Early-wave keto-ers, you have our respect, because we don’t know how we would have kicked the carbs without brands such as those we met at Natural Products Expo East 2022.
With keto-friendly cookies, pasta, entrees, sweeteners, and more sporting clean ingredient lists, these brands indeed make it much easier to shift that metabolism into ketosis and keep it there without feeling like you have to overhaul 80% of your diet.
Here’s a recap of our favorite keto-friendly brands from Expo East 2022, all of which broadened our perspective of what’s now possible on the keto diet.
NuPasta: Plant-Based Pasta Alternative
A decade ago, we probably would have beelined it to the NuPasta booth sheerly on the basis that they are offering a plant-based alternative to pasta, but it takes more than that to win us over in the current plant-based, gluten-free, and/or low-carb pasta market.
And sure enough, more was delivered by NuPasta Marketing Director Jonathan Leung, who explained to us 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 very fiber-rich roots of the konjac plant—a starchy perennial native to China and grown in several Southeast Asian countries—are far from mushy.
And though NuPasta doesn’t shine a candle to the protein content of a chickpea-based competitor like Banza (11g of protein per 2oz serving), the measly five calories per ounce is almost 20 times lower than Banza’s 95 calories per ounce.
But enough of the dry stats—okay, last one, NuPasta has 6 grams of fiber per serving—how did the noodles actually taste and feel compared to regular pasta?
Texture first: the claim of firmness was definitely true, but at the same time, these noodles almost had a “bouncy” squishiness to them, somewhat akin to spaghetti squash noodles.
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
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, very close to the mildness of wheat pasta, offering very little in the way of an 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.
Kevin’s Natural Foods: Ready-Made Keto Entrees and More
Interrupted, but not deterred by a particularly zealous procession of bagpipers marching through the event hall during our meeting, Sr. Sales Manager Jesse Isaacs of Kevin’s Natural Foods gave us the rundown on why their ready-made entrees, sides, and sauces deserve their spot on grocery store shelves.
For starters, Kevin’s Natural Foods makes paleo, keto, better-for-you entrees and shelf-stable simmer sauces, to use Jesse’s words, which indeed differentiates them from the vast majority of both ready-to-eat and frozen entrees (you can freeze Kevin’s entrees at home, by the way).
The rare—well, decreasingly rare, but still—combination of paleo- and keto-friendliness paired with the convenience of a heat-and-eat entree, side, or sauce is only made better by the almost complete lack of artificial ingredients and undesirable additives that Kevin’s Natural Foods uses throughout their 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 refined vegetable oils, artificial fillers and additives, or copious amounts of sugar.
The food really is clean, 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!
Miracle Noodle: Super-Low-Calorie Pasta Impresses Again
They aren’t the first brand we’ve interviewed to take advantage of the fiber-rich konjac plant, but doctor-founded Miracle Noodle is certainly making a case for the best usage of konjac in terms of pragmatic improvements to the modern diet.
As Miracle Noodle Founder and President Dr. Jonathan Carp explained to us, “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 to you, you’re not alone, but sure enough, a 6oz package of Miracle Noodles contains a paltry 10 calories and 6 grams of carbohydrates.
By comparison, six ounces of standard wheat-based pasta contains roughly 200 calories and over 40 grams of carbs.
The next logical conclusion for most experienced consumers is “Oh, well, these imitation noodles must have a really weird taste and texture then,” but somehow, they don’t.
Sure, they’re translucent, which is a bit interesting, but our review team unanimously agreed after a round of sampling at the Miracle Noodle booth that they were very close to standard pasta on both taste and texture.
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 of Miracle Noodle
And since you’re freed up calorie-wise to be a little more liberal 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.
Lakanto: Monk Fruit Sweeteners and Treats
When Buddhist monks first discovered monk fruit (hence the name) more than a millennium ago in the remote Asian highlands, they called it “The Immortal Fruit” for the way it potently enhanced their well-being.
Fast forward to today—30 years after Japan redesigned monk fruit as a sugar replacement—and Lakanto is among the most prominent companies re-introducing monk fruit as a viable sugar alternative.
Joel goes on to describe how—thanks to the way monk fruit has been manufactured into a sugar alternative—it can now be used in many of the same ways as standard sugar, like baking, desserts, etc.
Lakanto has capitalized on this versatility, offering not only their flagship product (the sweetener by itself), but also a vast selection of foods and baking mixes, including, but not limited to:
- Sugar-free pancake and baking mix
- Sugar-free cookie mix
- Keto granola
- Sugar-free chocolate bark
- Dark chocolate peanut butter cups
Okay cool, but does it really taste like sugar?
Yes, it does—and without that weird sugar alcohol aftertaste.
Zero calories, zero carbs, and tastes just like sugar.Joel Patrick, CRO at Lakanto
Monk fruit is so close to cane sugar in taste, in fact, we would wager that most laypersons couldn’t tell the difference in a blind taste test.
Stevia is great and all, but there’s just that subtle difference in taste, where Lakanto’s monk fruit closes this gap considerably.
High blood sugar or not, keto or otherwise, we highly recommend Lakanto for anyone who likes to indulge in sweets.
HighKey: Low-Carb Snacks
Starting with low-carb cookies was certainly a bold move on the part of HighKey, as this is one of the cherished treats that few people are willing to compromise on in the taste department, but it’s crazy what they’ve managed to accomplish.
As Chief Sales Officer Efrain Cardenas explained to us, HighKey and their low-carb, grain-free, gluten-free, zero-sugar-added cookies were initially springboarded to success by Amazon, where they were the top-selling chocolate chip cookie.
Since then, the collection has expanded to include such classics as vanilla wafers, shortbread, snickerdoodle, ginger spice, and soon, a sandwich cookie.
We’ve done a clinical test to make sure that it [the cookies] doesn’t spike the blood sugar level, so that everybody can have some delicious cookies.Efrain Cardenas, CSO at Highkey
As research-minded reviewers, we are especially appreciative of the work that HighKey has put in to actually verify on their end how their snacks affect blood sugar levels.
“We’ve done a clinical test to make sure that it [our cookies] doesn’t spike the blood sugar level, so that everybody can have some delicious cookies,” Efrain told us.
Naturally, many of HighKey’s products are keto friendly, and they’re mostly sweetened with erythritol, chocolate, stevia, and monk fruit.
As for our team’s personal experience with HighKey’s chocolate chip cookies, we were very most impressed by the taste; they’ve really captured that classic chocolate chip cookie vibe.
The texture was just a bit more crumbly and oily than standard cookies, which we’ve come to expect with keto-friendly alternatives to pastries and sweets, but not to the point where they totally fell apart as soon as you took a bite.
Overall, we were highly impressed with HighKey, and would definitely recommend them to anyone looking to restore their snack and/or dessert game.