FNCE 2017 Recap: Favorite New Food Products

Three weeks ago 13K dietitians (including me) descended on Chicago for the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE). It was a crazy couple of days, packed to the brim with educational sessions, social events, and meetings. I came home completely wiped, but buzzing with inspiration and excitement about the future of food. 

 View from the Chicago Architectural Foundation River Cruise. I've done this twice now and it's a great way to learn about Chicago. 

View from the Chicago Architectural Foundation River Cruise. I've done this twice now and it's a great way to learn about Chicago. 

One of the best parts of FNCE is exploring the expo floor. Here you can load up a tote bag up with samples, and taste some of the newest healthy products on the market. This year I sampled everything from coconut jerky , to probiotic juices (more on probiotics here), veggie milk, and farmer’s cheese. Below are my favorite nutritious discoveries from the show:

#1: That's It Veggie Bars + Bites

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That’s It’s original line of fruit bars have been one of my go-to travel snacks since I discovered them at Starbucks several years ago. This year the company showcased two new products at FNCE: veggie bars and ‘Bites’.

I love the idea of a savory granola bar, and the That’s It Veggie Bars are one of the better that I’ve seen on the market. These black-bean based bars contain just 5 ingredients, and pack 4g of protein, and 4g of fiber into each 80-90 kcal serving. 

On the other end of the spectrum, That’s It’s new chocolate-covered 'bites' were one of my favorite healthy sweet treat options from the expo. These little bundles of dried fruit and dark chocolate goodness contain 5 real-food ingredients, 6g of fiber and 150 kcal per serving. I’ll be stashing a pouch of these in my bag next time I fly. Who doesn’t love a healthy chocolate treat?

 Silky smooth La Colombe draft latte, straight from the tap. 

Silky smooth La Colombe draft latte, straight from the tap. 

Born and raised in Sydney, I take my coffee seriously and La Colombe Draft does not disappoint. La Colombe infuses their low-fat milk and cold-pressed espresso mixture with nitrogen gas, which gives it a silky-smooth texture without adding fat. It’s seriously delicious; an excellent course of calcium and vitamin D; and free of added sugar. Read more about why coffee is good for you here

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Biena is another one of my non-perishable snacking favorites. Whether I am assembling a cheese board or packing for a trip, these crunchy chickpeas are usually featured. At FNCE I tried Biena’s new milk chocolate-covered chickpeas, and I could have devoured the entire sample bowl then and there. I love that they’re sweet, crunchy and made with real food! Thirty five chickpeas provides 140 kcal, 4g of fiber, 4g of protein, and a relatively modest 2.5g of saturated fat-- chocoholics rejoice!

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Perhaps one of the bigger changes that I noticed at the expo this year was the proliferation of FODMAP-friendly foods. FODMAPS stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, and a low FODMAP diet is often used to alleviate symptoms in people with IBS. Low FODMAPs is one of the more difficult dietary approaches to follow and can vary in length from weeks to lifelong depending on the results of the initial trial. I was encouraged to see new food products accommodating low FODMAPs, particularly grab-and-go bars which are often a landmine of FODMAP-rich ingredients. Happy Bars are made with real-food ingredients, contain ~200kcal, 3g of fiber and 8-10g of protein per serving, and an easy snacking option for someone trialing low-FODMAPs.

 Creamy and delicious Bolthouse Farms pea protein milk. 

Creamy and delicious Bolthouse Farms pea protein milk. 

I tried half a dozen or so non-dairy milk products on the expo floor, including peanut, veggie, and almond milk, but this one was my favorite. With 10g of protein, and 5g of fat per serving, Bolthouse Farms Pea Protein Milk is creamier and more filling than your average non-dairy milk product. It’s fortified with the usual array of vitamin and minerals including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, and phosphorous, and is a solid choice for those of you who struggle with dairy.

Are Lectins Bad For You?

Lectins have been whirring around health circles for a while now, particularly among paleo enthusiasts. They have been dubbed as inflammatory, toxic and a contributing factor to autoimmune disease, obesity and more. But is there any science behind these claims? I took a look.

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What Are Lectins?

Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins believed to help plants ward off harmful bacteria. Essentially, they help plants stay disease-free just like some of our immune defenses protect us. Our bodies cannot digest lectins and consuming large amounts of raw lectins can lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Cellular and animal studies indicate that lectins may trigger an immune response [1,2].

