Having a nice lunch can be one of the easiest pick-me-ups in the middle of the day — you get a little break from whatever task is at-hand while enjoying a (hopefully) delicious and nutritious meal.
Perhaps the only slightly frustrating thing about lunch is that it can often leave you with a case of the dreaded afternoon cravings just a few hours later. These intense cravings can make the second half of your day feel endless.
Knowing that dinner is still a few hours away can quickly turn you “hangry” and transform minor inconveniences into enormous frustrations. Naturally, the most effective solution is to grab an afternoon snack to quell the hankering until dinner time.
You might be tempted to go for something simple because of convenience, but the good news is that it’s becoming easier to opt for healthy snacks that don’t take an eon to prepare.
Before we get into the best snacks, let’s talk about what causes afternoon hunger in the first place.
What Causes Afternoon Cravings?
The food that you eat during lunch can cause your blood sugar levels to increase. Blood sugar, or glucose, is the primary fuel source for your body and brain.
The cells throughout your body will receive a nice little energy boost whenever your blood sugar levels increase. Unfortunately, the boost is only temporary and usually doesn’t last long enough to get you through the rest of the work day.
The post-meal blood sugar peak is different for everyone. For most people, it’s somewhere around 75 minutes after starting a meal. During this time, you’ll often feel the largest boost of energy as your blood is loaded with extra glucose.
After reaching this peak, your blood sugar levels will slowly drop as they return to normal. The ensuing decline will likely make you feel a little more tired than before.
As if that weren’t bad enough, you’ll also likely deal with an increase of ghrelin in your system. Ghrelin is a hormone produced by the stomach that tells the brain that the time to eat is rapidly approaching.
The stomach will start producing more and more ghrelin as it continues to digest your lunch. The increased ghrelin can result in hunger cravings that can steadily get more severe until you eat again.
The combination of energy loss and hunger cravings is often too much to bear. You might be tempted to reach for a sugary snack to help get you through the rest of the day.
Consuming such a snack will surely be enough to get you over the hump, but it can also result in other consequences — all that excess sugar isn’t good for your brain, waistline, mood, blood pressure, teeth, or heart.
It’s best to opt for a snack that can get you through the day and even benefit your health, too.
5 Healthy Snacks That Can Help You Beat Afternoon Cravings
The key to finding the perfect afternoon snack is a combination of convenience and nutrition. It’s not always going to be easy to meet both criteria. But you’ll know that you have something really special when you do.
You can easily find a ton of convenient options in a nearby vending machine. However, these options may not be particularly healthy. It’s practically guaranteed that whatever you find in there will either have way too much sugar or be packed with preservatives and artificial additives.
On the other hand, convenience is just as crucial of a characteristic. An afternoon snack should simply be a bridge that connects lunch and dinner.
You don’t have that kind of time at work, and it could spoil your dinner. That’s why it’s such a good idea to stick to simple foods for your afternoon snack.
These are five ideas for an afternoon snack that are both convenient and nutritious:
1. Protein Bar
Protein bars are the perfect place to start this list. It doesn’t get any more convenient than tearing open a protein bar — the nutrients inside can be mind-blowing with the right one.
You can toss a box of protein bars on your desk or in the back of your car, and dig in whenever afternoon cravings arise. Before you pick up a box at your local store, you should know that many of those protein bars are more so candy-in-disguise than the afternoon nutrition you’re looking for.
You see, the definition of a protein bar is pretty loose. The FDA doesn’t spend much time regulating protein bars. Companies that make a food product with a decent serving of protein will frequently try to pass it off as a health-conscious protein bar.
In reality, these bars are usually loaded with enough added sugars, artificial preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup that it would make your dentist faint. It’s smart to ensure the protein bar has the right ingredients to actually nourish your mind and body like you need it to.
Naturally, you want to ensure that the amount of natural, added, and artificial sugars are as low as possible. You can also take the time to learn if the protein is high quality, the carbohydrate and calorie count is low, the fats are unsaturated, and how much fiber it provides. The potential health benefits can make this additional step well worth your time in the long run.
All of this sound familiar? Well, it’s because the MOSH protein bar checks those boxes, and we’re pretty proud of that.
Here’s the highlight reel:
- 13 g of protein from grass-fed whey
- Adaptogen boosted with ashwagandha and lion’s mane
- Brain-fueling nutrients like vitamin D and B12
- 6 g of fiber per bar (almost a quarter of the daily recommended value!)
- Only 160 calories and 17 g of carbs per serving
- No sugar added
Our editor’s personal favorite right now is Blueberry Almond Crunch, but you can check out our trial pack if you want to give all of the MOSH flavors a go (then go for a bundle deal for when you come back for more!).
2. Greek Yogurt and Granola
Yogurt can feel closer to an indulgence item than some of the other options on this list. However, it’s a classic snack that perfectly presents as both cravings-worthy and nutritious.
