A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Baltimore and attend Natural Products Expo East, a huge event featuring natural products from all over the US and Canada, as well as some more far-flung lands. Brands come from far and wide to showcase their wares for retailers, brokers and media. Some are huge, well-known brands and some are tiny startups, but they are all trying to gain a little more exposure and name recognition. I was there with Swerve Sweetener, simply to chat with people about how it works and why it’s my favorite sugar alternative. I truly didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the convention center, but it was an amazing few days of tasting and trying and talking. I also got a chance to meet my friends from Kelapo Coconut face to face, and I even got my photo taken with THE Bob from Bob’s Red Mill.
Now, just because a product is “all-natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you and I saw plenty of foods I wouldn’t dream of eating, no matter how natural their ingredients. I also saw a few brands that called their products “low carb” when they weren’t even close (some shiritaki noodles with added tapioca starch that weight in at 22 g of carbs per serving!). But Expo East allowed me to discover some great new products and brands, and I thought you would appreciate my review of the best of them.
The New Primal Grassfed Beef Jerky – How many times have you grabbed a packet of beef jerky thinking it will be the perfect low carb snack, only to turn it over and be horrified at the carb and sugar count? This has happened to me countless times, even with jerkies that claim to be a healthy option. So what a delight to discover a jerky that is both low in sugar and made from grassfed beef. Now, it does have a little pineapple juice and honey as sweeteners, but at 2 g of carbs per 1 oz serving, it’s a huge improvement on the typical store-bought brands. Plus no MSG or nitrates – you’re getting real beef flavour with a little spice and sweetness.
Wild Planet Tuna – This is not a new-to-me product, as I’ve been purchasing their tuna for quite some time now. But I was happy to see their booth and chat with them about the sustainable approach to seafood, which I whole-heartedly support. My kids love tuna and we usually make a meal out of it at least once a week. And I love knowing that our tuna addiction is just that much less impactful on the environment. At Expo East, I got a chance to try the sardines and the anchovies as well and to my surprise, I loved them. I’m also a fan of the single-serve tuna pouches – an ideal low carb on-the-go snack!
Wildbrine Fermented Salsa – This is a product I probably would have passed right by, if not for someone else saying that I just HAD to try it. And so I tried it and really loved it. I don’t know what it is about the fermentation process that gives such great flavour, but it takes salsa to the next level, without the addition of sugar or other preservatives. I particularly loved the Salsa Verde, but really I liked them all. They also make sauerkraut and kimchi in a variety of flavours, so there is something for everyone.
Nutiva Buttery Vegan Spread – I am so far from being vegan, it’s not even funny and I eat real butter by the pound. But I loved this product and would definitely recommend for vegans or those with dairy intolerance looking for a tasty butter replacement that is organic, non-GMO and sustainable. It’s quite a shocking bright yellow, which comes from the addition of red palm oil. I don’t know how it bakes or cooks, as I only got to try a little at the expo but I thought it was delicious.
Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts – I’ve heard plenty about hemp hearts lately but this was my first chance to try them. I thought they were really quite good just on their own and I look forward to trying them in baking and cooking. At 3 g of carbs and 3 g of fiber per 3 tablespoon serving, they are certainly a low carb ingredient worthy of consideration. They also gave me some small samples of their hemp protein powder. It’s not enough to test out for baking, but I did put some into my kids’ smoothies without incident (trust me, this is a good thing!).
Two Moms In The Raw Sea Crackers – Good low carb crackers are hard to find. In fact, they are practically non-existent! I’ve seen quite a few Two Moms In The Raw products, but they tend to have a bit too many carbs for me. However, their Sea Crackers (made with kelp and flax seed) definitely fall within low carb range and they taste great. I’ve always liked seaweed snacks so I like that distinctive salty tang. And these have a little more crunch than some other raw flax crackers I’ve tried. The Tomato Basil was my favourite by far and I can see how well it would pair with a nice cheddar or a soft cheese like brie. Although I love making my own low carb crackers, I will be looking for these at my local Whole Foods to have on hand for quick snacks.
Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Morsels – Enjoy Life products aren’t exactly low carb but they are a very good option for people with multiple food allergies as they are free from all the top allergens (including soy, dairy and nuts). They have a new dark chocolate morsel with 69% cacao. It does contain sugar and I believe it comes in at 9 g of carbs and 2 g of fiber per 1 tablespoon serving. But used sparingly, it’s certainly a good alternative to many store bought chocolate chips. I like the mini chips as well because the small size means you can use less but still get good chocolate chip coverage. I sometimes use this trick for my kids!
Primal Pit Paste – Okay, so this is not a food item so low carb doesn’t really apply here. But when you care about the food that goes into your body, you start to care about the products that go ON your body as well. For years we’ve been hearing about how all the chemicals in most commercial deodorants are bad for us, seeping into our bloodstreams. I’ve worried about it for ages but I haven’t found a natural alternative that I liked very much. I tried a number of natural brands, free of aluminum and all the other potential carcinogens and I ended up switching back because I felt sticky and sweaty and a bit smelly. But the folks at the Primal Pit Paste booth assured me I would love their product and they were right! It’s worked wonderfully so far, even with a few hot, muggy days we’ve had at the end of September. I will go out of my way to purchase this product again.
Coco Polo Chocolate – Although I am a big fan of Lily’s, I am really glad to see another good sugar-free chocolate on the market that isn’t made with sucralose, maltitol or sorbitol. I really liked the Coco Polo chocolate samples I brought home with me…great flavour, creamy mouth feel, just what you want out of a good chocolate bar. They also have a great variety of fun flavours like Dark Chocolate Ginger. I am not sure exactly where they are sold yet, as it doesn’t mention it on the website, but you can order them online through Netrition, Vitacost and Amazon.com.
My only beef with this product is one that applies to many brands that say they are “Stevia Sweetened” when in reality the main sweetener is erythritol. The same criticism goes to Lily’s brand of chocolate. I get it, on the one hand. Erythritol sounds like a chemical, some man-made substance created in a lab, whereas stevia doesn’t sound nearly so scary. But erythritol is all natural and it’s an incredibly useful sweetener for those of us wishing to reduce our sugar intake. It goes without saying that I am a huge proponent of erythritol, so I get a little frustrated when companies want to downplay the fact that they use it. It’s never going to be widely accepted or normalized if we pretend it’s not actually the main sweetening component! Yes, okay, this is my own little hang up, but I want erythritol to be able to take its rightful place in the pantheon of healthy sugar alternatives. Step into the limelight, erythritol!
Maple Hill Creamery Grassfed Yogurt – 100% grassfed full-fat yogurt. YAY! I stopped by this booth and tried their plain yogurt, and I give it a big thumbs up. Creamy, tangy and rich, and the only ingredients are grassfed whole milk and live active cultures. No gums, no preservatives, this stuff is practically straight from the cow! Right now, they are only making European-style yogurt (and yogurt drinks) but are planning on coming out with a Greek yogurt soon. Even so, the plain Euro style is still low in carbs (8g per serving) and would be a healthy low carb, high fat snack. In my area, they appear to be available at a number of Whole Foods and even Shaw’s so I will be looking for them again.
Disclosure: I was not paid for my endorsement of any of these products. Swerve Sweetener did pay for my travel to Baltimore.