If the mere mention of the words “eating healthy” or “diet” conjures in your mind images of plain, old grilled chicken breast and broccoli for dinner every night, these better-for-you brands from Expo East will open up a completely new world for you.
Thanks to the smarter alternatives (to less healthy dishes/drinks) offered by NuPasta, Miracle Noodle, and Ritual Zero Proof, you can have your pasta and eat it too, drink and be merry, and all the fun food-related references—sans alcohol, mostly sans calories, and most importantly, without the artificial junk.
Here’s our list of the best better-for-you brands from Expo East 2022, starting off with a joyously low-carb pasta alternative that just might trick your taste buds.
NuPasta: Plant-Based Noodles That Will Fool You
In years past, we probably would have prioritized the NuPasta booth sheerly because they offer a plant-based alternative to pasta, but it takes more than that to impress in the current plant-based, gluten-free, and/or low-carb pasta market.
And sure enough, more was delivered by NuPasta, as Marketing Director Jonathan Leung filled us in on what differentiates NuPasta from the other guys. And the other, other guys. Too many guys.
“A lot of the gluten-free [plant-based pasta] products on the market are soft,” Leung explained, “but we are very firm.”
Indeed, the tough and highly fibrous roots of the konjac plant—a perennial known to China and grown throughout Southeast Asia—are far from mushy.
And though NuPasta can’t compete with the protein content of a lentil- or chickpea-based competitor like Banza (11g of protein per 2oz serving), the piddly five calories per ounce is almost 20 times lower than Banza’s 95 calories per ounce.
A lot of the gluten-free [plant-based pasta] products on the market are soft, but we are very firm.
Jonathan Leung, Marketing Director at NuPasta
But enough ticking boxes—how did NuPasta actually taste and feel compared to regular pasta?
Leung’s claim of firmness certainly held up, but at the same time, these noodles almost had a “bouncy” squishiness to them, almost like spaghetti squash noodles.
Overall, the texture was very close to standard pasta; we don’t anticipate too much of a shock on that front for first-time customers.
The taste was also very close to the mildness of wheat pasta, steering clear of the overtly bitter or earthy taste associated with many plant-based pastas.
NuPasta is definitely in the top tier of plant-based pasta alternatives we’ve tried.
Death Wish Coffee: The World’s Strongest Cup of Joe
After more than a decade of caffeinating the teeming masses without losing their sarcastic touch, Death Wish Coffee has no intention of relinquishing their “world’s strongest coffee” title anytime soon.
As they’ve racked up accolades inside and outside of the coffee industry—including a feature on Good Morning America and even a partnership with NASA to keep those astronauts spry—Death Wish has expanded their catalog of hard-hitting coffees to include more flavors and varieties.
Our experience at the booth was what you might expect after visiting the site and/or checking out their products; they weren’t shy about touting their coffee as the best game in town.
Speaking of, Death Wish Coffees are actually as gentle as they are strong, as they’re made with USDA organic, fair-trade certified beans and zero artificial preservatives.
And yes, Death Wish has a limited-time Pumpkin Chai Coffee, but if you’re not one to be swept away by the seasonal trend, they’ve always got a super strong medium or dark roast waiting to lift you off your you-know-what.
Other Death Wish mainstays include a small selection of cold brews, espresso roast coffee, chai, coffee cups in several varieties, and plenty of merch (shirts, mugs, etc.) bearing their skull-and-crossbones logo.
You won’t literally die, okay? You’ll just be able to have one cup instead of four now, and with the benefit of USDA organic, fair-trade beans to boot.
Serenity Kids: Clean, Nutritious Baby Food
It’s bad enough that your mother-in-law guilt trips you for providing your child with a pouch of baby food instead of a home-cooked meal (some of us work, grandma!); you shouldn’t have to feel more guilt for handing your little one a tube of preservatives and cheap fillers.
What we really wanted to do was to bring fat and protein back to the aisle, how it used to be.
Serenity Carr, Co-founder of Serenity Kids
For any non-parents who understandably gloss over the baby food section at the store, it really is a desert out there for parents who actually care about top-quality ingredients; Joe and Serenity have sought to fix this with a number of key improvements.
“We were really mad about how all the baby food aisle was just fruit and grains, pretty much 100 percent carbs,” Serenity remarked. “What we really wanted to do was to bring fat and protein back to the aisle, how it used to be.”
And bring them back they did, launching a line of baby food pouches featuring foods like real beef, chicken, organic peas and carrots, bone broth, ginger, bell pepper, and much more.
Restoring the macronutrient profile to a more breastmilk-like arrangement was just the beginning for Serenity Kids, as the inclusion of nutrient-dense, organic vegetables and real pasture-raised meats brought out a ton of micronutrients that kids need for healthy development.
Just as important is what isn’t in Serenity Kids baby food products, e.g., added sugar, rice, grain, soy, corn, and nuts.
Joe and Serenity, we earnestly thank you for taking the high road in service of a precious and underserved population.
