Are healthy snacks actually healthy? Clinical nutritionist in UAE reads between the labels

Promising a little goodness is big business for food brands. Here, The National calorie-crunches the munches advertised as such

Supermarkets in the UAE offer a range of 'healthy' snacks, but not all are good for waistlines. Antonie Robertson / The National
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The quest for healthy snacks is a never-ending one, with many of us on the lookout for tasty treats that don’t derail our diets.

From nut milk to protein bars, the aisles of most supermarkets in the UAE have sections dedicated to health foods, but just how nourishing are these so-called wholesome snacks?

The National asked clinical nutritionist, Dr Lina Shibib, of Medcare Hospitals and Medical Centres, to analyse 10 snacks, giving each a score out of five for their nutritional value.

Nakd Salted Caramel bar

Available in: Zoom, Spinneys, Carrefour, Waitrose

The nakd brand proudly flaunts its stripped-back ingredients, promising no added sugar or additives in its cold-pressed fruit and nut bars.

Dairy-free, gluten-free and wheat-free, the bars are a healthy snack for most people according to Dr Shibib, who advises eating them for a quick energy boost.

“Dates and raisins are natural sweeteners that provide fibre, vitamins and minerals, while cashews and peanuts are rich in protein, healthy fats and other essential nutrients,” she says.

“Sea salt adds flavour and can help replenish sodium lost through sweat during physical activity. Overall, this snack can be a nutritious and delicious option for those looking for a healthy snack on the go.”

Verdict: 5/5

Modern Bakery Protein Bread

Available in: Lulu Hypermarket, Carrefour, Zoom

A home-grown brand, Modern opened in 1975 as a small family-run bakery. Today, it has a workforce of more than 1,500 and churns out close to 2,500 varieties of baked goods, supplying stores across the region.

Regarding its low-carb protein bread, Dr Shibib says: “Some potential health benefits of consuming protein bread include increased protein intake, reduced hunger and better blood sugar control.

“However, there are also some potential side effects, including digestive issues for people with soy or whey protein intolerances, high sodium content and higher cost compared to traditional bread.

“This particular loaf can be beneficial for athletes, people trying to lose weight or people with diabetes who need to regulate their blood sugar levels, although it may not be suitable for people on a low-sodium diet or those with high blood pressure or other cardiovascular issues.”

Verdict: 4/5

Go Natural Probiotic HiProtein Veggie Chips

Available in: Waitrose, Spinneys

Vegetable crisps are nothing new, but few offer more protein than a chicken thigh. Go Natural’s Probiotic HiProtein Veggie Chips contain 17g of protein per bag (an average skinless thigh has 13.5g), as well as a billion probiotics and 13.5g of fibre.

A bag of the chilli and lime flavour received a thumbs up from Dr Shibib.

“Probiotics are probably the most desired ingredient in this snack as it is unusual and definitely makes this snack one of the healthiest of the lot,” she says.

“Protein is also an essential nutrient that most people need, but those with kidney disease or other health issues may need to monitor their intake.”

Verdict: 4/5

Jealous Sweets Love Bears

Available in: Spinneys, Waitrose

A bag of Jealous Sweets Love Bears promises a “shamelessly tasty” sugar-free binge. The gluten-free gummies are 100 per cent plant-based with no artificial colours or palm oil and are available in a range of tasty flavours.

“While some of the ingredients in this snack may have potential health benefits, such as pectin, coconut and rapeseed oil, others may cause digestive issues or increase the risk of heart disease if consumed in large amounts, such as saturated fat,” says Dr Shibib. “It's important to consume snacks like these in moderation as part of a balanced diet.”

Verdict: 4/5

BeKind Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt

Available in: Lulu Hypermarket, Carrefour, Spinneys, Zoom, Waitrose

Supermarkets in the UAE offer an impressive range of cereal bars, including the BeKind Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt, which has a mere 5g of sugar, which is a little more than a teaspoon.

