Traditionally, Japanese people are some of the healthiest in the world. What with all the fresh, raw fish and simple rice dishes, I thought I’d be losing weight in Japan. But what with all the delicious fried foods, funky flavours of chocolate and cheap canned cocktails, the opposite seems to be happening. With that in mind, I’ve started swapping my calorific snacks for something a bit healthier, and so have been exploring the world of Japanese healthy snack bars. Here is an introduction to some of the most popular snacks you can get in most pharmacies, supermarkets and convenience stores.
Most foreigners will be drawn to this snack by its mildly amusing name and suspiciously nondescript design of its packaging. Named ‘Calorie Mate’ because its five types of nutrients make it a ‘good friend’ to people hoping for a healthy diet, the blocks are marketed as a sort of shortbread. Also available in canned and jelly form, the Calorie Mate comes in the following flavours: plain, maple, cheese, chocolate and fruit. Each block has 100 calories (with 2 and 4 block boxes) making it easy for calorie counters to keep track of what they’ve eaten. The general consensus is that these are not really that nice, or even that good for you (legend has it that if you put a block on some kitchen towel, you can sit back and watch it soak up the oil…) but they’re good for a quick snack if you need something to keep you going until your next meal. Oh, and if you manage to see a packet without reading the label in an Australian accent, good for you.
Made by the same company as Calorie Mate, SoyJoy bars are gluten-free and a good source of fibre. They come in a variety of flavours: peanut, almond and chocolate, fruity tomato, blueberry, strawberry, apple, raisin and almond, hawthorn, cacao orange, banana with extra calcium, orange with extra folic acid, and prune with extra iron. Each bar has between 125 and 145 calories, and do genuinely seem to be quite good for you. The trouble is that they are not particularly nice. They are quite dry and chewy, and have a tendency to give you indigestion, so not an ideal snack.
Just a hint… if you want to find out more about these treats, Google Searching ‘Happy Dates’ will not yield the kind of results you were hoping for… but none the less, these are some of my favourite Japanese healthy snacks. As the name suggests, one of the key ingredients is a healthy dose of dates. Additional flavours include chocolate, figs, almond and granola. At 100 calories or less per bar, these snacks are ideal for a calorie-counting snacker in japan. They’re also vegan!
Meiji is a big brand name in confectionery, and the Perfect Plus bars are one of their healthier options. At about 170 calories per bar, these snacks are more substantial than other options on the shelf, but the also have the added bonus of filling your snack-gap for more than five seconds. This is an actual snack rather than a mini-snack pretending to be a snack worthy of your eating. Flavours include cheesecake, chocolate cake, apple pie and mocha roll cake. From time to time you might see limited editions of the perfect plus bar, such as honey toast.
Like the Perfect Plus bars, the Asahi BalanceUp biscuit sandwiches are a more substantial snacking choice. Each packet contains two portions of biscuits, each portion having two biscuit sandwiches. One portion is around 170 calories. Unlike a lot of other snack options, these actually have a good chance of filling you up and taste fairly healthy. Flavours include blueberry, chocolate, cream cheese, strawberry cheese tart, maple nuts, soybean, granola and acai, and my personal favourite; granola and lemon. They are high in dietary fibre and go well with a cup of tea (or, if you want to undo all the good from healthy snacking, a Starbucks Latte.) They’re also good on the price frontier – as the packet contains two snack portions instead of one, and they are more often than not offered as a 2-in-1 bargain if you buy from drug store chains.
This is the kind of snack you want to indulge in when you don’t really want a snack at all. As in, you’re not hungry, not even slightly, but are snacking more because you feel you should… or something like that. Tasty though they are, there is literally nothing to them. A celestial puff of sweet-flavoured dust, one bite and they’re gone. On the plus side, the meagre scattering of calories means that they aren’t too bad for you but, really, it would probably be easier to eat nothing at all. Flavours include blueberry, chocolate, chocolate and banana, milk, fudge and ‘cup of tea’.
The dieting world is a strange old thing. There’s me working my way through all the different varieties of Japanese snack bars when, actually, I know what I should really do is just go and buy a banana or something. But what can I say? I like snacks, and while many of the health bars on the market have roughly the same number of calories as your standard chocolate bar, at least I can kid myself that I’m trying. I’ve come to the conclusion that teeny, tiny snack options must actually just be for children because, seriously, what adult could classify a mere morsel of biscuit crumbs as a snack?