We also thank you for cracking us up while you vogued for the camera between takes—keep it up!
Kevin’s Natural Foods: Better-for-You Sides and Entrees
Interrupted, but in no way deterred by a raucous procession of bagpipers serpentining through the vendor booths during our meeting, Sr. Sales Manager Jesse Isaacs of Kevin’s Natural Foods gave us the spiel on why their ready-made sides, entrees, and sauces deserve their spot on grocery store shelves.
First, Kevin’s Natural Foods makes paleo, keto, better-for-you entrees and shelf-stable simmer sauces, to use Jesse’s words, which indeed sets them apart from the vast majority of both ready-to-eat and frozen entrees (you can freeze Kevin’s entrees at home, by the way).
The coveted combination of paleo- and keto-friendliness paired with the utility of a heat-and-eat entree, side, or sauce is only improved by the almost complete lack of artificial anything and undesirable additives throughout the Kevin’s Natural Foods selection.
For example, the Chicken Chile Verde entree contains sous vide chicken, tomatillos and a variety of peppers (among other natural ingredients) for the sauce, in addition to coconut nectar, tapioca starch, garlic, and xanthan gum, to name a few of the major ingredients.
In this product and the rest of their catalog, there are no unpronounceable preservatives, highly processed vegetable oils, artificial fillers or additives, or crazy amounts of sugar.
The food really is as clean as we’ve seen a ready-made entree get, and many of the entrees offer a high-protein, keto and/or paleo option for clean eaters looking to stay in shape without cooking and cleaning every single night.
It was nice to meet you, Sales Manager Jesse, and we definitely dig what Kevin’s Natural Foods is doing!
Ritual Zero Proof: Creatively Crafted NA Liquors
A true friend isn’t afraid to snap you out of your not-so-healthy routines, and in this same spirit of gentle redirection, the crew manning the Ritual Zero Proof booth showed us a surprisingly satisfying way to ditch the alcohol.
Namely, Ritual Zero Proof offers completely alcohol-free liquor alternatives (tequila, rum, and whiskey, to name a few) made from a very colorful and at-times surprising selection of plant-based foods.
This came out of a need for wanting to feel a part of the drinking experience—not just drinking a sparkling water—but being able to live a healthy lifestyle and crush the next day. This gets you both.
Tom Halaska, Director of Sales at Ritual Zero Proof
For example, juniper, pine, and vanilla all make an appearance throughout Ritual’s selection of alternative liquors, and sometimes in creatively altered forms.
At this particular Expo, Ritual Zero Proof made the wise decision to stock their booth’s counters with non-alcoholic margarita samples to tempt passersby, and after being reeled in ourselves, we have to admit they were indeed very tasty and margarita-esque.
As we sipped, Ritual Zero Proof Director of Sales Tom Halaska filled us in on the brand’s origins and plans for the future: “This came out of a need for wanting to feel a part of the drinking experience—not just drinking a sparkling water—but being able to live a healthy lifestyle and crush the next day. This gets you both.”
As you might imagine, firing up an online NA spirits business at the beginning of the pandemic proved fruitful for the Ritual Zero Proof team, who are now setting their sights on branching out into restaurants, grocery stores, liquor stores, and other retailers now operating more openly.
Having already found our favorite non-alcoholic beer brand of all time this year, clinking glasses with the Ritual Zero Proof team felt like kismet. Salud!
Miracle Noodle: Konjac Wins Again
They aren’t the only brand we’ve interviewed to take advantage of the increasingly popular and fiber-rich konjac plant, but doctor-founded Miracle Noodle is certainly making a case for the best usage of this plant in terms of pragmatic improvements to the modern diet.
According to Miracle Noodle Founder and President Dr. Jonathan Carp, “What makes us so special is that Miracle Noodle is 97% water and 3% fiber, which basically means you have noodles, pasta, and rice that have virtually no calories or carbs.”
If this sounds a bit too good to be true, we’re right there with you, but sure enough, a roughly 6oz package of Miracle Noodles contains a paltry 10 calories and 6 grams of carbohydrates.
What makes us so special is that Miracle Noodle is 97% water and 3% fiber, which basically means you have noodles, pasta, and rice that have virtually no calories or carbs.
Dr. Jonathan Carp, Founder and President at Miracle Noodle
On the other hand, six ounces of standard wheat-based pasta contains roughly 200 calories and over 40 grams of carbs.
Hearing this, you might think, these imitation noodles must have a really weird taste and texture, but they are surprisingly close to the mark on both counts.
Sure, they’re kind of translucent, which is a bit interesting, but our review team unanimously agreed after sampling the noodles at the Miracle Noodle booth that they were very close to standard pasta on both taste and texture.
And since you’re freed up on the calorie front to be a little more heavy-handed with sauces, Miracle Noodle has expanded their selection to include ready-to-eat, keto-friendly pasta meals, rice dishes, and even bone broth soup.
We definitely like where this super-accurate imitation pasta movement is going, and right now, it looks like Miracle Noodle and NuPasta are positioned to lead the field.