SWEETENERS, BEVERAGES, AND SEEDS

 SWEETENERS, BEVERAGES, AND SEEDS
These Products Mark the Latest Natural Foods Trends
This year’s Natural Products Expo West, the largest health food trade show in the world, attracted a record number ofattendees and exhibitors. In March, more than 63,000 industry members flocked to the exhibits of more than 2,400 companies at the Anaheim Convention Center in California. New product launches, including natural and organic foods, stirred the
energy of this health-inspired community. Trends included the usual suspects—organic, non-GMO, allergen free—but this year’s leaders were natural sweeteners, more healthful beverages, and chia and hemp seeds.
 SWEETENERS, BEVERAGES, AND SEEDS



In addition to new products
, there were panels and discussion forums, such as the Specialty Diets Forum for nutrition professionals to help clients navigate the many specialty diets, including vegan, gluten free, and allergen free, that can pose shopping and dining challenges.
Discussion topics included consuming simpler and less processed foods, a choice dietitians continue to support and encourage with clients. And in an effort to spread the message of such positive changes, RDs believe that every healthful product they can put into clients’ hands or direct them to in the supermarkets can bring clients one step closer to achieving their health and nutrition goals. Fortunately, dietitians said this year’s trends offer great-tasting options that make natural food choices satisfying and nutritious.
Kicking off the event was a panel discussion on natural food trends accompanied by a breakfast prepared by LYFE Kitchen, a restaurant and retail product line of ready-to-eat healthful meals. Unsurprisingly, several of the dishes served—spinach ricotta with mushroom and egg on a flaxseed crust with a touch of honey, and oat bran and ricotta pancakes with cinnamon, apples, and a maple glaze—featured both natural sweeteners
and seeds, which were popular products on the exhibit floor.

Natural Sweeteners
Thanks to sugar’s poor reputation, a new wave of natural sweeteners has surfaced. Cane sugar and organic cane sugar, more natural alternatives to overly processed white
sugar, were commonplace on natural foods’ ingredient lists.
While that’s nothing new, this year’s sweetener heavyweights were ones with additional nutritional value. Honey, maple syrup and, to a lesser degree, agave nectar were the sugar alternatives of choice.
The most popular sweetener was honey in its many varieties. Madhava Natural Sweeteners offers raw and organic honey. GloryBee Honey flavors its honey with essential oils and natural food extracts, with several varieties from Raw Pacific Northwest Blackberry to Naturally Flavored Lemon.
And because honey can be an allergen, Bee Free Honee offers an all-natural, plant-based honey made from apples.
Natural plant-based maple syrup could be found in its whole form from companies such as Shady Maple Farms and Coombs Family Farms, but this distinctly flavored sweetener was a frequent ingredient in other items such as International Harvest’s
Gluten-Free Sunny Maple Seed Granola and Maple Brittle, and Lucy’s gluten- and allergen-free Maple Crunch Cookies.
Since counting calories remains an important trend, natural and calorie-free stevia has become a popular product. Sweetleaf, the leading stevia sweetener, was on site as well as NOW Foods Better Stevia and Cid Botanicals Alcohol-Free Liquid Stevia Sweetener.
Additionally, there was a fair showing of products sweetened with stevia, from chocolates and spreadable fruits to beverages. Lily’s Sweets’ Fair Trade Stevia Sweetened Dark Chocolate and Coco Polo Stevia Sweetened 70% Cocoa Dark
Chocolate grabbed attendees’ attention as well as Cornaby’s Ten Calorie Spreadable Fruit; Blue Buddha Beverages’ natural, ready-to-drink teas with functional herbs; and Active Health Foods’ All Natural Sparkling Flavored Beverages in Blackberry,
Kiwi Strawberry, and other natural fruit flavors.

