Every year I attend the Natural Products Expo East (there is a West coast version as well) in Baltimore and every year I share the highlights with my clients and readers of my blog. For those who don’t know, the Natural Products Expo is the largest gathering of manufacturers and distributors (more than 25,000) of health and nutrition products in the world. I really look forward to this every year because it is the best place to get a hands-on look at the latest and greatest in the industry. As I say every year, among the thousands of products presented, there are maybe a handful that pique my interest. Most are retreads and natural product wannabes. So I spend the weekend combing through a lot of junk to find a few gems.
What I look for are the products that are not only made with ingredients and materials that enhance rather than hinder good health, but that are innovative and fill a need in the busy, health-conscious lifestyle of my typical client or reader. Each year there are prominent themes or trends. Here are a few of this year’s trends that are noteworthy.
Gluten-free products – There was a virtual explosion of gluten-free products this year. Food manufacturers have definitely and finally gotten the message that gluten intolerance is a significant enough issue that can no longer be ignored. I know there is considerable controversy around this topic and I am of the belief that up to 70% of us have some degree of gluten sensitivity. And since roughly 70% of the packaged food products contain some form of gluten, there is a tremendous need for alternatives.
The problem here is that many of these companies think that as long as their product is gluten-free the consumers will assume it is good for them and buy it based solely on that labeling. After examining many of these product labels, I can tell you “gluten-free” does not equal “healthy.” Calling something gluten-free and loading it up with sugar and/or artificial ingredients is a bit disingenuous. Shocker, I know.
Another trend is GMO-free products. This is actually a bit more encouraging because the awareness of the negative impact of GMO foods (foods containing or grown using genetically modified organisms) on our health is relatively recent. This suggests the food manufacturers are becoming a bit more proactive as opposed to reactive. I have been suspicious of GMOs for years now and have avoided them and encouraged my clients and readers to avoid them. For those who don’t know, up to 90% of the world’s corn and soy have been genetically modified. So things like corn chips and tortillas and soy sauces and tofu are typically GMO products, unless they have a “non-GMO” label. Most European countries and even some South American countries have banned GMO crops.
Speaking of soy, it has its own set of problems aside from the GMO issue. Unfermented soy contains anti-nutrients, which cause your body to leach essential nutrients. It also contains phytoestrogens which mimic human estrogen and promotes hormone imbalances in people who consume soy. Soy can be a healthy food if fermented (as in miso or tempeh) and consumed in limited quantities. So another trend is the continuing expansion of the soy-free market.
And speaking of fermented foods, another emerging trend is fermented or cultured beverages like kombucha and kefir. Kombucha is a sweetened tea that has been fermented by a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Kefir is made using essentially the same thing using milk as a base instead of tea. The benefits associated with consuming cultured beverages like these range from detoxification and joint health to aiding in digestion and immune boosting. Judging by the number of vendors now making their own versions of fermented beverages, it is fair to say this trend has caught on in a big way. I think this is a good thing.
And finally, coconut water is everywhere! I lost count of how many companies have their own version of coconut water, each having a tagline about how theirs is better than the others. Having read about and used coconut water for years now, I am convinced the raw versions are superior, both in taste and in nutrient content. The reason to drink coconut water is for the naturally occurring minerals and enzymes. However, most coconut waters are processed or refined so that they have a longer shelf life. This kills the enzymes and significantly depletes the minerals. There are now several raw coconut waters available and they cost considerably more than the processed versions. If a coconut water is raw it will say so on the label.
So here are the products that made an impression on me and that I found to be unique and potentially healthy at the same time. I present them in no particular order.
- 1. SinuOrega – As the cooler weather approaches and the air gets dryer, sinus congestion becomes a significant issue for many of us (me included). The sinus tissue becomes dried out making it easier for bacteria to take hold. And for those of us who have narrow sinus passages, that bacteria can migrate into the upper sinus cavity where it can quickly turn into a full-blown infection. What follows is chronic congestion, post-nasal drip, and fatigue. While the neti pot can be effective for irrigating the sinuses, it does not work so well on people with narrow sinuses because instead of the saline flowing in one nostril and out the other it tends to get trapped halfway through and thereby exacerbating the problem.
