Looking for new healthy snack options to help maintain your energy levels and keep you moving through the long summer days? Vegan snack options provide an opportunity to eat something healthy and nutritious, with summer oriented snacks keeping you cool and satisfied when it is warm out.
For those new to the term vegan, you may be wondering what it means and how it applies to snacks. Vegan is a term used to describe a plant based style of eating. A vegan diet is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and does not contain animal products such as meat, fish, eggs or dairy. Vegan foods are naturally rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, all essential components of a healthy diet.
When it comes to snacking, there can be a lot of confusion around what makes a quality snack. It can be pretty normal to grab something quick and portable to help us get through the day. This ease of access to snacks provides convenience but does not always ensure quality. This can lead people to make unhealthy choices, as many quick snack options are oriented around sugar and processed carbohydrates.
As a nutritionist, I spend a lot of time with my clients discussing snacks and what makes a good snack versus poor quality. Snacks should be quick and easy to consume, but they should also be nutrient dense, providing a stable long term source of energy. You want to successfully make it to your next meal without needing to reach for more!
Protein and fat oriented snacks make excellent nutrient dense choices. Both protein and fat are essential macronutrients in the body and provide a stable energy source that helps to maintain vitality while also satisfying hunger. Sugar and processed carbohydrates on the other hand, make poor quality snacks. They may taste good and provide a quick source of energy, but they are always followed by a crash.
When we consume sugar and processed carbs it creates a spike in blood sugar. This spike will give a good boost, but the spike is temporary. As blood sugar drops, energy levels decrease, which can leave us tired and hungry. This feeling will drive us to reach for more. More sugar, more carbs and the cycle repeats, as we consume more to keep us going, only to crash again.
There is nothing wrong with an occasional sugar or processed carb snack, but excessive or even regular snacking patterns can lead to weight gain and ultimately elevated blood sugar. So although sugar and carbs make for quick and abundant food options, they do not make the ideal snack and should be consumed at a minimum.
When it comes to vegan snacks, I find there are abundant carbohydrate options to choose from, as much of the base of the vegan diet is carbohydrate. A quick tutorial on macronutrients in case your unsure on what a carbohydrate is. Macronutrients are essential nutrients needed for survival and are split into three categories, fats, protein and carbohydrates. Fats include foods such as nuts and seeds, cooking oil, avocados, coconut and eggs. Protein foods include meat, fish, dairy and legumes. Carbohydrates are a wide category of foods made up of complex and processed carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are the healthiest category of carbs including all fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Processed carbs tend to be poor in quality due to their high level of processing that pulls out vital nutrients and fibers. These foods include sugar and white flour products which can be high in calories and lead to elevated blood sugar.
As discussed earlier, vegan based foods can be a healthy dietary choice as they are plant based foods, which when in their complex carbohydrate form, provide a healthy source of nutrients in the body. The trick when creating healthy vegan snack options is creating snacks that offer an adequate amount of protein and/or fat, as these macronutrients are essential for energy production and stabilizing blood sugar.
When it comes to vegan sources of protein, good choices are legumes, nuts and seeds. Quinoa, often considered a grain but technically a seed, is another excellent plant protein source. Although not a whole food, plant based protein powders can provide abundant amounts of protein for those on a vegan diet or those looking for vegan based snacks. Some popular plant based protein powders include rice, pea and hemp.
Foods rich in healthy fats also provide a stable energy source for the body. When discussing fats it is important to emphasize healthy fats over poor quality fried fats, trans fats or excessive quantities of saturated fats. Quality vegan fat choices come from nuts and seeds (yes, they contain both protein and fat!) and their milks, avocados, olives, coconuts and coconut products.
So now that we understand the components that make a healthy vegan snack option, let’s take a look at some vegan snack ideas. Hummus is one of my favorite high protein snacks. It is easy to make, or if you don’t feel like making it from scratch, it is easy to find in most stores and supermarkets. It’s a great warm weather snack and pairs well with fresh veggies and whole grain crackers or chips. You can make traditional varieties from garbonzos or make hummus using other types of beans such as kidney beans or black beans.
Protein rich quinoa makes for a versatile summer snack dish. It can be mixed with many different veggies and sauces to enhance flavor and create a side dish that works well as a high energy snack. Try mixing cooked quinoa with sliced cucumbers, parsley and olives along with olive oil and vinegar to create a Greek inspired snack. Or mix quinoa with onions, cilantro and tomatoes, add a little olive oil and lemon juice to form a Mexican style quinoa dish.
Plant based protein powders are an excellent vegan protein source. Mix 1 scoop of either rice, pea or hemp protein, along with your favorite nut based or coconut milk, a banana and a handful of frozen berries and you have a delicious frozen smoothie that will sustain your energy and keep you full until your next meal. You can take that same blend and pour it into popsicle molds to create a cold, nutrient dense treat that is delicious to both kids and adults!
Healthy vegan fat oriented snacks are numerous and great ideas for summer focus on dishes that taste good cold or at room temperature. If you’re new to nut based cheeses, you may be quite surprised how delicious they are. They are often soft, with a similar consistency to cream cheese and can be found mixed with herbs and spices to enhance the flavor. Nut based cheeses, such as cashew cheese, make a creamy treat that tastes delicious on a whole grain crackers or served with fresh cut vegetables.
One of my favorite healthy fat desserts is coconut cream. It is decadent and rich and blends well with many foods. You can find coconut cream in glass containers, next to foods like nut butters in your local grocery store. They can also be found in frozen form, which I find to be especially tasty. Think Cool Whip but a much healthier, low sugar version. An amazing vegan based dessert is frozen raspberries topped with a dollop of coconut cream. It makes for a wonderful healthy snack on a warm summer day.
Healthy vegan snack options don’t have to be just a plate of raw veggies or a dry whole grain cracker. The best snacks, whether vegan or not, are nutrient dense and rich in protein and/or fat to keep your energy levels up so you can feel satiated and satisfied until your next meal. Try to avoid quick fixes like sugar, fried or processed starch oriented snacks as much as possible, as they are often high in calories, with low nutrient content and lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes. Vegan snacks for summer will boost your energy while keeping you cool and nourished when the weather is hot and the days are long.