SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue

By Maureen Callahan

You can munch these healthful snacks to your heart's content (and your waistline's!)

Everyone loves to snack, but we all know what the wrong between-meal nosh can do to you, especially after the age of 50. Too much salt and your blood sugar zooms out of control. Too high a dose of saturated fat and your arteries clog up. Just a few too many calories -- even, say, a small bowl of ice cream with the tiniest spoonful of hot fudge sauce -- and before you know it your calorie-conserving fiftysomething body starts putting on the pounds. It's just not fair.

But you don't have to give up snacking. The trick is to become a little pickier. Search out tasty nibbles that don't go overboard on calories and that are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants -- ingredients that can help keep the mind sharp, muscles strong and energy levels high. Topping that list: fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, "good" fats and lean proteins. In other words, you may not be able to have your Doritos and eat them too, but there are plenty of healthful options that your body will thank you for.

By mixing and matching beneficial ingredients, snacks don't have to be one-note or boring.

Here are 10 snacks that will not only satisfy the health needs of your fiftysomething body, they'll also taste better than many store-bought, high-fat, overly processed alternatives.

1. Peanut Butter-Banana Crisp (180 calories)
Crunchy whole-grain crackers are a wholesome snack when topped with a tablespoon of nut butter and half a sliced banana. The best whole-grain crackers? Any that are fiber-rich and low in calories, including Wasa and Ryvita crispbread. Need gluten-free? Mary’s Gone Crackers or Brown Rice Crackers are good options.

The healthy bottom line: A balanced mix of protein, fiber and heart-healthy unsaturated fats, plus a good dose of blood pressure-lowering potassium from the banana.

2. Sugar Snap Peas & Cherry Tomatoes With Hummus (157 calories)
Carrot sticks are great dippers. But go one step better and broaden the color spectrum with other raw or lightly steamed vegetables. Fresh sugar snap peas (you can get them pre-washed), bell pepper strips, asparagus -- it’s all good. Aim for about a cup of veggies and 1/4 cup of any flavored hummus.

The healthy bottom line: All kinds of nutrients, fiber and disease-fighting compounds in the veggies, and a little protein and good fat in the hummus.

3. Cottage Cheese & Blueberries (163 calories)
Salty cottage cheese (a good source of protein) makes a perfect backdrop for sweet, fresh berries. Dish out one-half cup of 1 percent reduced-fat cottage cheese and cover it with one cup of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or blackberries.

The healthy bottom line: New studies find eating antioxidant-rich berries can put the skids on cognitive decline and lower the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

4. Greek Yogurt, Fruit & Nuts (169 calories)
Is your sweet tooth calling? Start with creamy, zero-fat plain Greek-style yogurt and sweeten it naturally by stirring in one chopped kiwi and a few blackberries (1/4 cup). Top with 1 tablespoon of toasted sliced almonds. Not sweet enough? Drizzle with a teaspoon (20 calories) of honey, maple syrup or agave nectar.

The healthy bottom line: The plain, zero-fat Greek yogurt has twice the protein and none of the blood-sugar-raising additives of sweetened yogurts. The kiwi delivers a day’s worth of immune-strengthening vitamin C. And the almonds are rich in vitamin E.

5. Apple & Cashew Butter (176 calories)
Slice one medium apple and serve with 1 tablespoon of any nut butter -- peanut, sunflower seed, cashew -- for dipping. It’s a perfect snack for the office or backpack since there’s no refrigeration required.

The healthy bottom line: The apple has cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and a dozen different nutrients. Nut butter delivers protein and heart-healthy fat.

6. Raisin, Cranberry & Peanut Gorp (183 calories)
Tuck away 2 tablespoons of raisins, 1 tablespoon of dried, sweetened cranberries and 2 tablespoons of roasted, salted peanuts into mini plastic snack bags for on-the-go munching. (Yes, salted nuts are okay here, since amounts are small. Two tablespoons of oil-roasted, salted peanuts deliver 78 milligrams of sodium, about half as much as a slice of bread.)

The healthy bottom line: Cardiologists say raisins (rich in potassium, fiber, phenols, tannins and antioxidants) can help lower blood pressure. Pair them with heart-healthy peanuts for double the positive punch.

7. Edamame (150 calories)
Served in the pod (like peanuts), edamame -- or boiled green soybeans -- have a slightly nutty, sweet flavor. Find them in the supermarket freezer section and fill up on 3/4 cup of shelled beans (or 1.5 cups of unshelled pods) for one of the best all-around, fill-you-up snacks.

The healthy bottom line: Nutrient-dense munching doesn’t get much better than this. Count on nabbing 12 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber and 4.5 grams of heart-healthy fats.

