How Do you Create a Healthier Savory Snack?

Back when the ideal dietary pattern was 'three squares a day,' snacks were treats, not the regular part of the diet they are today.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

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Today, when you add up all the meals and snacks and tally it with the fact that many of us simply have the munchies, few people go without eating for more than a couple of hours. Easy and convenient access to an abundance of tasty food has led Americans to consume more than 500 extra calories per day than they did about 40 years ago -- before the onset of the obesity epidemic.

This well-documented fact makes the attempt to blame everything on snacks, especially carbohydrate-based snacks, a weak argument. It could however indicate that what we are eating isn't very satisfying — giving us "less bang for our calorie buck."

Building healthier snacks may be a way to rein in some of those calories and provide a little more energy to move — and that would be a good thing. Moreover, the concept of eating small and frequent meals, after a dip in popularity, is getting a fresh look from nutrition experts lately. It seems the strategy to keep blood sugar stable by eating six times a day, using planned snacks, is not without merit.

The key is healthier snacks that still have the satisfaction factor. And processors have been catching on, employing systems and ingredients to replace calories (from fat or carbs), add satiety, lower sodium and boost protein, minerals and healthy fats and ramp up flavor. All this could be signaling a new attitude when it comes to snacking.

Beanitos ChipsBeans are big
"We're definitely getting the 'Oz bump'," says Dave Foreman, CEO and founder of Beanitos (www.beanitos.com), Austin, Texas, in reference to Dr. Oz's promotion of Beanitos as a between-meal alternative to higher-calorie snacks. Warning that many nutrition bars can be loaded with calories, Dr. Oz recommended trying the high-fiber Beanitos as a source of between-meal protein.

Per the name, Beanitos' protein comes from beans, a source suddenly in vogue across a number of savory snack categories. And while not a complete protein, the beans in Beanitos are paired with enough other grains and seeds to give one serving of the chips 4g of complete protein.

It's no easy trick converting beans into a chip. Beans lack the sticky texture that makes it easy to work with. "We were determined to stay away from corn," says Foreman, who has done no small amount of experimentation with bean dough. "We used to boil the beans with salt in the water but realized that it was more effective to add just a little salt at the end for a taste 'explosion,' but from less sodium."

Other inclusions in the dough are flax seeds, which provide a source of omega-3 fatty acids. And there are plans to add varieties that use flour from trendy "ancient grains," such as quinoa and teff. These ingredients help such snacks tap into another huge market, that of gluten-free food choices.

A combination of black bean flour, navy bean flour and long grain rice makes up a recent entry into the bean chip boom by Beanfields LLC (www.beanfieldssnacks.com), Madera, Calif. The company, noting the movement toward allergen-avoidance, promotes its products as being "free of every one of the FDA's eight most common ingredients that trigger food allergies." It also derives a savory hit from spices and vegetable powders, including tomato powder.

The use of legume flours becomes a triple-trend tapper when it expands into the similarly fast-growing ethnic category. The fresh take on the basic baked chip is reminiscent of an older ethnic savory snack, roasted chick peas that are still available at specialty stores. Lentils, rich in iron, minerals and fiber, have typically been used as the basis for soups and stews. Lentil chips remind one of baked lentil flour chapattis, which are popular items at many Indian restaurants.

Bay State Milling (www.bsm.com), Quincy, Mass., recognized this trend and put more efforts into providing ethnic-directed and organic grain products to processors, as well as the technical and product development services to help processors employ the new ingredients.

Dakota Prairie Organic Flour Co. (www.dakota-prairie.com), Harvey, N.D., which specialized in mainstream as well as ancient/heritage grains (such as spelt, kamut, amaranth, quinoa, millet, teff, flax, buckwheat and sorghum) expanded its production to include legume-based flours from peas, lentils, beans and chick peas, as well as soybean, nut and tuber starches and flours and flours from tapioca and coconut.

With ethnic dishes taking on more popularity as consumers look to expand their choices, adding an ethnic twist to healthy and gluten-free allows chip makers to achieve rapid market penetration. Houston-based Simply7 Chips (www.simply7snacks.com) makes salty, crunchy chips from staples such as lentils and chick peas, once common predominantly to the cultures of the Middle Eastern and Subcontinent. For example, hummus, a dip based on puréed chick peas, once available only in small specialty stores, is now a common dip in virtually every supermarket, with multiple brands and varieties filling the shelves.

A traditional savory snack when used as a dip or spread for vegetables or pita bread, hummus goes well with chips, too. But at Simply7, they've converted the dip into the chip in the form of innovative all-natural hummus and lentil chips that break the mold of old traditions. Traditional hummus includes tahini (ground sesame seed) as part of the formula. Sesame provides a source of essential fatty acids and also calcium and B vitamins.

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