- SinuOrega is a nasal spray containing emulsified oils of wild oregano, bay leaf, sage, and clove in a pure spring water and sea salt base. While this may sound like the makings for a good minestrone, in this particular form these herbs have potent antibacterial and antifungal qualities. I also use oil of oregano to treat yeast overgrowth (candidiasis). I will warn you there is some temporary burning and stinging upon initial use with this stuff, but man is it ever effective! It is available on amazon here.
- 2. Oatmega Bar – Finding a healthy snack bar in such a saturated market is challenging to say the least. Most bars that purport to be “healthy” are loaded with too much sugar, inferior milk protein, or GMO soy. For frequent readers of my blog, you know I am a big promoter of bars because they can be a healthy option for people on-the-go to combat hunger and keep blood sugar balanced, as long as they don’t contain the items just mentioned.
- The Oatmega Bar is easily the healthiest, most complete snack bar I’ve seen since the Cocochia Bar. It is made with grass-fed whey protein, gluten-free oats, almond butter, sunflower oil, prebiotics, and green tea. It contains 14 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, omega-3’s, and only 8 grams of sugar (lo han sweetened). Despite all those healthy qualities, it tastes great! My daughter said so! Speaking of kids, this same company makes protein-based cookies called Perfect Fit Protein Cookie. Kids love them and they are a relatively healthy option disguised as a cookie. You can find the Oatmega Bar by the box here.
- 3. Epic Bar – Speaking of snack bars, this is perhaps the most unique bar concept I have seen yet. The Epic Bar is the first commercially available meat-based snack bar (excluding jerky of course). There are three varieties: beef, bison, and turkey. It is a paleo-friendly, gluten-free, low glycemic, soy-free, dairy-free and nitrate-free product. While it is definitely not for vegetarians, the animals from which these bars are made are grass-fed and antibiotic and growth hormone-free. Consequently, these bars are loaded with omega-3’s, muscle-building conjugated linoleic acid, and antioxidant-rich vitamins A, D & E.
- When I was an avid backpacker, often spending 1-2 weeks hiking and camping in the woods, I would usually bring with me some homemade pemmican, which I made by slow-cooking lean meat mixed with the fat from the meat and dried cranberries or blueberries. Much like jerky, it packed and traveled well and provided an efficient source of energy on long, strenuous hikes. Pemmican was a creation of the Native American Indians. The Epic Bar is essentially a modern-day version of pemmican. And let me tell you it is darned tasty! The Bison version is infused with bacon (that’s right, I said bacon!!) and cranberry. The Beef version is combined with habanero and cherry. And the Turkey version is made with almond and cranberry.
- The Epic Bar is not yet available in stores or on Amazon because it is literally months new. But you can purchase it directly from their website here.
- 4. Geodeo Natural Deodorant + – There are plenty of natural deodorants on the market, but very few of them actually work. I know—I have tried several of them over the years. I am not a particularly stinky guy, but hey, I am particularly active, and when you can smell yourself you know damn well others can smell you! Many people have the inclination to use anti-perspirant, but that is one of the worst things you can do. Sweating is how the body cools itself and releases toxins. And the chemicals used to prevent or slow down the rate of sweating are typically more toxic than the sweat itself. But that doesn’t mean you can’t deordorize.
- Body odor comes from a combination of one’s unique biochemistry and skin surface bacteria. And while it’s important to not be stinky, most of us would rather not be poisoning ourselves in the process. Some of the harmful ingredients that are typically found in deodorants are aluminum, sulfates, parabens, petrochemicals, and dyes. Needless to say, Geodeo deodorants are 97% natural and do not contain any of these. They use things like volcanic materials, bamboo extract, algae extract, aloe vera, and coconut oil to combat odor. They have a variety of scents to choose from for men and women. You can find Geodeo deodorants on Amazon here.
- 5. Black Bear 500X Energy Drink – I am not much for energy drinks because they are typically full of caffeine or other chemical stimulants. So when I saw this one I was ready to read the label and tear it apart. I was pleasantly surprised and more than a little impressed. It is an all-natural carbonated beverage that uses B12 as it’s active ingredient for energy. It also contains some other B vitamins, ginseng, bitter orange, blueberry extract, and oolong tea extract. The preservatives are all-natural (such as rosemary extract) and it is sweetened with xylitol (the healthy sugar alcohol). The only flavor is strawberry-lemon for now, but I am sure more are on the way. Black Bear Energy Drinks are not yet available in stores or on Amazon, but you can order them here.