It’s fairly common for people to add fruit to their yogurt. You’re free to add some fruit if you like, but if you want a nutritious boost, consider adding some granola to the mix.
Granola often features a high concentration of protein, fiber, iron, folate, zinc, and vitamin D. It’s also packed with carbohydrates that can boost energy quickly during the post-lunch downswing. You’ll want to be careful about which granola you add to your yogurt, though. There’s no universal granola recipe; some options feature more sugar than others.
The same principle applies to your yogurt as well. In general, it’s smart to stick to Greek yogurt whenever possible. Greek yogurt usually features about half of the sugar content as regular yogurt.
Bonus points for eating yogurt with a higher protein concentration and a lower fat concentration.
3. Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich
The classic peanut butter and banana sandwich, or PB&B, is quite a treat and makes for a mouth-watering afternoon snack. That said, the preferred sandwich of the iconic Elvis Presley isn’t always the healthiest option (no frying or bacon allowed).
However, you can make a few adjustments to the recipe and turn it into quite a nutritious treat. Bananas are already a very healthy snack, so you have nothing to worry about when it comes to eating them.
Your main concern will be the bread and peanut butter that you use. It’s a good choice to avoid white bread or any other bread that utilizes refined carbohydrates.
Refined carbs have been stripped of everything except the endosperm, and often offer little nutritional value. Instead, it is a good idea to stick to whole-grain bread that includes the endosperm, germ, and bran.
The more challenging endeavor will be finding the ideal peanut butter. Peanut butter can be healthier for you than you might think. It’s loaded with fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium, iron, selenium, and vitamin E.
The tricky thing about peanut butter is that most brands also tend to include a more than ideal amount of added sugar and fat. Most fats are unsaturated, but each gram of fat packs a punch from a calorie perspective.
Try to look for peanut butter with the lowest fat concentration, a reasonable amount of sugar (or better yet, honey), and use it in moderation.
4. Fruit Smoothie
No list of snack options would be complete without fruit. Fruit is basically nature’s candy, and it’s the perfect option for an afternoon snack. You really can’t go wrong with fruit as practically all of them are both nutritious and convenient.
Eating an apple, pear, peach, orange, or really any fruit of your choice is an easy way to keep hunger at bay and boost your energy levels — not to mention, fruits are often packed with vitamins that can support your immune system, offer antioxidant effects, and much more.
If you really want to take your afternoon snack to the next level, making a smoothie might be right up your alley.
After all, if eating one type of fruit is good for you, imagine the benefits of eating several all at once. You may want to be a little careful with how you prepare your smoothie, though. You’ll probably have to experiment a little to find your ideal recipe, but it’s important to remember that it’s supposed to be a snack and not a dessert.
For example, ice cream is sometimes used as the liquid base for smoothies. That’s probably going to be off-limits for your afternoon snack.
You don’t necessarily have to stick to plain water (and you really shouldn’t unless you want your smoothie to taste like watered down juice), but you may want to be mindful about what you use as your ice cream replacement. Milk alternatives like oat milk and almond milk, coconut water, and even tea can offer nutritional benefits that aren't possible with ice cream or whole milk.
5. Hummus and Vegetables
Vegetables are the only other food that can compete with fruit for the title of a perfect afternoon snack. It’s pretty much impossible to overstate just how healthy vegetables are for your body and brain.
No matter how many vegetables you eat daily, there’s always room for a little more. One main criticism of vegetables is that they don’t taste as appealing as other foods. While that is largely a matter of personal taste, it’s still a valid concern for anyone searching for healthy snacks — not too many vegetables can satisfy your craving for sweets, but they can do a lot for a craving in the savory direction.
With that, try pairing your vegetables with hummus. This blend of mashed chickpeas offer a healthy opportunity to supply your veggies with an explosion of unique flavor.
You will need to keep in mind that chickpeas are a legume, so eating a large amount of hummus could eventually lead to unpleasant gastrointestinal issues for some individuals. It’s best to eat hummus in moderation to avoid these undesirable results. You probably won’t have too difficult of a time, as a little bit of hummus and veggies will go a very long way toward filling you up.
Focus on the Most Convenient and Nutritious Snacks
Surely there was at least one option listed above that caught your eye. If none of them seemed like something you would like to try, sunflower seeds, hard-boiled eggs, trail mix, or even just a handful of blueberries can work as an afternoon snack.
The hard part about finding the perfect snack is it doesn’t take long to get tired of it. A peanut butter and banana sandwich might sound amazing on Monday afternoon, but do you think you’ll have the same enthusiasm by Thursday? Switching up your go-to snack can go a long way toward helping you stick with it!
Looking for more helpful articles to help you boost your wellness? Explore the rest of our blog here!