 

Where Are Lectins Found?

Lectins are found in food such as beans, wheat, soy, tomatoes, nuts, potatoes and bananas. However, the lectin content of these foods is largely destroyed with cooking, and reduced with sprouting and fermentation.

 

Research On Lectins

Few studies indicate that the lectins are strongly implicated in ill health in humans. Eating raw kidney beans has been linked with gastro symptoms, but when was the last time anyone did that? Personally, I prefer my beans cooked.

Yes, some cell and animal studies indicate that lectins may be inflammatory, activate the immune system and damage the gut mucosa but the evidence in humans in sparse [1,2]. Many things in our environment stimulate the immune system and it isn’t always bad. On the contrary, some lectins are being investigated as novel therapies for cancer, and viral illnesses [3,4].

 

Should You Avoid Lectins?

Unless you have a particularly bothersome reaction to grains, legumes, and other lectin-containing foods, there’s no need to go lectin-free. In fact, if you remove lectins from your diet you may miss out on important nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and potassium. Furthermore, studies suggest that consuming a wide range of whole grains, legumes and vegetables may help ward off diabetes, prevent some forms of cancer, and maintain a healthy weight [5,6].


References:

[1] Do dietary lectins cause disease? : The evidence is suggestive—and raises interesting possibilities for treatment David L J Freed BMJ. 1999 Apr 17; 318(7190): 1023–1024.PMCID: PMC1115436

[2] The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation. Karin de Punder, Leo Pruimboom. Nutrients. 2013 Mar; 5(3): 771–787. Published online 2013 Mar 12. doi: 10.3390/nu5030771. PMCID: PMC3705319

[3] Plant Lectins as Medical Tools against Digestive System Cancers. Laura Elena Estrada-Martínez, Ulisses Moreno-Celis, Ricardo Cervantes-Jiménez, Roberto Augusto Ferriz-Martínez, Alejandro Blanco-Labra, Teresa García-Gasca. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Jul; 18(7): 1403. Published online 2017 Jul 3. doi: 10.3390/ijms18071403.

[4] Anti-tumor and anti-viral activities of Galanthus nivalis agglutinin (GNA)-related lectins. Wu L, Bao JK. Glycoconj J. 2013 Apr;30(3):269-79. doi: 10.1007/s10719-012-9440-z. Epub 2012 Aug 15. Review. PMID:2289311.

[5] Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. Satya S. Jonnalagadda, Lisa Harnack, Rui Hai Liu, Nicola McKeown, Chris Seal, Simin Liu, George C. Fahey. J Nutr. 2011 May; 141(5): 1011S–1022S. Published online 2011 Mar 30. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.132944. PMCID: PMC3078018.

[6] Changes in Intake of Fruits and Vegetables and Weight Change in United States Men and Women Followed for Up to 24 Years: Analysis from Three Prospective Cohort Studies. Monica L. Bertoia, Kenneth J. Mukamal, Leah E. Cahill, Tao Hou, David S. Ludwig, Dariush Mozaffarian, Walter C. Willett, Frank B. Hu, Eric B. Rimm. PLoS Med. 2015 Sep; 12(9): e1001878. Published online 2015 Sep 22. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001878. Correction in: PLoS Med. 2016 Jan; 13(1): e1001956.

Food & Fun in Portugal: Part I

When I told people that I had booked 10 days in Portugal I got a lot of ‘that seems like an odd choice’ looks. However, after exploring three cities I can safely say that Portugal is anything but boring. Vibrant and charming with a breathtakingly beautiful natural landscape, Portugal surpassed my expectations in almost every way. Here’s what we did, where we ate, and why you should add Portugal to your bucket list.

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A Health-Conscious, Foodie's Guide To Portugal.

PART I: Lisbon

As I write this post we’re on the train from The Algarve back to Lisbon for the final leg of our Portuguese journey.  We’ve spent 10 days eating, walking and drinking our way across three cities, but still I feel like we’ve only scraped the surface. I can’t help but wonder why Portugal isn't a more popular holiday destination. 

With that in mind, I wanted to provide a snapshot of our adventure across Europe’s westernmost country. We ate, slept and explored tons of great places, and it would be remiss not to share our discoveries with other health-conscious travel lovers.

