The healthy food movement has officially taken off. No longer are the words organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, and non-GMO confined to the aisles of Whole Foods. You can now find thoughtfully produced food, with quality ingredients you recognize, in just about any grocery store and even some convenience stores. The downside is that this ever-growing number of healthy options can be a little overwhelming.
It seems there’s a vegan, naturally-sweetened, Paleo-approved sucker born every minute.
Or a new kombucha, kale chip, or gluten-free whatever.
What’s the difference? Which one is better?
I headed to Natural Products Expo West to find out…
Natural Products Expo West is a trade show for the natural, organic, and healthy products industry. And with over 3,000 vendors, it’s, quite possibly, one of the largest free sample conventions in the world. Picture CostCo on a Sunday, TIMES A JILLION.
I was like Homer Simpson in Fair Trade, organic Candy Land.
The first two floors of the show were home to the classics: Annie’s, Clif, KIND, and newer favorites: Epic, Noosa, suja, etc. On the third floor were the up-and-comers. Brands you may not have heard of, but you will. This is where I decided to spend my time, stuffing my face for hours on end in the name of research, and the SmartyPants readers.
After more samples of raw vegan chocolate, cold brew coffee, and Paleo granola, than I care to remember, I narrowed down the 19 coolest, best, most interesting and different new products and trends to look out for in 2016.
Oatmega: Gluten-free oat bars, plus protein and omega 3s.
What we like: When I saw “omega 3,” on the label, I assumed that the omegas would be in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from flax seed oil, but, to my surprise, these bars include EPA and DHA from fish oil – just like SmartyPants! Woot woot! They also pack 14 grams of protein from grass-fed whey, 7 grams of fiber from chia seeds, and 5 grams of sugar from organic sweeteners. They’re non-GMO, gluten-free, AND they donate bars to local food banks to feed neighbors in need. Oh, and they taste really good too! What is there NOT to love about these bars?
Green Sheep Water: Purified water in resealable aluminum bottles.
What we like: According to Green Sheep, aluminum is recycled 2x more than plastic. It’s also infinitely recyclable, meaning it can be recycled over and over again without losing quality or volume. What about boxed water? According to the Green Sheep founders, paper boxes are actually harder to recycle than aluminum, and, unlike canned water – which has been done in the past – these come with a resealable cap, so you don’t have to chug it all down at once. Both the Green Sheep water and packaging are sourced in the USA, requiring less fuel and producing less emissions. The company also helps fund clean water programs. Applause! Applause!
UVO: Drinkable sunscreen… Seriously.
What we like: This beverage (which tastes really, really good BTW), was developed by dermatologist Bobby Awadalla, M.D.. According to Dr. Awadalla, certain vitamins and minerals (you can read about them here) help protect your skin from the inside out. If you read our article Can Food Prevent Sun Damage? you know we’re believers. The theory that food can help shield our skin is also backed by the American Academy of Dermatology. The company doesn’t promote their product as a substitute for sunscreen, but, rather, as a compliment that’s especially helpful for people like surfers and swimmers, who’s sunscreen will gradually wash off, children, or anyone else who isn’t inclined to constantly be reapplying while they’re outdoors.
Oh Yes! Pizzas: Gluten-free, dairy-free frozen pizza. That tastes good.
What we like: I probably don’t need to say any more, but, in addition to the aforementioned awesomeness, this pizza isn’t made with a bunch of wacko, indecipherable ingredients that often pop up in dairy-free and gluten-free substitutes. The crust is made with rice flour, potato starch, quinoa flour, cauliflower powder, butternut squash powder, artichoke powder, carrot powder, green bell pepper powder… I won’t list out all the ingredients, but you get the idea. A whole 7.5” pizza packs 15 grams of protein and 21 grams of fat into 490 calories. When it comes to fake pizza, this is pretty much as good as it gets.
Älsa: An energy drink mix with white tea and yerba maté extracts, time-released caffeine, vitamins C, B6 and B12, electrolytes, and antioxidants.