8. Antipasto Plate (167 calories)
Love eating little bits of everything? Plate a few cubes of feta cheese (1 ounce), 3 small olives of any variety, 10 cherry tomatoes, 4 carrot sticks and 1 large whole grain cracker sheet (such as Ryvita Fruit 'n Nut Crunch Crispbread). Cutting back on sodium? Switch to a low-salt cheese, such as Alpine Lace Reduced Sodium Muenster or Low Sodium Boar’s Head Gold Label Imported Swiss.

The healthy bottom line: The veggies are packed with bone-strengthening calcium and a little bit of lots of nutrients and disease-fighting chemicals. The olives boast heart-healthy fat.

9. Guacamole & Black Bean Chips (191 calories)
Improve your chip nutritional I.Q. with the new kid on the block: gluten-free Beanitos, black bean snack chips made with black beans and brown rice. Go for 10 chips with 3 tablespoons of homemade guacamole or a healthful store-bought variety like Wholly Guacamole Classic. Yes, avocados are high in fat, but it’s a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that helps lower cholesterol.

The healthy bottom line: With more than double the protein of corn and potato chips and a whopping 5 grams of fiber, the low-glycemic chips are great for keeping blood sugar stable.

10. Skinny Latte & 10 Almonds (150 calories)
Iced in the summer or hot in the winter, coffee is the perfect snack when you want to sip your way to smart nutrition. The antioxidant-rich brew is good for aging muscles, especially when spiked with a healthy dose of skim-milk protein and a side of heart-healthy nuts. Don’t worry about the slight calorie range at different coffee shops -- just go for the 16-ounce size and add skim or soy milk to make it skinny. Making latte at home? Try this recipe.

The healthy bottom line: Milk (or soy milk) nets appetite-quenching protein and bone-strengthening calcium. But the coffee’s not too shabby either: New studies suggest caffeine may help strengthen older muscles.

Need more snack ideas? Check out suggestions from health organizations like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

Maureen Callahan is a registered dietician, recipe developer and lead author of the Health.com diet book review series.

Read More On Next Avenue:
The Fiftysomething Diet: Workout Foods to Fuel Your Boomer Body
All Work Can Make You Unhealthy
A Fresh Take on Healthy Chicken Dishes

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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  • Do Not Eat: Fried Food

    Fried food is loaded with fat and calories while offering zero nutritional value. It's a lose-lose! Sure, fries and chips TASTE good, but healthier items also taste good. Just say no to the deep fried items on your menu. You'll be thinner, healthier and won't have greasy fingers.

  • Try This Instead: Broiled

    If you simply must have a French fry, then make them at home in your oven. Use sweet potatoes, as these are a more complex carbohydrate. Cut into matchsticks, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil along with a dash of salt, then place in your oven on broil. Turn every five minutes until the fries are tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.

  • Do Not Eat: White Bread

    White bread products have minimal nutritional value and are quickly converted by your body into sugar. So you may as well eat a cupcake. Even breads that are technically wheat, but are as soft and smooth as white bread, should be avoided. Don't be afraid to discard the bread from your sandwich or to push away that bread basket. Your waist will shrink and you'll lose that bloated feeling that high carbohydrate meals give you.

  • Try This Instead: Sprouted Grain Bread

    If you must have bread, then stick with sprouted. Sprouted grain bread is a lot easier on your digestion and is packed full of nutrients. Two delicious brands are Food For Life's Ezekiel bread, and Manna Organics. Sprouted grain breads are often kept in the freezer section since they don't contain preservatives to prolong shelf life.

  • Do Not Eat: Creamy Salad Dressing

    You were so good to order a salad, but then canceled out the low-cal benefits by drenching the salad in fattening creamy dressing. Just a few tablespoons of creamy dressing contain more than 20 grams of fat and hundreds of calories.

  • Try This Instead: Vinegar Dressing

    Vinegar-based dressings pack amazing flavor in with minimal fat and calories. You can even mix your own dressing at home. Take high quality vinegar, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper, your choice of dried herbs, and a bit of olive oil.

  • Do Not Eat: White Rice

    Just like white bread, white rice has minimal nutritional value, and the glycemic load will quickly prime your body for storing fat.

  • Try This Instead: Brown Rice

    Brown rice has three times the amount of fiber, more B vitamins as well as other nutrients and will keep you feeling fuller for longer. That should be enough to convince you to swap your large pile of white rice out for a small pile of brown rice.

  • Do Not Eat: White Sugar

    Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the epitome of anti-fitness food. Nothing will destroy your progress, expand your waist and plummet your energy levels like sugar. If you only take away one do-not-eat food from this slideshow, please let it be sugar.

  • Try This Instead: Fruit

    Don't turn to artificial sweeteners to get your sweet fix, instead turn to nature's wholesome source of sugar: fruit. Eat organic fruit that is seasonal and locally grown. Stay away from dried fruit and fruit juices, as these are high in simple calories.