Our itinerary included 4 nights in Lisbon, 2 in Porto, and another 3 in Porto de Mos just outside of Lagos. This first post is all about colorful, gritty Lisboa.

 

Where We Stayed

We stayed in Santa Catarina in this apartment, and then this one-bedder on our final night in Portugal. Both were comfortable, clean and convenient. Santa Catarina is less touristy and quieter than Barrio Alto but within walking distance to just about everything. I loved running along the Rio Tejo, exploring the quirky shops of São Bento, and tramping up the old, winding streets of Alfama. We usually pick a museum or two to explore when we visit a new city but this time we opted to get lost on foot, and immerse ourselves in local culture instead. We were also epically jet-lagged when we arrived in Lisbon so sun exposure was essential!

 

The Food

Lisbon has an excellent (and affordable) food scene that incorporates European, and Moorish flavors, and celebrates it’s proximity to the ocean. We enjoyed an endless run of great food in Lisbon, but these gems were our favorites:

The Mill: This bustling coffee joint in Santa Catarina makes a mean cup of coffee, and a brag-worthy breakfast. I had the bircher muesli and Ethan had the 'The Breakfast Stack'; both were delicious and beautifully presented. In a country that loves a good pastry for breakfast, this was a welcome healthy reprieve.

 The Breakfast Stack at The Mill: Tomatoes, chorizo and spinach on top of bread with a fried egg, and toast. 

The Breakfast Stack at The Mill: Tomatoes, chorizo and spinach on top of bread with a fried egg, and toast. 

Hello, Kristof: Hip coffee and magazine spot with a small, but reliable menu. My avocado toast with tomato and pistachios was nothing short of excellent, and just what I needed to shake-off 24 hours of substandard travel food. They have gluten-free bread for those who prefer to eat sans gluten, and a cool-as-sh*% space to ponder your next stop.

 Avocado toast with tomato, crushed pistachios, peppercorns and salt at Hello, Kristof. 

Avocado toast with tomato, crushed pistachios, peppercorns and salt at Hello, Kristof. 

Time Out Market Lisboa: Opened in 2014, Time Out Market Lisboa is the Eataly of Portuguese food and aggregates some of the best regional food options. This place offers everything from local favorites like custard tarts and grilled sardines, to burgers and pizza for the less adventurous palate. Surprisingly, takeout is not an option--every dish is elegantly styled and served on porcelain. And if it’s booze you’re after there’s plenty of that too.

Pistola y Corazon Taqueria: Lisbon may be a far cry from Mexico, but this lively bar serves up some seriously delicious Mexican fare. I had shrimp tacos, and Ethan had posole to remedy a 24-hour tummy bug. Both were flavorful and fresh, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Yao Pressed Juicery: A hole-in-the wall juicery and smoothie stop that makes their own almond milk and boasts uber-hip toppings like bee pollen and hemp seeds. A great stop for anyone lusting after a quick dose of fruit and veggies after indulging in one too many custard tarts.

 The blueberry muffin smoothie from Yao Pressed Juicery.

The blueberry muffin smoothie from Yao Pressed Juicery.

Hotel do Chiado Rooftop Bar: With gorgeous view of Rio Tejo, and The Alfama this chic terrace bar is hard to beat for happy hour. This is where we spent our last night in Lisbon, before dining at Mini-Bar. Bring your jacket if it’s a cool day.

 Looking over Alfama from Hotel do Chiado's rooftop bar. 

Looking over Alfama from Hotel do Chiado's rooftop bar. 

Mini Bar: Run by Portugal’s most famous chef, José Avillez, Mini-Bar feels like Moulin Rouge minus the adult entertainment, and serves-up inventive small plates. We shared 7 dishes and 2 desserts. The avocado tempura with dehydrated kimchi was our favorite, followed by the ‘roasted chicken’ (a chicken skin chip with smoked cottage cheese and avocado), and the steak tataki. The savory selections were better than our dessert.

Prior to our trip I'd heard mixed reviews about Lisbon but I really enjoyed it. Yes, it's gritty but there's something about jeweled-toned buildings with terracotta roofs, and laundry displayed proudly in the street that's incredibly charming. In many way Lisbon is similar to San Francisco. It's been roughed-up by earthquakes several times, has the same undulating terrain, and celebrates good food and drink much like San Francisco.

