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Healthy (and fun) Japanese snacks – Yoshiko Roth-Hidalgo

Almond Fish SnackI’ve always been a snacker (Japan is THE snack paradise on earth!), but with pregnancy, healthy snacking has developed into a passion for me.  When you’re in it for 9 months, day in day out, it’s not just about how much nutrition a snack packs, but how fun, tasty, and yet easy it is.  The good old healthy stand-byes of fruits, nuts and wholegrain crackers are always great, but here are some very cool (Japanese) alternatives that combine the healthful side of Japanese cuisine with fun and convenience:

1) Fried Hajiki Mame, a.k.a. Fava Beans or Broad Beans: Fried and packed for snacking, Hajiki Mame are super hearty and with a satisfying crunch.  Packed with protein, iron and fiber, they are also a good source of Vitamin A and potassium.  In addition, they are rich in L-dopa, a precursor of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the brain for activities including memory and energy – crucial when you’re going through pregnancy-induced energy highs and lows.

2)      Almond plus dried fish, conveniently packaged into tiny little servings.  Three little packs make up one full serving that has only 130 calories but packs 18% of your calcium need, 6 grams of sugar and a whopping 13g of protein.  Even better:  Get the ones without added salt (water retention is a problem during pregnancy, so avoiding too much sodium is key!)

3) My absolute favorite:  “Pucchi Pori Natto”! If you’re familiar with Japanese food, you’ve probably heard of Natto, the fermented stinky soy beans served over hot rice that produce sticky strings and that most non-Japanese are a bit afraid of.  It’s an acquired taste, but it is ultra-ultra healthy (and actually very tasty).  Natto contains nattokinase, an enzyme which has been shown to promote healthy blood flow and helps prevent heart disease, amongst other wonders.  Because of its smell and texture, it’s not really suitable as a quick snack on–the-go, so there is dried Natto, which combines the pungent taste but has a reduced smelliness factor and none of the messiness.  In “Pucchi Pori Natto”, dried Natto is combined with dried fish and almonds and comes either in soy sauce flavor or ume flavor.  A healthy snack doesn’t get better than this!  A whole 19 g package contains only 110 calories, yet packs 6 grams of protein and only 5 grams of sugar.

Look for these snacks at your Japanese or Asian grocery store!

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