What we like: I, for one, don’t do well with traditional coffee – it makes me feel anxious and manic in the short-term, and foggy-headed, fatigued, and cranky a few hours later. But, from time to time, I still need a little boost, so I’m always looking for a better energy alternative. I love that Älsa has electrolytes to help counterbalance the dehydrating effects of caffeine, and vitamin C to help nourish the adrenal glands, which can be taxed by stimulants. According to the Älsa website, PURENERGY, Älsa’s patent-protected caffeine ingredient, delivers six hours of steady energy from the amount of caffeine (100 mg) in one average cup of coffee – with no crash. Citicoline, a natural substance that’s important for brain health, will help provide mental energy and enhanced focus, Does it live up to the claims? I’m drinking one right now and feelin’ groovy. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.
Blue Northern Artisan Butter Coffees: Cold Brew coffee, plus grass-fed butter, collagen, and MCT oil.
What we like: this isn’t your grandma’s Bulletproof® coffee – unlike the stuff you make at home, this doesn’t separate, and you can drink it hot or cold. It also includes 10 grams of protein from collagen, and MCT oil, which some research shows may help boost metabolism. In fact, one of the founders lost 30 pounds just by replacing her breakfast with this brew! The delicious hint of sweetness in the chai and mocha flavors comes from maple syrup, which contains beneficial trace minerals, cinnamon, which helps stabilize blood sugar, and Fair Trade cacao, which contains antioxidants. At 320 calories, with all your macros, this is a full meal that will keep you energized and satisfied for hours.
True Toniqs: Ayurvedic herbal beverages “Zen,” “Immuno,” “Fit,” and “Brain.”
What we like: According to True Toniqs, “How You Feel, Is All That Matters.” Hopefully they’re being sarcastic, but, either way, I thought this slogan was pretty funny. Each beverage uses unique combinations of Ayurvedic herbs, including Rohodiola, Bacopa, Centella Asiatica, and Irvingia Gabonensis, to achieve an intended effect (as alluded to by the name). Their ingredients are organic, and they contain no artificial sweeteners. Do they work? I only tried “Brain,” but, by that point, I was already buzzing on at least three shots of cold brew, and half a cup of Starbucks, so it was hard to tell. Stay tuned.
PickPocket Dips: Hummus you can take on the go.
What we like: Unlike almost all other kinds of hummus, these don’t need to be refrigerated. One pack delivers vegan, gluten-free protein, fat, and carbs that you can put in school lunches, take on car trips, or keep around the office because, who doesn’t love hummus?
LuvMe PB&Js: Pre-made, frozen PB&Js with organic ingredients.
What we like: These are the solution for busy parents and PB&J lovers alike. They’re already made, just take them out of the freezer, wait 30 minutes, and enjoy. Since they’re supposed to thaw at room temperature, they’re perfect for lunch boxes or after-school sports bags.
Divino: “Handcrafted gelato filled fruit.”
What we like: Imagine a fruit, hollowed out, and filled with Rita’s Italian ice, but 1,000x’s better (no offense, Rita’s). These frozen desserts are non-GMO and made with real fruit – you can even eat the skin. They look like art and taste even better. Definitely the most interesting, unique dessert at the show. They’re probably not a freezer staple, but a must-try if you’re looking to knock your guests’ socks off at a dinner party.
In addition to these standout products, several food categories shined. Here’s a rundown of the biggest trends and my picks for the best of the bunch.
Winner: Chapul cricket protein
Whey was the protein du jour, but not everyone can get down with cow. Many people cannot tolerate whey, while others avoid animal products for other reasons including sustainability. Cricket protein offers a non-dairy protein source that packs all nine essential amino acids, 15% more iron than spinach, two times the protein of beef, and as much B12 as salmon, all while being completely sustainable! According to the founders, crickets only need 8% of the feed and water as cows to make the same amount of protein, and produce only 1% of the greenhouse gasses. (Check out the sustainability facts here.) While there are other cricket protein brands, I loved Chapul’s commitment to saying eco-friendly through and through – the very decorations in their both were made from old, empty product boxes! This brand isn’t just talking the talk. And don’t worry, the bars don’t taste like bugs. In fact, they’re pretty delicious.
