips. Roasting chickpeas at home is inexpensive and allows you to season to your tastes.
And on top of all that, chickpeas are the star of a classic nutrient-dense snack: hummus. Hummus can be sweet or savory, enjoyed with all kinds of dippers from fruit and veggies to pretzels or crusty bread.
4. Greek yogurt
Another quick and accessible nutrient-dense snack, Greek yogurt can quickly become a staple of your usual snack rotation. Greek yogurt is high in protein, vitamin B12, and Riboflavin, but its fat and carbohydrate content will vary based on the type of Greek yogurt.
Since Greek yogurt is soft, it can support your nutritional needs even when you’re experiencing tooth pain or navigating your diet after gastric bypass. A quick note on choosing a Greek yogurt, though. Make sure you check the labels so that your choice aligns with your nutritional needs.
Greek yogurt (and yogurt in general) is notorious for adding massive amounts of sugar so that the yogurt is more appealing. To make sure your snack is as nutrient-dense as possible, opt for plain low-fat or full-fat Greek yogurt and add your own healthy sweeteners or mix-ins.
Great when mixed into Greek yogurt, dried in trail mix, or fresh, berries contain a wide range of nutrients, depending on which berry you’re looking at.
Strawberries are rich in manganese and antioxidants, blueberries bring powerful amounts of vitamin K, and blackberries are mighty sources of fiber.
Nearly all berries are high in vitamin C, which plays an integral role in collagen formation. And since collagen is the most important protein in the body, vitamin C has a big job to do!
Similarly to nuts, berries make the best snacks when you eat a variety of them. You can even grab premade berry mixes to get a variety.
6. Citrus fruits
Believe it or not, fruits like oranges and grapefruits are close cousins of berries. And like berries, they’re all packed with vitamin C.
Oranges are also rich in fiber and folates, and their high water content makes them a great nutrient-dense snack for people who struggle to stay hydrated.
Grapefruits have many of the same nutrients as oranges while bringing along fewer calories and lower sugar content, plus a significantly higher amount of vitamin A.
And while you probably won’t eat a whole lemon or lime as a snack, incorporating these fruits and their juices can boost the nutrient density of your snacks and meals.
Cherry tomatoes can be a powerful part of your nutrient-dense snacks because they contain such a wide range of nutrients. These powerful little veggies are high in fiber, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
And, yes, tomatoes are technically a fruit, so much like their berry cousins they contain plenty of vitamin C!
Other kinds of tomatoes contain plenty of nutrients, too. Each type of tomato will have a slightly different nutrient profile, and you can check which nutrients your favorite type contains by visiting the USDA’s website and searching the name of the tomato.
8. Bell peppers
Another mighty veggie, bell peppers have a high water and fiber content, and contain even more vitamin C than oranges! Bell peppers also give you plenty of vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin K, to name a few of their nutrients. Bell peppers can be found in different colors, but these colors are just phases of ripening, not different variations of pepper.
Like other fruits and veggies, bell peppers make the best nutrient-dense snacks when they’re paired with a protein source. The protein will help you feel full and balance blood sugar so you aren’t hungry again too quickly.
9. Whole grains
Whole grains are incredibly versatile when it comes to snacking. You can find whole-grain bread, crackers, cereal, granola, and more! Whole grains contain high levels of zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins.
Whole grains are also fiber-rich, which is one of the reasons they’re more nutrient-dense than refined grains. The fiber slows digestion, preventing the blood sugar spike refined grains cause and allowing your body more time to absorb nutrients.
The nutrients cheese contains depend on the type of cheese you’re eating. American cheese or pasteurized cheese products typically aren’t very nutrient-dense. When you’re choosing cheese to add to your nutrient-dense snacks, grab a mix of fresh cheeses and hard cheeses.
Fresh cheese, like goat cheese, cottage cheese, and mozzarella are high in protein and low in calories. They often contain gut-healthy probiotics, similar to yogurt.
Hard cheeses, like cheddar and parmesan, have more fat and calories, but also often have vitamins and minerals that aren’t found in softer cheeses.
High in protein and packed with essential amino acids, tuna makes a great, nutrient-dense snack.
There are several different varieties of tuna, each with a unique nutrient profile. Fresh tuna, tuna canned with water, and tuna canned with oil also have slightly different nutrients in them, so be sure to check the labels!
When it comes to snacks that are easy to keep on hand or bring with you, canned tuna is the star here. In general, opt for tuna packed in water, as the oil often doesn’t add any nutrition, but does add extra calories and unhealthy fats to the tuna.
Sardines, much like tuna, are most often canned, rather than fresh. Sardines are incredibly rich in calcium, phosphorus, and selenium – nutrients that plant-based foods often don’t provide enough of.
Sardines are also high in protein. And although they do have a higher fat and calorie content than tuna, they also don’t contain mercury, while some types of tuna do.
One of the most powerful, versatile, nutrient-dense snacks, eggs are sometimes called “nature’s multivitamin”. They’re high in protein and heart-healthy fats and contain every vitamin except vitamin C.
Eating just two eggs a day can provide you with as much as 30% of your vitamin needs!
14. Liquid protein shots
Finding protein sources that travel and keep well can be tough. Cheese, yogurt, and eggs all need to be refrigerated. Packets of tuna or sardines don’t need to be refrigerated, but the smell of fish can linger, meaning they often aren’t the best option when you’re on the go.
And what about when you just plain aren’t hungry for one of the high-protein foods you usually reach for? Making nutrient-dense snacks more nutrient-dense can be as simple as keeping liquid protein shots on hand.
Protein shots made with hydrolyzed collagen are small pouches that contain a large amount of protein. The hydrolyzed collagen is easy to absorb, and the pouches are easy to reach for, even when you don’t have much of an appetite.
Finding reliable nutrient-dense snacks
The best nutrient-dense snacks are the ones you’ll enjoy. If you can’t stand cashews or bell peppers or blackberries, you don’t need to add them to your routine!
Experiment with different types of fruits, veggies, and nuts, and mix them up with different whole grain and protein options. And don’t forget to give your snacks a protein boost!
Keeping hydrolyzed collagen readily available helps you give your body the protein it needs to make the most of your favorite nutrient-dense snack.