Yeah yeah, we know: Boredom eating is not the best practice. But sometimes the afternoon munchies come a'knocking—and when they do, it's often not about satisfying actual hunger, but just a need to nosh on something. We asked a team of experts which snacks are the *most* guilt-free...and here's what we learned.
For a savory fix, look no further than our latest obsession. "Seaweed snacks conquer that salty craving for very few calories and loads of nutrients, including minerals such as magnesium and even calcium," says dietitian Keri Glassman. "They're metabolism-boosting snacks," adds nutritionist Dana James. "They're rich in iodine, which helps boost thyroid function." All that, and trust us on this: With their light olive oil coating, they're just greasy enough to satisfy that hankering for potato chips.
Okay, no, it's not the same thing as a square of the good stuff. But isn't there kind of a delicious, after-school novelty to downing a refreshing glass of chocolate milk? Just make sure you make it almond: "With more calcium than cow's milk, and only two grams of carbs, this is a chocolate drink you can enjoy with no calorie guilt," says James. "Warm it up and add a cinnamon stick for some extra zest—plus, the cinnamon helps to decrease the appetite."
Yes, sometimes veggies really do the trick! And thanks to their high water content, cucumbers and slightly lesser-known jicama make for a totally refreshing, crunchy snack. (They also both kill bloat.) James recommends adding a little zip to the cucumbers with some sea salt and chili flakes, and serving the jicama with lime juice and cinnamon to bring out its natural sweetness. (For those unfamiliar, the veggie tastes a lot like a mild pear.)
"While popcorn is still an empty carb, you get volume for your calories," says James. That is, if you skip the traditional, butter-laden microwaveable kind and opt to air pop plain kernels. (You don't even need a stove: Just toss a couple tablespoons of kernels into a brown paper lunch sack, roll the top, and microwave for a few minutes.) James recommends adding a sprinkle of vitamin B-12 fortified nutritional yeast for a cheesy, buttery flavor. For an even healthier kick, nutritionist Haylie Pomroy recommends swapping corn entirely for popped sorghum, which is a slightly more wholesome grain.
These have been appearing on the desks of more than one ELLE.com editor lately, and for good reason: "By snacking on these, you'll switch off that sweet craving and get some magnesium, which is great for stress," says James. They're also great to grab in a pinch. "Stuck at the airport and the real apples look old and touched by thousands of hungry passengers? Freeze-dried apple snacks are the next best thing," she adds.
Glassman recommends grabbing these after a particularly vigorous workout. "If you sweat a lot, the salt may just be what your body needs to replenish itself," she says. Plus, they're salty and crunchy, nailing two cravings at once—for almost no calories.
Alright, meatheads—you get your pick, too. And aside from that mouthwatering smokiness, turkey jerky provides a pack of protein unrivaled by any other snacks on this lineup. ("It helps to lay down lean muscle," notes Pomroy.) Just make sure it's nitrite-free, as many packaged dried meats tend to be chock full of preservatives.
When only something sweet and fizzy will do, please step away from the diet soda and satisfy that hankering with kombucha instead, per James' recommendation. This fermented tea is hardly reserved for home-brewing flower children anymore, as you can find it at virtually any grocery store or bodega. Plus, it's actually good for you—the fermentation gives you a great dose of healthy bacteria, which can help regulate digestion and soothe your gut. We love the brand KeVita, as their delicious drinks tout stevia as a sweetener rather than sugar.
For something virtually mess-proof, easy to pack, and devoid of any offending smells, look no further than these healthy little nuggets. "You can pop 'em like candy, without all the sugar," says Glassman. "You'll burn more calories eating these than they actually contain," echoes James. "Plus, you'll also get vitamin C, zinc, and lycopene, all antioxidants that keep the skin dewy and bright." (Lycopene also helps intensify the skin's natural barrier to the sun.)