Food and Beverage Trends for a Healthy Gut and Lifestyle!

Contributed by: James and Dahlia Marin, registered dieticians, ZENB Plant Council

Natural Products Expo West is the leading trade show in the natural, organic, and healthy products industry!

For many, the expo is like adult Halloween where you trick-or-treat for the latest-and-greatest foods, personal care products, nutraceuticals, and even pet nutrition support not yet on the market. For us, it is an opportunity to curate only the very best for our patients and community that trust us with their care.

Expo West is where you will have companies that are 200 years old launching new subsidiaries and products (shoutout to Mizkan!) and companies that are two days old launching what they think will be the future of food.

As integrative gut-centered and plant based registered dietitian nutritionists, this expo is our time to view the latest and greatest, all in one location to help our patients and community navigate the sometimes confusing and often overwhelming world of food. We are always happy when our friends at ZENB ask us to share our take on these kinds of events and the hot food trends and common foods we are seeing.

1. Beverages Galore! 

  • Beverages were an extremely popular option at the expo.
  • Lots of beverages containing functional ingredients such as Adaptogenic herbs, mushrooms, roots, and tonics.
  • Inclusion of lots of mushroom products, a lot of chaga/reishi/lion’s mane, which some studies have reported to help balance friendly fungi populations in the gut microbiome.
  • Sparkling teas with added herbs, roots, and tubers with the goal to support gut motility, gut microbiome balance, neurotransmitters, skin, energy, and more.
  • SO, SO many probiotic beverages. Some are great with the added benefit of probiotic strains which hope to colonize the gut in a friendly, balancing way. Many of these beverages unfortunately contain tons of refined sugars and sweeteners, which may negate the effects of the added probiotics altogether.

Our Take: When choosing a kombucha beverage or anything fermented with high acidity, choose a glass bottle and look for no added sugar post fermentation. Many of the beverages we saw were versions of soda with just a sprinkle of probiotics or prebiotics so they can make claims that it is good for your gut. Don’t be fooled.

2.  Reimagining Pasta!  

  • Pasta is a $1.4 billion industry just in the US! It is no wonder we continue to see so many pasta options.
  • Fermented sourdough pasta was something new, but while it is nice to have a more predigested wheat, the protein content just wasn’t there.
  • Green banana pastas are also available which was very interesting, but low in the essential carbohydrate, fiber.
  • Legume spaghetti, macaroni, and lasagna like ZENB yellow pea pastas, continue to be the best on the market. ZENB also has some exciting new options coming in the next few weeks, including a great alternative to rice or potatoes as a usual side. Wait till you try that one.

Our Take: There are so many types of flours, added ingredients, sizes, and shapes to pasta, but when taking an integrative gut health lens, we love a great legume-based pasta due to the fiber ratio, synergistic protein, and phytonutrients that can be retained.

3. Plant Prestige! 

  • Plants continue to be a star at Expo West!
  • Mushrooms of all kinds are being added to drinks, chocolate, vegan bacon, ready to eat packs, and much more.
  • Want a cashew-based hard boil egg, plant-based seafood, mushroom bacon, plant-based nut cheeses, and every single kind of plant milk you can think of (including corn milk)? You’re in luck because they’re coming! Are these foods very nutrient-dense? Not always many of them were very calorie dense, providing energy. But many of those calories came from saturated fats (coming from coconut or palm oil), refined carbohydrates, emulsifiers (which have repeatedly been shown in studies to offset the delicate balance in the gut microbiome), and other not-so-good-gut ingredients.
  • Are these foods fun every once in a while? Definitely! Will eating them occasionally cause gut dysbiosis? That’s highly unlikely. The issue is they’re not being marketed that way  they’re marketed as daily replacements for animal products. For those following a vegan diet for ethical reasons without much emphasis on gut health, these can certainly be an option, for those of us in our Good Gut Gang, many of the new vegan foods about to flood the market may not be on the regular grocery list.
  • We did find many cool new types of plant milks including: corn, sunflower, chia, barley, buckwheat, and others. Some with emulsifiers, some without. The same was observed with dairy free cheeses some were cashew or almond based without many additives, others touted quite a bit of oil and sugar.
  • Sprouted and fermented nuts are a plant-based food, without hyper-processed ingredients, that pack all of the delicious flavor with real gut health benefits.
  • Crackers made from yellow peas, like ZENB’s new Cracker Crisps, are using whole plant ingredients for a crispy and satisfying crunch.