5 Interesting Things Happening In Nutrition Right Now

Originally, I tried to squeeze my top 10 FNCE highlights into one post, but I quickly realized that each point deserved it’s own spotlight, and a rambling list just wasn’t going to cut the mustard. So, here I am writing part two of my FNCE recap. I’d like to say that I’ve saved the best for last, but truthfully, it’s hard to untangle so many fun, interesting and enriching moments. 

 Hass avocado margarita. 

6. Avocados are the best, and the serving size just got BIGGER!

I’ve been on the avocado-advocacy train for a while now, but my love for avos blossomed at the Hass Avocado event at FNCE! We enjoyed avocado margaritas, sliders, and crostini, and learned how to make ultra-trendy avocado roses with the lovely Carlene Thomas. Good news avocado lovers: The FDA just increased serving size of avocados from ⅕ of a medium avocado to ⅓ because of their healthful properties. Avocados provide almost 20 nutrients and are a rich source of healthy fats, fiber, folate, vitamin K, potassium, and carotenoids.

 

7. Plant-based may help shrink your waist.

Plant-based eating is one of the trendiest topics in nutrition thanks to a slew of new research on the benefits of going 'plant-strong'. Eating an increasingly plant-based diet has been shown to reduce body mass index, and type II diabetes risk. [1,2]. These perks persist without restricting intake. This means that people on plant-based diet naturally eat fewer Calories. Plant-based eating also appears to be protective against some forms of cancer , although the results are less clear cut [3].

 

8. There’s no one-size-fits-all for carbohydrate recommendations.

Carbohydrate intake is one of the most polarizing topics in nutrition. Some people swear by low-carb, while others can’t live without pasta, starchy veggies, fruit, and the occasional dessert (that’s me). Emerging evidence suggests that ketogenic diet (<50g carbs/d) may be helpful for weight loss, type II diabetes risk, polycystic ovarian syndrome, triglycerides and other inflammatory markers when compared to a low-fat diet. This data however is still preliminary, and unclear if everyone enjoys these benefits, or just those who are carb sensitive.

Carbohydrate remains an important fuel for exercise under 3 hours. Whole grain carbs are also a rich source of fiber, and assist with satiety and digestive health for many. Carb needs most likely vary from person to person, influenced by factors such as genetics, weight, age, activity level, sleep, stress levels and more! 

 

9. Nutrition by your genes coming soon.

Nutrigenomics-- the interaction between nutrition, and genes-- has been on my radar since I first heard about it in 2012, and I have been craving more ever since! Some cool progress is being made in this field, and Aussie dietitians are on to it.

At FNCE, I learned how nutrigenomics expert and fellow Accredited Practising Dietitian, Flavia Fayet-Moore, is integrating nutrigenomics into her practice. Specifically, she discussed specific genotypes that impact vitamin D, caffeine, vitamin B12, iron and protein metabolism, and how to adjust diet accordingly. Fascinating stuff! Nutrition by your genes is one of my favorite topics, and something you can expect to see more of on this blog!

 

10. Probiotics, pea protein, ice-cream alternatives, and fiber-filled everything coming to a supermarket near you.

I spent half a day booth-hopping, sampling, and learning about new food products. Probiotics, and probiotic-containing products like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut are hotter than ever (see why here). Probiotics are being added to juices, protein powders, ice-cream and a variety of other weird and wonderful foods. The most unique probiotic product I tried was a beet-pickle juice shot. It reminded me a lot of apple-cider vinegar.

I also tried a million and one bars containing pea protein, and 10g+ fiber. With so much fiber in a small bar, some of these made my tummy grumpy. You can definitely have too much of a good thing! 

Other notable mentions include: frozen dessert with added fiber and probiotics, crispy chickpea/ bean snacks, water infused with tea flavorings, and reimagined whole grain products.

 Ayala Herbal Water.


That completes my FNCE recap. Every minute of every day was accounted for, but I am already looking forward to FNCE 2017 in Chicago! This week I’m in Sydney spending time with the fam, and getting some much needed R & R. Have a great week! 


[1] Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Huang RY, Huang CC, Hu FB, Chavarro JE. J Gen Intern Med. 2016 Jan;31(1):109-16. doi: 10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7. Review.

[2] Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. Diabetes Care. 2009 May;32(5):791-6. doi: 10.2337/dc08-1886. Epub 2009 Apr 7.

[3] Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A, Sofi F. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Feb 6:0. [Epub ahead of print]