In America—where many associate snack food with chips, crackers, cookies and sweets—the term can sound like an oxymoron.
But as people have grown increasingly health-conscious in recent years, the healthy snack industry has exploded. It's currently outpacing the entire food and beverage market in sales growth, and the industry is estimated to be worth $32.8 billion by 2025.
But being marketed as healthy and actually being nutritious are two different things entirely. For example, everyone assumed acai bowls were healthy until we found out most of them were stuffed with sugar. That's why I was intrigued when I recently came across Biena Snacks. Using a main ingredient of roasted chickpeas and promising "ingredients that you can pronounce" along with no artificial ingredients or flavors, they certainly had the look of a healthy snack. The chickpea part is what really drew me in, as I know chickpeas are both high in fiber and high in protein—two qualities I consider essential in a healthy snack.
I reached out to Biena and they were kind enough to send over a sample of 10 of their most popular varieties. I've got to say—they are absolutely delicious. They've got that satisfying crunch people love in their snack, and the flavors are robust and satisfying. This alone separates Biena Snacks from many other health-focused foods I've sampled over the years, which all too often have a strange texture and a flavor that can be generously described as "off." It's hard for me to pick a favorite of the flavors I sampled, because all of them were extremely tasty. The flavors ran from salty (such as the standard Sea Salt variety) to more savory (Sour Cream and Onion, Habanero) to surprisingly sweet (Cinnamon Crunch, Salted Caramel). All were satisfying in their own way. Pictured are all the different flavors I sampled:
As strange as it might sound, the excellent taste of Biena Snacks only made me more skeptical of their nutrition. What can I say—I'm used to junk food tasting really good and health food tasting bland. Let's take a deep dive into the nutrition facts for Biena Snacks to see if they really live up to the hype.
There is indeed a significant amount of fiber and protein in each serving of Biena Snacks, with most varieties containing 6 grams of fiber and 5 or 6 grams of protein. However, the dessert-centric varieties (Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate and Salted Caramel) only have 4 grams of fiber and protein per serving. If sugar is the thing many Americans eat too much of, fiber could be the main thing they eat too little of.
According to the National Institutes of Health, teens and adults should eat between 20 and 38 grams of fiber each day, and men need more fiber than women. But the average American eats only 10 to 15 grams of fiber daily. Fiber helps break down foods for easier digestion, maintains good bowel health, lowers cholesterol levels and helps you feel fuller longer. High-fiber diets have been linked to positive outcomes such as a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease. In the short term, snacking on a food high in fiber keeps you fuller for longer and helps you avoid crashing. In the long term, it reduces your risk of many major diseases and supports good bowel health. Protein is a critical nutrient for humans and athletes, in particular. High-quality protein provides the amino acids muscles need to repair and rebuild, allowing you to recover from exercise and get stronger over time. The body can also use protein as a source of energy.
In terms of calories, you're looking at between 120-140 calories per serving. While the dessert-centric varieties contain 3 servings per package (with each serving being one-ounce, or about 35 chickpeas), the other varieties contain 5 servings per package (with each serving being 1/4 cup). Too much sodium is a serious issue in the standard American diet, and high-sodium foods have been linked to overeating. A serving of Biena Snacks is going to come in between 100 and 260mg of sodium per serving. For comparison, a serving of Nacho Cheese Doritos contains 360mg of sodium.
The amount of sodium in Biena Snacks seems to be inversely related to the amount of added sugar. For example, the Habanero flavor contains 260mg of sodium, yet no sugar. The Dark Chocolate variety, on the other hand, contains just 100mg of sodium yet 5 grams of added sugar. Diets high in added sugar have been linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. The FDA states that "scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar."
Ten percent of your daily calories from added sugar sounds like a lot, but it's frighteningly easy to surpass that total. One gram of sugar contains 4 calories. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar (virtually all of which are added sugar). That's 156 calories of added sugar—nearly 8 percent of your total daily calories if you're on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. The average American consumes a staggering 88 grams of added sugar per day (the AHA recommends a limit of 24 grams per day for women and 36 grams per day for men), so finding a snack that contains little to no added sugar is a great idea. While many of the Biena Snack flavors have no or very little added sugar, the dessert-centric varieties do contain a bit more. However, 5 grams of added sugar still is quite low compared to many snacks with a similar sweetness.
Chickpeas also contain a solid amount of iron, so you'll find 8% of the RDV (recommended daily value) in most servings of Biena Snacks. Iron is an important mineral that carries oxygen throughout the body so cells can produce energy. When your iron levels are low, you'll likely experience fatigue and loss of strength and explosiveness, making it a very important mineral for athletes.
Overall, I find the nutrition facts for Biena Snacks to be quite solid. The significant amounts of protein and fiber will help you get closer to your daily goal for these important nutrients, while simultaneously helping to prevent the type of mindless overeating that leads to weight gain. Since many Americans already eat too much added sugar, I'd recommend treating the dessert-centric varieties like a dessert. They also contain significant amounts of saturated fat (between 13-15% of the RDV each serving), while the other varieties contain little to none. The plainer varieties contain less junk but retain that valuable fiber and protein content, and they're plenty delicious, also. Do they contain a significant amount of sodium? Sure, but not so much that a serving will sabotage your day.
There's an old saying about dieting that adherence is the most important factor to success. If you don't stick with the diet, you won't see sustainable results. That's kinda how I feel about Biena Snacks. Are there technically healthier options available? Sure—but many people don't like munching on plain carrots or raw almonds day after day. Biena Snacks taste so good that I can envision almost anyone enjoying them as a snack, and their nutritional value is a big upgrade over the standard snack food fare. Stick to the serving size and these can certainly be a convenient snack that fit into a healthy overall lifestyle.
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