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Natural Products Expo West 2011 Part Two

March 23, 2011 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

In case you haven’t already noticed, the slogan for this website is “Your Natural Health Critic”. And while I tend to focus on the more positive developments in the field of integrative and natural medicine, at times it’s necessary to point out some troubling trends as well. This year’s Natural Products Expo West was an excellent opportunity to flex my critical thinking in precisely this arena. In a recent press release, Adam Anderson, a spokesman for the Anaheim-based trade show, commented that “While the economy recovers, the natural and organic industry continues to grow. 2010 metrics including attendance and hundreds of new product introductions at Expo West are proof positive of the strategic value surrounding in-person business events”. The introduction of new products to the marketplace is an opportunity to show how innovative the natural health community can be. However, more often than not, the products in question fall short of my expectations.

For starters, I want to make my position perfectly clear to everyone who reads this column, whether a natural health consumer or manufacturer: I take issue with any product that I think misrepresents itself or poorly represents the natural health community. Foods and supplements that fall into this category not only have the potential to harm those who use them, but also cast a negative light on an industry that requires reliable merchandise in order to establish and/or maintain a good reputation.

Last week, I highlighted five products from the 2011 Expo West that I believe reflect well on the holistic manufacturing community. Today I’ll examine the flip side of the coin.

  1. Advance 3 Labs’ The Smurfs Multi-Vitamin Drink - I hate to judge any product by it’s name, but the fact that this liquid multivitamin/mineral is targeted at children and named after blue cartoon characters is the least of its problems. The product literature boasts that it’s free of binders and fillers and contains omega-3 fatty acids. But what’s much more important to me is that is also contains potassium benzoate, propylene glycol, sucralose and the artificial color, Blue #1. Another question is just how much omega-3 fats are present in each serving. Get ready for this: a scant 3 mg!
  2. Popchips Inc.’s Popchips - The claim behind this new potato chip alternative is that it’s healthier than other potato-based snacks because it isn’t baked at high temperatures or fried in pools of hydrogenated oil. Rather, it’s popped using a unique process that employs low heat and pressure. What’s more, one of the hottest actors in Hollywood and on Twitter, Ashton Kutcher, represents the company. Sounds like a recipe for success, right? Well, not for your blood sugar, cardiovascular system or waistline. Potatoes are among the highest glycemic vegetables in the modern food supply. Snacks that feature them and simultaneously minimize fat are perfectly formulated to send blood sugar levels skyrocketing.
  3. Udi’s Gluten Free Foods – This is a company that aims to produce great tasting alternatives to baked goods that more typically feature glutenous grains such as barley, rye and wheat. The product line, consisting of bagels, bread, granola and muffins, even includes some darlings of the natural product community such as chia and flax seeds. The trouble I have with this company is that they seem to care more about marketing and taste than the health effects of their products. Take their “Whole Grain Bread Loaf”, for instance. You might expect to see at least a few whole food ingredients in it. Not so. Here are the top-ten ingredients listed: filtered water, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, sunflower oil, egg whites, evaporated cane juice, tapioca maltodextrin, teff flour and tapioca syrup or brown rice syrup. This collection of ingredients exemplifies the phrase: “empty calories”.
  4. XO Baking Co.’s Baking Mixes - I’m a big fan of using organic coconut in baking. When I first saw that this product line claimed to feature coconut flour in their gluten-free bake mixes, I was thrilled. However, my enthusiasm waned as soon as I had the opportunity to actually read the nutritional content label. These products do, in fact, contain coconut flour, but in small quantities. Most of the mixes use larger quantities of high-glycemic ingredients including brown rice flour and potato starch. Brown sugar and evaporated cane juice also abound in the dessert bake mixes. The end result is products that have little of the dietary benefits associated with pure coconut flour.
  5. Domino Foods Inc.’s Organic Agave Nectar - This is the latest example of how misguided the natural health industry can be on occasion. Agave nectar or syrup is not a healthy sweetener. It contains a large percentage of fructose – on average between 55% and 90% – more than is contained in the much vilified high fructose corn syrup! Domino Foods, Inc. debuted these new agave syrups under the banner of several brands: C&H, Domino Sugar and Florida Crystals. They’re all gluten-free,¬†vegan-friendly,¬†feature a handy-dandy “no drip cap”, and detrimental to the health of anyone who uses them regularly. (1)

Concentrated Fructose Sources Raise the Risk of Diabetes, Fatty Liver and Obesity

Source: Physiol Rev. 2010 Jan;90(1):23-46. (a)

I was hoping to find less agave-sweetened products at this year’s Expo West. In my opinion, the popularity of agave is a stain on this industry. The few studies that have been published about this alternative sweetener give pause to say the least. A trial appearing in the December 2009 issue of the journal Physiology & Behavior warned that agave syrup raises triglycerides in rats fed this sweetener. The authors of the study, which compared the effects of various sweeteners to agave, concluded that “even moderate consumption of fructose-containing liquids may lead to the onset of unfavorable changes in the plasma lipid profile”. And if you’re under the impression that this effect is exclusive to animals alone, think again. The association between fructose intake and increased metabolic risk factors is well established in the medical literature. (2,3)

The thing that bothers me most about agave and the products I’ve listed above is that I can’t think of a plausible way that the makers can believe that these are healthy products. There is simply nothing redeeming about agave nectar/syrup. According to a recent evaluation, agave isn’t even a good source of antioxidants. In fact, in terms of its antioxidant potential, it was found comparable to corn syrup and refined sugar. Does that sound like a health food to you? While at the same time, other natural, non-caloric products such as stevia are clearly superior in terms of providing peripheral side-benefits such as antioxidant activity along with sweetness. So the question becomes this: Are these manufacturers unaware of this research or simply cashing in despite it? I can’t answer that question. But I can tell you that we’re all capable of reshaping the natural product industry based on which products we choose to buy. If we support companies that strive to benefit consumers, the industry and themselves we’ll likely end up with a greater selection of truly health promoting options. (4,5,6,7)

Be well!

JP

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2 Comments & Updates to “Natural Products Expo West 2011 Part Two”

  1. Elemental Healthcare Says:

    The natural products expo was INSANE! I was definitely surprised with how many gluten-free options there were. There is definitely a move towards gluten-free eating, whether it’s because of celiac disease, or for some other reason. It’s also a great way to keep weight off.

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing your impression of the show. Gluten-free is definitely a trend of the moment. I suspect it’ll continue onward for some time to come … with good reason, IMO. It’s just a question of how it’s applied.

    Be well!

    JP

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