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Anyone who has told you that snacking is “bad” is seriously mistaken. Eating a healthy snack between meals that is full of protein, fiber, and helpful vitamins and antioxidants can be an amazing way to satisfy cravings and keep you from overeating on the unhealthy stuff. However, it’s the unhealthy snacks that are highly processed and full of added sugars, sodium, and saturated fat that can leave you feeling hungrier than before and can potentially derail your health goals.
The purpose of snacking is to satisfy your hunger in between meals, giving your body a nutrient-dense pick-me-up during the morning or afternoon hours. Eating protein-heavy snacks can reduce hunger levels and appetite, and those that are heavy on fiber can fill you up by slowing down the rate of digestion. When you opt for snack items that don’t come with enough fiber or protein, more often than not, you’re left hungry and unsatisfied, which not only defeats the purpose of snacking in the first place but can also ultimately trigger overeating. In addition to lacking fiber and protein, many unhealthy snacks may also contain lots of sodium and added sugars, which we all know can be a disservice to your body, especially when consumed in excess. But what are some of the unhealthiest snacks you’d commonly find at the grocery store and are better off avoiding?
Ensuring your snack breaks leave you satisfied and with a full, happy belly means also knowing how to identify and weed out the unhealthiest ones that you’ll want to limit if not completely avoid. For that reason, we turned to dietitians to find out which unhealthy snacks are the worst of the worst. Read on to find out which unhealthy snacks they believe aren’t worth your time or digestive energy—then, for some healthier snack inspiration, check out 30 Low-Calorie Snacks That Are Filling & Tasty.
Per 13 sandwiches (13 g): 160 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 160 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (0 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 2 g protein
“These little sandwich snacks barely contain any protein and are lacking fiber,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and member of our Medical Expert Board. “This makes it a very low-protein and low-fiber snack, while being high in fat.” In other words, it won’t fill you up or leave you genuinely satisfied.
Per 1/3 cup (28 g): 140 calories, 7 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 380 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (1 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 2 g protein
If you’re craving a salty pretzel snack, you may want to steer clear of Snyder’s Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces. “Choosing this snack would be the opposite of choosing a nutrient dense one,” says Young. “These are very low in protein and fiber, which helps to keep you full and satiated for longer periods of time. Moreover, these pretzel bites are also relatively high in fat, with 3 grams being from the saturated kind.”
Per 2 pastries: 370 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 320 mg sodium, 70 g carbs (1 g fiber, 30 g sugar), 3 g protein
“Pop-Tarts have been around for a while and are a popular breakfast choice for individuals who are short on time,” says Young. “However, this is one of the worst snack choices you can make in terms of your health.” Not only is this snack high in sodium and low in fiber and protein, but Young adds that “Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts contain ultra-processed ingredients such as soybean oil and refined flour, and contain three different types of sugar: refined white sugar, corn syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup.”
Per pudding cup: 180 calories, 3.5 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 190 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (2 g fiber, 22 g sugar), 2 g protein
“The Snack Pack Pudding is definitely a snack to leave in the grocery store and avoid bringing home, as it contains a plethora of unclean and highly processed ingredients,” says Young. “This item is also a very low-protein, low-fiber, and high-sugar snack, and foods that don’t have a lot of protein or fiber contribute to hunger, as they don’t contain many—if any nutrients at all.” Young also adds that “this pudding snack contains processed oils such as palm oil, which is 50% saturated fat.”
Per tablespoon: 200 calories, 12 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 15 mg sodium, 21 g carbs (0 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 2 g protein
Most everyone loves a spoonful (or three) of Nutella, but this is considered one of the most unhealthy snacks due to its extremely high sugar content in such a small serving size. “This chocolate hazelnut spread is made mostly with sugar and palm oil, which is extremely processed,” says Young. “A one-tablespoon serving of Nutella is about 21 grams of sugar, and the protein and fiber content is very low, which is the opposite of a fulfilling snack.” The problem with Nutella is that because it’s tasty yet devoid of significant nutritional value is because it’s difficult to limit yourself to a serving size—before long, the whole jar is gone.
Per 3 cookies: 160 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 135 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (1 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 1 g protein
“Each Oreo cookie contains a significant amount of refined sugar, contributing to potential health issues such as weight gain, diabetes, and tooth decay,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements. “Additionally, Oreos are made with partially hydrogenated oils, which are a source of trans fats known to increase the risk of heart disease, and high-fructose corn syrup, an artificial sweetener that has been linked to various health problems when consumed in excess.”
Per 13 pieces: 160 calories, 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 270 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 2 g protein
Another popular snack to be wary of is classic Cheetos Puffs, an item full of cheesy flavor—yet incredibly low in fiber and protein.
“Cheetos are considered one of the most unhealthy snacks primarily due to their unhealthy fats, sodium, and artificial additives,” says Best. Unfortunately, regularly eating snacks high in sodium can elevate your daily sodium intake, which in turn can lead to “increased blood pressure and increased risk of heart problems,” she adds.
Per 3 cookies: 160 calories, 8 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 105 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (1 g fiber, 11 g sugar), 1 g protein
A classic chocolate chip cookie is certainly a comforting snack, but you’re better off ditching this sugary item that will ultimately leave you feeling hungrier and with more cravings.
“Chips Ahoy! Chocolate Chip Cookies are considered an unhealthy snack, largely due to their high sugar and unhealthy fat content, as well as their ingredient list, which includes partially hydrogenated oils—a source of trans fats,” says Best. “Ultimately, consuming these cookies in moderation is recommended to minimize the negative health effects associated with their ingredients.”