COCONUT WATER ALTERNATIVES
Winner: WTR MLN WTR
Pronounced “watermelon water,” this cold-pressed watermelon juice contains as much potassium as coconut water, more magnesium – a key mineral that’s hard to get through diet – and lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps support cardiovascular health (we love it so much, we put it in our SmartyPants Men’s Complete). But where this beverage really shines is taste. Coconut water can be pretty polarizing. Either you’re into it, or, you’re like my mother, who, upon first sip, spewed it out of her mouth exclaiming, “WHAT THE [explicative deleted]?!” But I can’t imagine a man, woman, or child who wouldn’t like WTR MLN WTR. It’s just the right amount of sweet and incredibly refreshing. The only bad thing about this beverage is when it’s all gone.
Winner: Foxy’s Thoughtful Ice Cream
This ice cream is made of hormone-free milk, contains 20% less sugar than regular ice cream, and every flavor is gluten-free, even cookie dough! But what really caught my attention was that each serving contains at least 1 billion probiotics. #Cheatday just officially became #day.
Winner: Ginger’s Healthy Habits
In addition to protein and healthy fat-packed nuts, Ginger’s also adds in a full serving of RAW vegetables. If you’re imagining a bag of soggy zucchini, think again. The vegetables are air crisped at a low temperature, so not only do you get a great crunch without frying or baking, you also preserve many of the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. And their pizza flavor really tastes like pizza!
Winner: Alpen Dough
You can usually find cookie dough that’s gluten-free or vegan, but not both, and if it is both, it tastes like Silly Putty. Alpen Dough achieves these feats while tasting exactly like Toll House (if not better!) Hands-down, these were the best cookies I sampled all day, and maybe some of the best in my life. But what really impressed me was that Alpen Dough – unlike almost all other cookie doughs – is made with coconut oil, which is far more stable than vegetable oils, and much healthier to use when cooking and baking.
Winner: Buff Bake
These nut butters come in mouthwatering flavors such as Birthday Cake, Red Velvet, Pumpkin Spice, and Snickerdoodle, deliver 11 grams of protein from whey, 5 grams of fiber from flax and chia seeds, and are sweetened with coconut palm sugar. Get. Me. A. Spoon.
ALL-NATURAL CLEANING PRODUCTS
Winner: Aunt Fannie’s
When you think healthy snack you don’t usually think of cleaning products, but I’ve got to give it up for Aunt Fannie’s, they’ve created an all-natural, non-toxic, 100% guaranteed solution to rid you of pesky, disgusting fruit flies forever! As a fruit-lover and Southern California resident, fruit flies are a plague upon my life. I cannot express my joy when I stumbled across this product, and for only $7.99! Their other products are vinegar-based and also made of 100% natural ingredients. So while technically not a food, you can actually ingest them…which I did. Please DO NOT try this at home. It was extremely unpleasant, but possible nonetheless. There are some things that just should not be sampled.
Winner: Velu Wheat Grass
Juices are all the rage, especially here in LA, but what many people don’t realize is that once a plant is harvested, its nutritional content begins to degrade. To get the most nutritional benefits from a juice, it really should be cold-pressed and consumed on the spot. Many juices are bottled in clear bottles, and often left to sit in hot warehouses or on store shelves, exposed to light and heat. By the time the juice hits your lips, there’s no telling the nutrient content (if any). Velu wheat grass juice is packaged in opaque plastic bottles, and made from wheat grass powder, which extends the nutrients’ shelf life to up to 18 months. Wheat grass is also one of the most nutrient-dense greens, containing more than 90 minerals, enzymes, and amino acids. If you’re going to go the juicing route, and you can’t get fresh-pressed, Velu is your best bet.
Winner: Lawless Jerky
Jerkys were, far and away, the most popular food item at Expo. There were, at least, ten 100% grass-fed brands hawking their dehydrated nibble strips, but I pick Lawless as my favorite. The company was started by Matt Tolnick, a Duke University grad who gave up a “miserable,” career as a litigator to sleep in his sister’s living room and dehydrate meats – hence the name “lawless.” Although we share the same alma mater, I swear I’m not playing favorites! Lawless has excellent jerky and story to match.
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What are your favorite healthy brands? We’d love to hear in the comments below!
Posted on March 17, 2016