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Snacks with benefits

Food makers are trying to cram more nutritional benefits into grab-and-go foods to make them more appealing to consumers. Here are three snacks that aim to ward off diabetes, cut cholesterol and give you a nice, shiny coat. Plus, taste-tester Dave McGinn on whether you'll actually want to eat them

Chocolate Crunch Bar (Step One Foods)
Step One already sold a popular chocolate crunch bar, but the Minnesota-based company wanted to tweak the recipe to focus on prairie foods. It swapped rice crisps for pinto bean–flour crisps to keep the crunch, and replaced an antioxidant extract of maritime pine bark with powdered saskatoon berries. But the bar didn't just have to taste good—it was intended to help reduce cholesterol levels, thanks to fibre and plant sterols that would block absorption of the compound in the intestinal tract. It also has omega-3 fatty acids that reduce triglyceride levels in the blood. Almost two years ago, Step One sent its recipe for testing at the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals in Winnipeg, which confirmed it reduces cholesterol. The results were verified at the Mayo Clinic, giving Step One the right to market the bar as a cholesterol fighter in both Canada and the U.S. /Susan Peters

HOW DOES IT TASTE?
"It's certainly crunchy, thanks to its cardboard-in-the-desert-level dryness. But chocolately? Not so much. Not at all, in fact." /Dave McGinn


Snax Cheesies (Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network)
Four years ago, the not-for-profit Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network (MAHRN) decided it wanted to develop a "functional food" using local crops that helped people with pre-diabetes better manage their blood glucose levels. After settling on cheese puffs as the perfect no-cook product, the organization developed a version made with flour from lentils, peas and chickpeas to boost protein and fibre. Snax were tested at local stores, where dill pickle was deemed too weird, sriracha too hot, and chili-lime just right.

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The next step: testing at Winnipeg's Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine. "We are essentially doing food intervention studies to the same standards as pharmaceutical studies to evaluate a new medication," says Dr. Carla Taylor, who believes the soluble fibre will lead to steadier blood glucose levels for those with pre-diabetes and help slow the progression to full-blown diabetes. The MAHRN is finalizing distribution with a U.S. company and continues to work on the next generation of Snax, which could include carrot powder to help manage diabetes-related eye problems. /S.P.

HOW DOES IT TASTE?
"These are unrecognizable as cheesies, and their earthy aftertaste is certainly not the hint of chili-lime advertised."/D.M.


MicroBiome bar (ProBiotein)
Horse owners had long raved about stronger hooves and shinier coats after adding ProBiotein to their horses' diet. They begged North Dakota–based creator Bob Thornberg to develop a human version of the fibre—a mix of fermented organic whole wheat, oats, flax and barley malt. Two years ago, Thornberg looked north, to the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, for help transforming the fibre powder into an easy-to-eat prebiotic bar. It swapped out a few ingredients to help the bars stick together and to boost nutrients like fibre and minimize calories, sugar and fat.

The Microbiome bar is currently doing the trade-show circuit and sold to U.S. customers via the company's Food First website, where it is touted as a health food that promotes digestion and stronger immune systems (though it can't make medical claims). Thornberg, who once managed an ethanol plant that produced fermented corn as a by-product, is producing fermented grains for his bars and making alcohol as a by-product. /S.P.

HOW DOES IT TASTE?
"You'll be chewing and chewing this mega-dense snack that tastes distantly of peanuts, honey and cranberries."/D.M.

Globe staff give ‘snacks with benefits’ a taste test

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