Every year I attend the Natural Products Expo East (there is a West coast version as well) in Baltimore and share the highlights with my readers. 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. This is an opportunity for new companies to introduce their products to the industry and for relatively new companies to expand beyond their local marketplace. 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. I normally spend two full days walking the isles and talking to vendors, but because of schedule conflicts last weekend I only had one day. So although this year’s review is lighter than usual, I like to think I saw what I needed to see.
As usual, there were many retreads and many products that have no business being at a “natural products” convention. There are plenty of glorified candy bars passing themselves off as healthy energy bars, like the Quest Bar and the latest Clif Bar. What I look for are the products that are not only made with ingredients and materials that enhance rather than hinder good health, but 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 are still trending and the market is expanding. Food manufacturers are realizing that consumers are demanding more gluten-free options and there can never be too many options for people who are aware that they have a sensitivity. And in my experience as a nutritional consultant, most of us have some level of gluten intolerance. The problem is most of us don’t realize it until we really take the time to pay attention. However, as I said after last year’s show, “gluten-free” doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. You still have to read your labels and look for things like sugar, artificial sweeteners, and perhaps more importantly, GMOs (foods containing or grown using genetically modified organisms).
Another trend this year is jerky. I have always liked the idea of jerky (dried, slated meats) as a good snack option. One or two strips of jerky can make for an excellent protein-rich snack with a little sugar to balance things out. The challenge is finding a jerky that doesn’t also contain nitrates, corn syrup, MSG or a variety of other potentially harmful preservatives. There were several “gourmet” style jerkys with everything from chili and lime to rosemary and cranberry. There was free-range-grass-fed jerky, turkey jerky, ostrich jerky, salmon jerky, elk jerky, and even goat jerky. I must say there wasn’t one that jumped out at me, although I did try a lot of jerky that day.
And finally, as much as I thought the bottled water market was already thoroughly saturated (get it? ), there are plenty of water companies still trying to distinguish themselves, whether it’s with their unique source of water, what they do to their water, or how they package it. Alkaline water is certainly a growing market. I had to laugh at one company that was selling “vertical water.” When I asked what this meant, the rep handing out samples told me they get their water by tapping trees to collect the water that runs up and down the inside of the tree….you know…vertically. She added there are only a few kinds of trees from which we can collect this water. I asked: “Isn’t that called sap?”, to which she replied: “No, silly! It’s what maple syrup is before it is processed into syrup.” I said: “Yes, I believe that’s called sap.” She insisted: “No, it’s actually clear water and then they heat it up until all that’s left is the sugar and other nutrients that we know as syrup.” I also wanted to ask how they would be able to sustain their supply without dehydrating and killing all the trees? But then I realized one of us was out of our league here and this was one of those cases where I felt like I knew less now than before I asked. Good luck with that vertical water. And to think all this time I’ve been drinking horizontal water thinking it was good for me.
So without further ado, here are the products that made an impression on me and that I found to be unique and fairly healthy at the same time. I present them in no particular order:
1. Warrior Mix – This is a gluten-dairy-free, paleo-friendly snack comprised primarily of whole foods and is surprisingly tasty. It is from a small family-owned bakery called the BeeFree Bakery out of Indiana who’s mission is to make gluten-dairy-free snacks that contain no artificial ingredients and also taste good. As many of us know, that’s tough to pull off. The company’s owner is a mother of four, the eldest of which has autism and the inspiration for making gluten-dairy-free product line. The company makes cookies as well, but I was drawn to the Warrior Mix because I thought it is an excellent alternative for people like me and my clients who are on the go and need a nutritious, low-sugar, low-carb snack that also tastes good. The mix is essentially made up of almonds, honey, coconut oil, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cocoa powder, sea salt, and natural flavors. There are four varieties: Original, Berry, Chocolate, and Spicy Chocolate. The products are available in some stores or you may purchase them on Amazon here.
2. Sneaky Chef No-Nut Butter – Missy Chase Lapine is good at hiding vegetables in kids’ food. She is a best-selling author and creator of this tasty chocolate spread made of non-GMO peas, cocoa and palm oil. Now there is some sugar in it, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off to get kids to eat vegetables sometimes. I’ve tried many products with similar aspirations, but they typically don’t cut because they either have an aftertaste from some artificial ingredients or they just plain taste like vegetables. This one passed my daughter’s taste test, so it sold me. Chocolate is the newest flavor for this product and I don’t believe it’s available in stores quite yet so keep an eye out.
3. Choffy -This is essentially brewed chocolate made with 100% premium cocoa beans roasted and ground to create a rich tasting drink that is good source of antioxidants and promotes energy. As a bona fide chocoholic myself, I am always looking for healthy ways to eat and drink the the stuff. One of the reasons chocolate gets a bad wrap, besides the sugar it’s often combined with, is the fact that it contains caffeine. While cocoa does naturally contain some caffeine, it’s not nearly as much as people think. A 2-ounce, 70 percent dark chocolate bar contains about half the caffeine found in an 8-ounce cup of coffee. The energy or lift that some people feel after consuming cocoa is largely from theobromine. Theobromine is from the Greek theobroma meaning “food of the gods.” It provides a gentler and longer lasting form of energy and does not have a negative effect on the nervous system like caffeine. Choffy can be prepared in a coffee maker or in a French press. Either way, it is darn tasty. I like it with a little unsweetened almond milk. Choffy comes in five varieties and can be found in some grocery stores or on Amazon here.
4. RAD Roller – There has been a recent influx of self-relief massage tools. There are different types of balls and rollers and rods and canes. There are even several versions of electrical stimulation devices to both relax the muscles and block nerve pain. I found the RAD Roller to be noteworthy because it is something I wished existed for a while now and it definitely fills a niche. This is two hard rubber balls that are attached so that you can roll-out the muscles along either side of your spine simultaneously. You can really use it on any fleshy area of the body where you wish you had a second pair of hands to ease the tension. I use it on my neck at the base of my skull and on my feet. And it is small enough to fit in a travel bag. And perhaps best of all, it comes in three different textures: soft, original, and stiff. You can purchase the RAD Roller on Amazon here.