Stuffed full of nuts and drizzled with dark chocolate, the fibre-packed bar certainly tastes delicious, and it also gets the stamp of approval from Dr Shibib.

“Almonds and peanuts are both nutrient-dense foods that are high in protein, healthy fats, fibre and other important vitamins and minerals,” she says. “They can provide a healthy source of energy and help to keep you feeling full and satisfied.

“Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and flavonoids that have been shown to provide health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure.

“However, be aware that the chocolate coating in this bar contains added sugar and fat in the form of cocoa butter.”

Verdict: 4/5

Whole Earth Crunchy Organic Peanut Butter

Available in: Zoom, Spinneys, Lulu Hypermarket, Carrefour, Waitrose

Whether piled high on hot toast, dolloped into creamy porridge or spooned straight from the jar, peanut butter is a universally cherished snack — but not all nut butters are created equal.

Many varieties are brimming with sugar and salt, which is where Whole Earth blows the competition away. With “absolutely no added sugar” and organically grown peanuts, this savoury snack ticks all the boxes for Dr Shibib.

“Peanut butter is a generally healthy and delicious addition to a balanced diet for most people,” she says. “It is a good source of plant-based protein, healthy fats and dietary fibre.

“It also contains vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, magnesium, and potassium, and is particularly beneficial for vegans or vegetarians who may struggle to meet their protein needs.

“Just be mindful of portion sizes if you’re trying to lose weight as the calorie content is on the higher side.”

Verdict: 4/5

Canderel Decadent Crispy & Almonds Chocolate Bar

Available in: Carrefour, Spinneys, Lulu Hypermarket, Zoom

If there was one snack that impressed Dr Shibib the most, it was a bar of Canderel chocolate.

“With only 125 calories per serving, this can be a satisfying and indulgent treat without overloading on calories,” she says. “The amount of sugar is also relatively low, which can help prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes.”

Despite her enthusiasm, the praise was delivered with a word of warning. “It's important to keep in mind that chocolate is still high in fat, even if some of it is the healthy unsaturated type,” she says. “As ever, it’s best to enjoy this snack in moderation.”

Verdict: 4/5

Carrefour Bio Galettes de riz Complet

Available in: Carrefour, Waitrose

The supermarket’s own brand of brown rice cakes comes with a chocolate and hazelnut filling.

According to Dr Shibib, the gluten-free snack may contain some nutritional value, but it’s not remarkable in any way. “While organic brown rice is a nutritious whole grain that can provide fibre, protein, and other important nutrients, the amount of cane sugar in the ingredient list suggests that this snack may be high in added sugars,” she says.

Verdict: 3/5

MadeGood Chocolate Banana Granola Minis

Available in: Spinneys, Waitrose

Canadian snacks brand MadeGood says it is committed to sustainability and giving back to the community. However, portion sizes should be taken into account with the Chocolate Banana Granola Minis.

Though the snack has no added sugars, is free from common allergens and contains a serving of vegetables, each 100g bag offered in UAE stores contains 388 calories, which says Dr Shibib is not ideal for "people who are trying to lose weight or manage their blood sugar levels. However, it does contain a moderate amount of protein and dietary fibre.”

Verdict: 3/5

Freakin' Healthy Superfood Bar

Available in: Waitrose, Spinneys, Carrefour

The Freakin’ Healthy Superfood Bar is dairy, wheat, GMO and gluten-free, yet its high sugar and fat content sets alarm bells ringing for Dr Shibib.

“While it does contain 10g of protein, which can be beneficial for building and repairing tissues, the amount of total fat and saturated fat is quite high, which can be detrimental to heart health if consumed in excess,” she says.

“Additionally, the sodium content is quite high, which can contribute to high blood pressure in some individuals. While it does contain some dietary fibre, the amount of sugar is also quite high, which can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes if consumed in excess.

“While matcha and green tea can have health benefits, it’s important to consider the overall nutrient profile of the snack.”

Verdict: 2/5

Updated: May 31, 2023, 12:32 PM