When managing a health condition requires some sort of dietary restriction, it generally doesn't take too long for my patients to wrap their heads around which foods are off-limits.
When celiac disease is the problem, my patients quickly learn how to avoid foods that contain traces of wheat, barley, rye and conventionally-grown and processed oats. In the case of food allergy, they become well-versed in how to spot allergens on nutrition labels. My patients with pre-diabetes following a reduced-carb, lower-glycemic diet know to watch portions of starchy foods like pasta, potatoes, bread and rice. And with practice, my patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) learn how to spot ingredients that are high in digestively troublesome "FODMAP" ingredients from a mile away.
[Read IBS? Could be the FODMAPS]
In other words, learning what foods to avoid is often the easy part. Far more challenging for folks with restricted diets is a bigger question: What CAN I eat? Specifically, questions arise about practical swaps for foods that were once dietary staples; convenient snacks that can be kept in purses or gym bags; or ingredient substitutions for favorite recipes.
So I'm always scanning the shelves of supermarkets for the latest and greatest foods to debut, making mental notes about which ones could enhance the restricted diets of my various patient populations. And I especially look forward to attending the food industry trade shows, where thousands of companies gather to hawk their wares.
This past weekend, a few such food shows were in town, and I had the chance to nibble my way through them for the noble cause of identifying healthy new foods that would be a welcome addition to the restricted diets of my patients. Here are a few of my new favorites: (Please note that I have no material connections to and have received no compensation from any of these companies.)
• Great news for weight-conscious, gluten-free bakers: Wholesome Cravings Protein Baking Mixes. The world needs another gluten-free brownie mix like I need another hole in the head.
[Read: What is Gluten, Anyway?]
Nowadays, there are plenty of decadent, you'd-never-know-they're-gluten-free cakes, cookies and muffin mixes to choose from; heck, even Betty Crocker has thrown her hat in the ring! But generally, their calorie counts are appalling high – even by sweet treat standards – as these products rely heavily on oil, sugar and super-starchy, blood-sugar-spiking flours like tapioca, rice and potato to match the moist texture of wheat-based prototypes.
Enter Bageshree Blasius: a foodie mom who formulated several muffin-baking mixes from lower-glycemic, gluten-free oat flour and flaxseeds, boosted with a hefty dose of pea protein … and no added sugar. To prepare, you add your own fat replacer – depending on the flavor, the packaging recommends mashed bananas, applesauce or pumpkin puree – and up to 2 tablespoons of the sweetener of your own choosing. Use sugar, stevia, Splenda, agave nectar or my preference – nothing at all. The result is a muffin with about 11 grams (!) of protein and a modest level of carbs and sugars customized to your tastes and dietary needs. The Banana Chocolate Chip and Pumpkin Spice were my faves. Yum!
• Must-have nut-free butter: The Sneaky Chef Creamy No-Nut Butter. I recently wrote that moms of kids without food allergies might consider swapping in nut-free sunflower seed butter or soynut butter to sandwiches destined for public consumption to help keep nuts out of shared kiddie spaces. Soon after, I happened upon another delicious nut-free butter made from a most unexpected ingredient: golden peas! The Sneaky Chef nailed the golden color and creamy texture of actual peanut butter in her No-Nut Butter, and the result is eat-straight-from-the-jar, possibly-better-than-the-real-thing good.
• Best new easily digestible breakfast for the IBS crowd: Little Duck Organics Mighty Oats. While these single-serve, instant, hot cereal cups are actually marketed to babies and young children, I think they're a better option than most instant oatmeals on the market, period.
These wheat-free (but not gluten-free) cereals feature a blend of grains and seeds rich in soluble-fiber (oats, millet, amaranth, quinoa, chia and buckwheat) and flavored only with low-FODMAP fruits like banana and blueberry. There is absolutely no added sugar – which is, of course, how foods marketed to children SHOULD be formulated (but almost never are).
If you need some sweetness, add your own easily digestible sweetener to taste. Until the company comes out with grown-up sized portions (hint, hint), you'll likely want to pair this 70-calorie cereal cup with some fresh fruit, eggs, lactose-free yogurt or another gentle-on-your-tummy breakfast accompaniment to address an adult-sized appetite.
[Read: A Tale of Two Fibers]
Runner up: Garden Lites Veggie Muffins. Here's a rare find indeed: a muffin that's differentiated nutritionally from a cupcake, with a modest 120 calories and 5 grams of fiber per appropriately-portioned 2-ounce muffin.
Coming soon to a supermarket freezer near you, these gluten-free, dairy free and nut-free muffins feature an all-natural ingredient lineup in which vegetables are first on the list. And not just any veggies, but low-FODMAP veggies that are high in tummy-friendly soluble fiber, like zucchini and carrots. Their IBS street cred extends further down the ingredient list as well: The muffins contain naturally low-FODMAP bananas and berries as well as soluble corn fiber. I liked the moist, non-gummy texture as well. In fact, the only reason these didn't win first place is that, despite being all natural, they are relatively more processed and still contain 11 grams of sugar (almost 3 teaspoons) per muffin.
[Read: Is All Processed Food Unhealthy?]
• Your best new low-carb dinner companion: Gold Mine Kelp Noodles. I often recommend low-carb dinners as a key pillar of my weight-loss protocol. But when noodle cravings strike in the evening, these kelp noodles would make a great low-carb, low-calorie stand-in for veggie-heavy stir-fries or Asian-style entrée soups. Made from calcium- and iodine-rich seaweed, kelp noodles are naturally gluten-free, shelf stable and require no cooking. A 4-ounce serving has just 6 calories and 1 gram of fiber. Go crazy and have a double portion for a whopping 12 calories! Woo hoo!
[See Top-Rated Diets Overall.]
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Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN, is a NYC-based registered dietitian whose clinical practice specializes in digestive disorders, Celiac Disease, and food intolerances. Her personal blog, www.tamaraduker.com, focuses on healthy eating and gluten-free living.