Beverages
One of the largest categories at this year’s expo, natural beverages included an impressive range of healthful alternatives to typical American favorites such as soda, iced tea, and sports drinks. Sparkling and carbonated waters bubbled
with new sophistication, while still embracing well-loved traditions, in products such as Limonitz Mint Sparkling Lemonade made with organic lemon juice and sweetened with organic cane sugar. Bruce Cost Ginger Ale follows suit, using fresh, real ginger and pure cane sugar. Varieties include Pomegranate With Hibiscus and Passion Fruit With Turmeric.
Natural bottled teas took center stage over familiar, basic blends. Honest Tea showcased its trademark unsweetened and low-sugar organic products sweetened with organic cane sugar in varieties such as Mango Açaí White and Green Dragon. Steaz Teas gave its teas a different twist by combining tea with sparkling water in its zero-calorie Sparkling Green Teas sweetened with stevia in flavors that include Blueberry Pomegranate and Blood Orange.
Coconut water, sometimes called coconut juice, has gained popularity as a sports drink alternative electrolyte replacement because of its high potassium and magnesium content. Though some companies, such as Amy & Brian and Tongo, have marketed the sports drink angle, many coconut water brands, including Coco Fresco, Harvest Bay, and Waikoko Coconut Water, have emphasized it as an unprocessed, naturally
sweet, fat-free hydrating refreshment.

Seeds
Seeds such as chia, hemp, and flax have carved a pronounced niche in the natural products category. A hefty dose of omega-3s, protein, and dietary fiber give this trio its nutritional punch. Products such as Hemp Hearts from Manitoba Harvest are raw,
shelled hemp seeds people can enjoy straight out of the bag or sprinkled on salads, yogurt, or cereal. Hodgson Mill shared samples of a similar product called Travel Flax, individual packages of milled flaxseed that contain 1,300 mg of omega-3s. Power
of 3 Seed Blends combine raw hemp, chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds into five varieties, including Maple Cinnamon, intended for breakfast cereals or baked goods, and Sea Salt + Garlic, suited for more savory dishes such as vegetables and sides.
As an ingredient, chia, hemp, and flax appeared in several products, from crackers and cookies to cereals and beverages.
Flax is a star ingredient in Mary’s Gone Crackers’ Organic Gluten-Free Super Seed, which also contains sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. San Franola Granola has added flax to all its varieties, and Two Moms in the Raw added flax to other raw ingredients such as kombu and cacao for its granola, nut bars, and crackers.
Purely Elizabeth, a company that combines ancient grains and what it calls “superfood seeds” to its gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free products incorporates both chia and hemp in its Ancient Grain Granola cereals, granola, and baking mixes.
Nut butters, such as NuttZo, have gone beyond the peanut in its Seven Nut & Seed Butter, which contains chia and flaxseeds along with cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
The standout among seeds in terms of product variety was the chia seed. Companies such as Xiomega and The Chia Co featured a full range of chia seed products, including white chia, black chia, chia oil, and ground chia.
Bare Nutrition showcased an array of innovative offerings, including Chia/Via chia and fruit smoothies. Mamma Chia featured Vitality Beverages, lightly sweetened blends of chia seeds and organic fruits such as blackberry, hibiscus, and guava as well as Chia Squeeze, which combines chia seeds, fruits, and vegetables in individual squeeze packs with no added sugar for a quick, portable snack.
There also was the Chia Pod, a grab-and-go puddinglike snack packaged in a single-serving cup with a mini spoon. It’s made with chilled coconut milk, fruit, and chia seeds that The Chia Co sent home with attendees—a sweet and nutritious boost for breakfast, lunch, or a power snack.

Evolution Continues
Natural food trends will continue to evolve to meet the needs of ever-changing consumer demands for more healthful products. Dietitians can make clients aware of these foods and increase their understanding of the vital role food plays in promoting health and wellness. Because the natural sweeteners, healthful beverages, and omega-3–rich seeds are all nutritious and flavorful, clients likely will purchase them time and again.

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— Lori Zanteson is a food, nutrition, and health writer based in southern California.

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