Every year, plenty of new food products make their way onto supermarket shelves. And as with most things, some are better than others. Did we really need more soft drinks, microwave popcorns, or Lunchables options? Was a pepper Jack flavor of Velveeta really necessary?
But there are plenty of new food products that can help us eat more healthfully. Some lowered sugar, others lightened up on fat, while several more added something nutritionally beneficial, like fiber or whole grains, omega-3s, or phytochemicals.
New items can even be found in the produce department of your supermarket! One specialty produce company, Melissa's, introduces about 25 new items every year. The trend for 2006 success seemed to involve two themes: convenience, and organic foods, says Robert Schueller, director of public relations with Melissa's.
With so many new items out there every year, it's not always easy deciding what's worth trying. Here are my picks for the top 10 new (or relatively new) healthy food products on supermarket shelves:
1. More 100% Whole Wheat Bread Choices
This year, various brands of whole wheat hot dog and hamburger buns hit the shelves, along with new whole grain rolls like Whole Grain French Sandwich Rolls (Francisco International). The first ingredient in this product is whole wheat flour. One long sandwich roll (80 grams) contains 210 calories, 7 grams of fiber, 3 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 9 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrate, and 460 milligrams of sodium. The rolls work well for sandwiches, pizza bread, appetizers that call for toasted bread, and any recipe that uses bread cubes.
2. A Better Multigrain Pasta
The Barilla Plus brand now has several pasta products that offer a more appealing alternative to the darker brown, chewier whole wheat pastas of years past. To make this multigrain pasta, they use semolina and add a "grain and legume flour blend" that includes most every healthy plant food you could think of (including lentils, chickpeas, spelt, barley, flaxseed, oat fiber, and oats). The result is pasta that almost passes as regular pasta, but that contains 4 grams of fiber, 10 grams of protein, and 200 milligrams of healthy plant omega-3 fatty acids per 2-ounce serving.
3. Whole Grain Lasagna Noodles
I love lasagna, and have long been waiting for someone to make a higher-fiber lasagna noodle. I just found one at Whole Foods Markets! Westbrae Natural makes its Organic Whole Wheat Lasagna noodles with organic whole durum wheat flour. A 2-ounce serving contains 210 calories, 6 grams fiber, and 8 grams protein.
4. Healthier Instant Oatmeal
Most people prefer some sweetness in their oatmeal. But the amount of sugar in all those fun-flavored instant oatmeal packets is more than we need, that's for sure. How do I know? I've tried the new, less-sugar options from Quaker and they taste great! There's an Apples & Cinnamon and a Maple & Brown Sugar flavor, and my personal favorite, Take Heart Blueberry. A packet (34 grams) of Quaker's 50% Less Sugar Maple & Brown Sugar oatmeal contains 4 grams of sugar (13% calories from sugar), along with 3 grams of fiber (1 gram of which is soluble fiber). The Take Heart Blueberry packet (a larger, 45-gram packet), with added oat bran and flaxseed, has 6 grams of fiber (4 grams of which is soluble fiber), and 9 grams of sugar (with 22.5% of the total calories coming from sugar), and 130 milligrams of plant omega-3s.
5. Higher Omega-3 Eggs
Question: If you feed chickens a healthy, vegetarian diet that includes ground flaxseed, what do you get? Answer: Eggs that have more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. There are several higher omega-3 eggs being sold across the country. One popular brand, Eggland's Best, reports that its eggs have 10 times more vitamin E and three times more omega-3s than regular eggs. These eggs also contain 25% less saturated fat and 16% less cholesterol.
6. More Light Cream Cheese Options
You can always whip up your own flavored cheese spreads using plain light cream cheese, but pre-flavored products offer convenience. Philadelphia brand light cream cheese now comes in three flavors: Chive & Onion, Garden Vegetable, and Strawberry. Instead of 90 calories per ounce (like the regular versions), they contain around 60, and instead of around 8 to 9 grams of fat, they have around 4.5 grams. Saturated fat goes from around 5 grams to 3, and cholesterol decreases from 35 milligrams to 15.
7. Activia (Dannon) Yogurt with Probiotic Culture
Dannon advertises this yogurt line as being clinically proven to help regulate your digestive system naturally. The "good" bacteria (bifidus regularis) it contains seem to encourage fully functioning intestines. I can tell you from personal experience that it may also help you if you tend to have faster intestines (or suffer from the diarrhea-predominant type of Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Activia comes in vanilla, mixed berry, peach, strawberry, and blueberry. One 4-ounce container contains 110 calories, 2 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 75 milligrams sodium, 19 grams carbohydrate, 17 grams sugars, 5 grams protein, and 15% of the Daily Value for calcium.
8. Light Brie
I love Brie, but it has been one of those cheeses that only come one way -- full fat. Imagine my surprise when I spotted the new Trader Joe's Light Brie, with 50% less fat and 30% fewer calories than the regular variety. In a 1-ounce serving, that translates to 4.5 grams of fat as compared to 9, and 70 calories instead of 100. (One ounce also contains 2.5 grams saturated fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 230 milligrams sodium, 1 gram carbohydrate, 7 grams protein and 15% of the Daily Value for calcium.) The texture isn't as creamy as the full-fat stuff, but the taste is in the ballpark. It's definitely worth trying if you like Brie as much as I do.
9. Slow-Churned Light Ice Cream
Light ice cream is certainly not new, but I'm sure the relatively new Slow-Churned products from Dreyer's (Edy's) are responsible for gobs of new "light ice cream" converts. I could go on and on about the "slow-churned" technology, but the real question, of course, is "How does it taste?" Many agree that these light ice creams leave you satisfied, and perhaps even a little suspicious that you were really eating regular ice cream after all.
10. Convenient Legumes
Edamame (green soybean) options abound these days, not only in the frozen vegetable aisle but also in the refrigerated produce section. Melissa's Produce now offers organic, ready-to-eat edamame -- with or without the shell -- available mostly in Safeway stores. They are packaged using a system known as modified atmosphere packaging, which allows the packaged edamame to be refrigerated for up to 21 days.
Another convenient new product is Melissa's pre-cooked and ready-to-use steamed lentils, which you'll find in Trader Joe's stores. Up until now, if you wanted to add nutritious lentils to assorted dishes, you needed hours to soak, boil, or steam the lentils. Now all you need is a pair of scissors to trim the top off the vacuum-sealed pouch.