Our Take: The research in the US and other first world countries is very clear, we need to eat more plants, more fiber, and more phytonutrients. We are very happy to see this trend continue, especially when companies use whole plant ingredients and not hyper-processed food-like substances.

4. Probiotics and Prebiotics: Gut Health is Bigger than Ever!

  • Tons of gut health branding was slapped on food labels. whether it is true or not is another story. Everywhere we turned, we saw claims for gluten free products, probiotics, gut healthy foods, and more claims seemingly trying to make eating gut friendly foods more convenient.
  • Low FODMAP products (Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols, also known as fermentable carbohydrates that can cause bloating and gas) were also making themselves known. Some were great whole food options for those who may not tolerate certain FODMAPs, many others came in the form of cookies, muffins, and dressings with several teaspoons of refined sugars per serving. So, not so Good Gut after all.
  • On the other hand, something very cool we saw was a live, unpasteurized, and shelf-stable kombucha strain being used to make delicious salad dressings. This was extremely innovative and another great way to get in more probiotics.
  • We also saw many non-alcoholic distilled spirits, wines, beers, and mixers! Most of these drinks are the original fermented beverages. The overwhelming evidence of the harm alcohol does to the gut microbiome made us include these products here as a massive win instead of in our beverage roundup. Leaving out the poorly processed or ultra-concentrated alcohol will do wonders for gut health.

Our Take: While it is great to see gut health in the forefront of marketing and products, the truth behind what is actually healthy for the gut may still be as elusive as ever. The reality is there are both generalizations and individualizations we can make about the gut microbiome. The human gut is very similar, yet very unique.

5. Chocolate: Less sugar added, sweetened with stevia/monk fruit

  • Chocolate covered “superfoods”, nuts, seeds, etc. and chocolates promising more protein, less or no sugar, and much more were everywhere.
  • Chocolate sweetened with Stevia (both whole leaf and slightly more processed stevia leaf extract) and monk fruit aka lo han guo were extremely popular.
  • The jury is still out on the long-term effects of these more naturally-derived sweeteners. There is historic evidence and studies to show medicinal properties in both stevia and monk fruit that have been used for hundreds of years. They’re currently viewed as a nice and easy way to achieve a sweet flavor without a significant spike in blood sugar. We appreciated foods that were thoughtfully sweetened with these, or with pure dates or date sugar.
  • A sweetener to be mindful of is erythritol! Erythritol is not a new ingredient but seems to be the sweetener everyone wants to use that can promise the beautiful taste without tons of sugar. The reason why we recommend extreme mindfulness with erythritol is because there are mixed scientific studies, some that say erythritol can be beneficial for the gut and others showing issues with the cardiovascular system.

Our Take: Chocolate is excellent and many brands we spoke to do third party testing for heavy metals, they source from fair trade certified vendors, and have delicious flavors.

6. Regenerative for the Environment!

  • One of the most important and uplifting trends we saw at Expo West was the slow but steady move towards and awareness of Regenerative Organic Certification, and really just more companies sourcing from regenerative farms.
  • Regenerative is similar to certified organic except that regenerative means the farmer is ensuring their growing techniques give back to the soil microbiome, farm workers, ecosystem, and overall quality of the food.
  • ZENB not only sources regeneratively grown yellow peas for their foods, they also use the entire pea, skin and all, drastically decreasing environmental impacts.

Our Take: There are simple, yet extremely important ways to reduce food waste, energy waste, and at the same time increase the health benefits of food products. Regenerative is the future of a future focused on gut health, which is the only way we help billions truly thrive.

2024 Expo West was a whirlwind of sights, flavors, marketing, and thankfully, companies who truly understand the honor and privilege it is to feed the masses so they can hopefully, ‘Heal With Each Meal’.

James Marin and Dahlia Marin are the co-founders of Married to Health and the first 100% plant-based SIBO/IBS nutrition program. Married to Health is an integrative dietetic practice which brings together the best in medical nutrition therapy to bridge the gaps in health maintenance, disease prevention and disease reversal, when possible. James & Dahlia are founding members of the ZENB Plant Council.

    One Bite Closer to a Better World View all

    Choose any 10, 18, or 24 items
    $49.99 - $99.99
    FREE Shipping
    Now with NEW! Linguine
    Get 7 Pastas
    Get 6 Lasagna
    Get 12 Sauces