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Senior Health & Wellness | March 19, 2018 | By Denee Coleman

Smart Snacking: Not All Snacks Are Created Equally

Healthy eating is important no matter what age you are but choosing healthy snacks with high nutritional value and which also sustain your appetite can be challenging. Not all snacks are created equally and choosing food items which are nutrient-dense instead of calorie-dense is the key to snacking smart. While nutrient-dense foods are high in nutritional value and are relatively low in calories, calorie-dense foods provide many calories for only a small amount of food which can lead consuming more than the recommended serving size of these not-so-healthy foods to feel satisfied.

Nutrient Dense Examples of nutrient-dense foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk products, seafood, lean meats, eggs, peas, beans and nuts. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats and give you the most bang for your nutritional buck.

Calorie-dense foods, on the other hand, include high-calorie foods with little or no nutritional value like potato chips, sugary drinks, candy, baked treats and alcoholic beverages. Because some of these foods provide little more than energy and almost no nutrients, they are often referred to as having “empty calories.” Not surprisingly, many of our favorite snacks fall into the calorie-dense category and consuming these food items in moderation plays an important role in maintaining ones overall health.

To give you an idea of how some common snacks stack up against each other, check out this interesting comparison published by the National Institute on Aging.

Comparing 100 Calorie Snacks

One way to think about the idea of nutrient-dense and calorie-dense foods is to look at a variety of foods that all provide the same calories. Let’s say that you wanted to have a snack that contained about 100 calories. You might choose one of these:


  • 7- or 8-inch banana
  • two ounces baked chicken breast with no skin
  • three cups low-fat popcorn
  • two regular chocolate-sandwich cookies
  • half cup low-fat ice cream
  • one scrambled large egg cooked with fat
  • 20 peanuts
  • half of the average-size candy bar

Which would make a better snack for you? Although these examples all have about 100 calories, there are some big differences:


  • banana, chicken, peanuts, or egg are more nutrient dense
  • popcorn or chicken are likely to help you feel more satisfied
  • chicken, peanuts, or egg have more protein
  • cookies, candy, and ice cream have more added sugars

Check out this USDA/NIA tip sheet: Choosing Healthy Meals As You Get Older: 10 Healthy Eating Tips for People Age 65+.

At Carlton Senior Living, we’re passionate about food and take the unique nutritional needs of our senior residents into consideration when planning meals. While others rely on ready-made frozen and canned foods from institutional food suppliers, our chefs take great pride in preparing our residents’ meals from scratch. We’re committed to using the freshest, healthiest ingredients – many of them sourced directly from local farms and vendors – in a flavorful, ever-changing menu that features both seasonal options and all-time favorites. This farm-to-table approach, along with our constant focus on providing nutritious meals prepared in a variety of styles, keeps residents coming back for our healthy dining experiences. Read more about the fresh, healthy and delicious meals offered in our Carlton Senior Living communities.