Per 12 chips (28 g): 150 calories, 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (1 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 1 g protein
A classic favorite among many, Doritos Nachos Cheese chips are better eaten in moderation, as they’ll fill you up on sodium and little to no nutrients at all. “Doritos are typically high in calories, fat, and sodium, and the Nacho Cheese flavor specifically contains artificial flavors and preservatives,” says Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD.
Per 21 pieces (28 g): 160 calories, 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 250 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (<1 g fiber, <1 g sugar), 2 g protein
Similar to the puffy kind, Cheetos Crunchy Cheese-Flavored Snacks also make the list of unhealthy snacks because they’re high in sodium and very low in fiber and protein.
“They’re also high in calories and artificial additives, which have been associated with adverse health effects,” adds Sabat. For instance, they contain yellow dye 6, which has been found to potentially contain cancer-causing contaminants.
Per 15 chips (28 g): 160 calories, 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 170 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (1 g fiber, <1 g sugar), 2 g protein
When you’re craving a salty snack, there’s nothing like opening a fresh bag of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips. Unfortunately, these may not be your best choice, as only 15 chips will give you 10 grams of fat, no fiber, and hardly any protein.
“These chips are also loaded with sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and other health issues when consumed in excess,” says Sabat.
Per 2 cakes: 280 calories, 9 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 370 mg sodium, 47 g carbs (0 g fiber, 32 g sugar), 2 g protein
No one should be surprised to see Twinkies on our list, as these sugar bombs are a notoriously unhealthy snack choice.
“Twinkies contain partially hydrogenated oils, which are a source of trans fats, and they lack nutritional value,” says Sabat.
These processed cakes also come with a whopping 32 grams of added sugar and absolutely no fiber to help slow down your body’s absorption of the sugar. This can cause spikes in your blood sugar, and the lack of protein will leave you feeling hungry and craving more.
Per sandwich: 320 calories, 15 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 660 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 11 g protein
“Hot Pockets are convenient, but [they] typically contain processed meats, refined grains, high levels of sodium, and unhealthy fats,” says Sabat.
Even though these items are often enjoyed as a midday snack, they are loaded with saturated fat and 660 milligrams of sodium, which is almost 30% of your recommended sodium limit for an entire day.
Per 15 chips (28 g): 150 calories, 9 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (1 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 2 g protein
If you’re a fan of the Barbecue flavor of Lay’s potato chips, be warned that although this snack is delicious, it won’t do anything for your health goals. For a small serving size of only 15 chips, it still packs in 150 calories, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, and 150 milligrams of sodium. With a tiny amount of fiber and protein, it definitely won’t leave you feeling satisfied, meaning you’ll either eat far beyond the portion size or grab an additional snack anyway.
Per 2 cookies: 180 calories, 9 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 100 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (1 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 2 g protein
Whether it’s crackers or sweet treats, the Keebler elves are known for delivering delicious snacks. However, these elves won’t help you in terms of nutrition, especially with the E.L. Fudge Elfwiches. At first glance, the nutrition facts may not seem all that terrible, but the serving size only includes two small cookies, and how can that possibly be a satisfying snack? Most people will end up eating a few serving sizes of this snack, which will cause them to rack up their added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium content.
Per 1 serving: 180 calories, 14 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 330 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (3 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 2 g protein
Popcorn is an obvious choice for movie night snacks, especially the microwavable kind that can be ready in seconds. However, some options are worse than others when it comes to nutritional value (or lack thereof), and Orville Redenbacher’s Pour Over Movie Theater Butter is one of the worst. Popcorn has the potential to be a healthy snack, but this particular item comes packed with 330 milligrams of sodium and 4.5 grams of saturated fat, leaving you no wiggle room to overindulge.
Per 1 bar: 150 calories, 6 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 180 mg sodium, 43 g carbs (5 g fiber, 17 g sugar), 10 g protein
The tricky thing about Clif Bars is that they’re advertised as protein bars you can eat as a snack, but since they’re loaded up with sugar, they’re really only helpful if you’re going to have an intense workout. But if you’re just looking for a protein-heavy snack for your midday work break, you’ll want to choose something much lower in sugar and sodium.
Per 7 pieces (28 g): 90 calories, 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 0 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (0 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 1 g protein
Those in the mood for a sweet snack they can pop in their mouth may be tempted by Starburst Gummies, but with a teeny tiny serving size of only 7 pieces, you’re still loading your body up with 18 grams of sugar and only a single gram of protein, meaning you’ll be hungrier and have even more cravings than when before you started.
Per 1 bar: 130 calories, 3.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 140 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (1 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 2 g protein
Nutrigrain bars can be a bit of a disappointment because they’re often marketed as a tasty granola bars you can enjoy as a snack. But with 12 grams of sugar, along with only one gram of fiber and two grams of protein, nothing about this bar will leave you feeling satiated, not to mention the epic novel-length ingredient list, which includes preservatives, corn syrup, and other additives.
Per 1 cookie: 330 calories, 20 g fat (9 g saturated fat), 125 mg sodium, 34 g carbs (1 g fiber, 22 g sugar), 4 g protein
We had to throw one Little Debbie snack on this list, although most of their items could certainly be placed under the label of unhealthy snacks. The Nutty Buddy’s come with a whopping 9 grams of saturated fat and 22 grams of sugar, and even though these bars are filed under “snack bars” on the Little Debbie website, these nutrition facts scream nothing but a glorified dessert on the go.