Healthy Snacks

Let’s be honest, we all love a snack, whether it’s trail-mixes, popcorn or crisps, through to chocolate, confectionery and snack-bars; but they rarely tick the ‘healthy-eating’ box. As a more mindful approach to nutrition emerges, self-care becomes an increasingly important factor, and healthy snacks need to deliver good nutrition as well as indulgence.

So, reformulation considerations…

The Flavour-Salt Conundrum

Many salt reduction targets were achieved by incremental reduction through reformulation and driven by public awareness campaigns. However, the average adult intake of salt is still between 9-12g, which is almost double The World health Organisation (WHO) target of 5g per day 1.  Snacking can contribute around 20% 2 of adult calorie intake, making it both a category of concern and also an opportunity for product developers. Replacement strategies must now focus on low- or no-sodium alternatives, or taste-modulation strategies to enhance savoury and umami characteristics.  

Sweetening the deal

Sugar presents another big challenge. The WHO recommends that the intake of free sugars should be below 5% of total energy intake, in adults and children3.  Across Europe and Africa intake levels vary, however, in most cases exceed 10%. 

The role sugar plays in diabetes, obesity and dental caries is well documented, and more needs to be done.  Reformulation can be achieved, partly, through the selection of the right sweeteners to provide the sensory appeal. Well established alternative sweetening ingredients, such as stevia, provide options for some products, alongside sugar alcohols (polyols) which allow the replacement of some of the ‘bulk’ aspect of sugar, while reducing calories by up to 50%.

Sugar also plays a key role in product texture and structure, so it is rarely possible to simply replace the sugar with a single ingredient, and structural components need to be employed. And don’t forget the clean-label criteria when choosing those functional replacements.

Holistic Reformulation

Certain ingredients can provide some really exciting double benefits.  For example, using soluble fibres such as Fructo-Oligosaccharides (FOS) not only helps sweetness, body and mouthfeel, but also increases the fibre content of the product. 

Using ingredients which possess key natural properties, such as water- and fat-binding, and mimic the texture and meltaway characteristics of fat, offer fat-replacement options in snack products.  Choosing ingredients derived from natural sources, such as potato and maize, also support the clean-label positioning.

There is also an opportunity to widen the appeal of the product by looking at the free-from possibilities, such as exchanging dairy components for vegan alternatives, or removing allergens by considering other protein sources such as oats, pulses and wheat.

Cereal- and snack-bars have become synonymous with positive health contributions, and are one of the fastest-growing segments in sports and healthy lifestyle nutrition. This presents an opportunity for food and drink development teams, as they focus on solutions that can provide indulgence and support consumers’ self-care needs, enhance nutrient density and, at the same time, offer products that are low in fat, salt and sugar. 

  1. World Health Organisation.  Salt Reduction – Key Facts. 29 April 2020.
  2. Myhre, J.B., Løken, E.B., Wandel, M. et al. The contribution of snacks to dietary intake and their association with eating location among Norwegian adults – results from a cross-sectional dietary survey. BMC Public Health 15, 369 (2015).
  3. World Health Organisation. Guideline: sugars intake for adults and children 4 March 2015.

Univar Solutions Food Ingredients are really driving the agenda in enabling the development of healthy snacks through its ‘Discovering Wellness‘ webinar series. On June 10th its ‘Discover wellness in Snacks’ will showcase some of the most functional and innovative ingredients and technologies that enable formulating for healthy snack products. Register now.