New Health Food Trends at the Natural Products Food Expo West

Natural Products Expo

This weekend I attended, for or the second year in a row, the Natural Products Expo West. At this massive convention, health food, natural supplement and cosmetic concerns pitch their products to retailers.

And, again this year, I did a lot of intemperate sampling. For the sake of you, our dear readers, I ate every known power bar, sports beverage and processed soy/hemp/chia meat substitute so you won’t have to. It was the human equivalent of being a fois gras duck, except instead of corn pellets coming down the funnel it was all the snack items from a health food store. I washed this massive amount of food down with a hundred different “natural” beverages, all variations on a combination of hemp or soy flavored with the latest, obscure rain forest berry. I may never have to eat again.

The Rise of Quinoa

Natural Products Expo Bag Dump

Phoebe helps sort through all the quinoa swag.

The main theme of Natural Products West this year is the rise of gluten free products. Gluten intolerance is a problem for many people. One out of 131 people have Celiac diseases and a great many more probably have some sort of wheat allergy. However, someone tell me why we have to label products like tomato sauce and raw chicken as being “gluten free?”

Most new gluten free products, everything from pasta to crackers to power bars, use quinoa. The Natural Products Expo’s own trade publication noted that the exponential growth of quinoa consumption in the U.S. has created a situation in which the indigenous people of Peru can no longer afford their own staple food. Peruvians are now eating cheap, processed crap so that we can eat, well, cheap processed quinoa crap.

And if a health food product doesn’t contain quinoa, I can guarantee it will contain either coconuts or chia seeds. Neither of these two products are easy to grow in the U.S. so you can forget about supporting local producers.

Of the hundreds of booths I went past, most were peddling heavily processed junk foods with a “natural” label. And we wonder why the U.S. has an obesity epidemic?

The Ugly
The bizarre booth spectacle award goes to the weight lifting supplement producer that had a scantily clad nurse, an examination table and a ultrasound machine. Retail reps with pot bellies could have themselves oiled up and examined to find their “hidden abs” that would, presumably, be revealed through consumption of a whey powder supplement beverage.

The Good
The good news is that the handful of cool things I found more than made up for all those quinoa power bars. I’ll share those discoveries this week.

Leave a comment


  1. I see food products like applesauce stating that the product may have been processed in a facility that processes peanuts, soy, milk, and eggs. Okay, everyone must be so careful not to be sued.

    Other than fear, there may be another reason. People seem to focus on the latest keyword, gimmick, or health suggestion. With ‘gluten-free’ being a new buzzword, maybe they manufacturers hope to rope these people who have no idea what gluten is or is not.

    I suppose you did not even have a chance to get hungry with the nonstop goodies available and pushed on you.

    • It was a difficult night in terms of my digestion, but I won’t go into the details!

    • Products have to be labeled when they are processed with allergens that cause anaphyllactic reaction not so that companies don’t get sued. They are labeled so that people don’t die. Big difference between death and a law suit. Just saying.

    • Believe me, companies take chances with our lives. I really don’t think most of them care if a few people die. I still believe the bottom corporate line is still making sure the company does not get sued. It’s all about the $. And, not getting sued saves $$.

      Think about the addition of aspartame (GRAS) and food color that has been proven to be harmful used by Kraft.

  2. The bizarre booth spectacle award goes to the weight lifting supplement producer that had a scantily clad nurse, an examination table and a ultrasound machine. Retail reps with pot bellies could have themselves oiled up and examined to find their “hidden abs” that would, presumably, be revealed through consumption of a whey powder supplement beverage.

    STOP! I laughed so hard I fell out of bed…

  3. One of the reasons for all of the gluten labeling could be,from what I understand, because for some people even trace amounts of gluten can be deadly.With so many factories producing more than one type of product cross contamination can be a big problem.

    Was it Micheal Pollan that wrote something about all processed foods being the same even the “organic” ones? They are still a processed food,no where near where its natural state.Don’t eat them.

  4. Processed food is processed food no matter if it’s made from “natural,” “organic,” or “gluten-free” ingredients. Just stop eating processed crap — it drives me crazy, seeing how the “whole foods” stores are filling up with the same garbage as regular grocery stores. If you really need a “snack” in the middle of the day, pack a sandwich. Or a piece of fruit. Or make your own “bar” if you think such things are necessary — it’s not rocket science, it’s just a cookie for gods sake.
    As Pollan said — if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as “food” then don’t eat it.

  5. Healthy eating may be for naught anyway. An article in today’s paper revealed that CT scans on 137 ancient mummies revealed a very high incidence of coronary heart disease. It seems a genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease in man, not diet, is the real problem. Having said that, I’ll still eat my greens!

  6. Gluten-free labels are there because flour or gluten is often used as a thickener, at least in the older-fashioned soups, sauces and processed meals.

    While you at home might make your spagetti sauce without flour as a thickener (I use other stuff for thickening) it makes sense that letting people know that it doesn’t have it is, well a) a good marketing move and b) something that last year’s version may very well have had gluten in it

  7. Also many vendors proudly displayed Non GMO signs on their booths. It will be up to us consumers to support Non GMO products since the ban failed here in California due the money machine from big Ag.

  8. If one is going to make the claim that the popularity of quinoa is leading to a rise in junk food consumption in Peru, one should certainly have the facts and references on hand to support that claim. Peru has a booming economy, and while it’s true that inflation is of some concern, I would like to see hard evidence of the fact that the indigenous peoples of that nation are abandoning this food. The has already been an uproar over a piece that appeared in The Guardian concerning this allegation (and it pointed to the lower income groups in Bolivia, not Peru), which were subsequently shot down. It’s irresponsible to continue disseminating this myth without hard data to support it.

  9. (correction: “There has already been an uproar.”) If anything, the consumption of junk food has to do with rising incomes and greater access to formerly “exotic” food items, which have managed to make inroads at an alarming rate.

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