Wednesday, June 27, 2012 | 6 p.m.
We have become a nation of picky eaters. Especially when it comes to food that's good for us.
Low fat? Low taste. No fat? No taste. Whole grain? Forget it. High fiber? Ewww.
Still, many people are pinching their noses, reading labels and paying attention to what they put in their bodies. Food manufacturers in turn are paying attention to what they put in their packages.
Healthy, tasty eating was a major focus of this week's Institute for Food Technologists Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Companies from across the world showcased healthy products that they say taste good.
"We like to think that people are taking more of an interest in eating healthy," said Christian Heritier, regional sales manager for Fibersol, which makes a fiber additive used in a variety of foods and drinks sold on grocery shelves. "The food industry is taking some ownership in creating healthier food, too. We're giving healthier alternatives."
"There's more of a market for using natural ingredients," said Kushan Perera, who runs Wichy Plantation, a natural foods company in Sri Lanka.
Even in burgers, soft drinks and chocolate.
Food developers are working to take some of the guilt out of people's biggest splurges. Here's how they are making the food we love a bit better for us:
A burger on a healthier bun
Whole grains shouldn't have to be hard to swallow.
ConAgra Mills, of Omaha, Neb., has found a way to grind the whole parts of the wheat, with all the good nutritional stuff, down to the consistency of white flour. It's called Ultragrain, and it can be used in hamburger buns, tortillas or pasta.
"When you talk to schools about using whole grain pasta, they say the kids won't eat it," said Don Trouba, ConAgra director of marketing. "But with this, they get the taste they're used to but the nutritional value of whole grains."
ConAgra is working with chef Jeff Henderson, of Las Vegas, to use the new grain technology to improve student lunches, which the company plans to present later this summer to the School Nutritional Association in Denver. Henderson is a former prison inmate and former chef at the Bellagio. He now travels the country speaking and doing cooking demonstrations.
Ice cream that's better for you
The average American gets about a quarter of their daily-recommended dose of fiber.
Fibersol hopes to change that with a new product.
"You shouldn't have to eat foods so heavy with whole grains they taste like chewing a shoe," said Christian Heritier, Fibersol's regional sales manager. "You can get it from ice cream."
The company, based in Columbia City, Ind., has developed a corn dextrose product that comes in granular form and dissolves quickly in water. It can withstand high heat, freezing temperatures and just about any other process a food factory can devise.
This week, Fibersol added the product to ice cream with a caramel topping. Representatives also added it to Welch's Grape Juice and Mike's Hard Lemonade.
So yes, boozy drinks can help you get your fiber.
A low-cal, low-fat cinnamon roll
The cinnamon rolls featured at the Caravan Ingredients booth were made with Trancendim, a speciality mono-diglyceride.
Don't let the name scare you. It's an additive with no trans fat that goes into shortening or oils to cut saturated fat. It also made the cinnamon rolls taste sweet and flaky.
"It also reduces calories," said Abby Ceule, marketing director for Caravan, of Lenexa, Kan. "You can't get much better than that."
The Trancendim roll contains half the saturated fat and 10 less calories than a traditional cinnamon roll.
Monk fruit appears to be the alternative sweetener du jour this year as companies continue to search for ways to get a sweet taste without sugar.
A carbonated orange drink made with Purefruit, a monk fruit extract, by Tate & Lyle, of Illinois, contains 25 percent fewer calories than a soft drink and can save manufactures up to 40 percent in sweetener costs, the manufacturer said.
Dead Sea salt for popcorn
Salona is a new product that taps salt from the Dead Sea to cut sodium in foods. ICL Performance Products, of St. Louis, served it up in bags of popcorn, mixed with Italian spices and cheese.
There are 1.7 grams of sodium in every 100 grams of Salona, compared to 38 grams in the same amount of table salt. Manufacturers say the product gets its flavor from potassium and magnesium.
Chocolate brain food
What if you could improve your short-term memory with a chocolate dessert?
Enter Chocamine, which uses parts of cocoa beans, without dairy or fat, for coffees and candy bars.
A 2009 clinical study showed eating Chocamine improved math test scores and visual-motor response time in 40 women, manufacturer RFI said.
"You get all the benefits of cocoa without any of the bad things," RFI CEO Drew Luce said.
Wild about frozen fruit
Not all blueberries are created equal. Wild blueberries are a bit smaller than their traditional counterparts, but they contain much more antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, which help fight heart disease and cancer.
But they only grow in the northeast soils of Maine and parts of Canada, so they're available locally only in frozen food cases.
No worries. "Frozen fruits are just as good, and in the case of wild blueberries, they're better," said Mary Ann Lila, blueberry plant director for the Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University. "Freezing locks in those nutrients and keeps them stronger longer."
Omega-3 without the fish
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good health. But they mostly come from fish.
Now even vegans can get their fatty acids. Ahiflower Oil is a new product that extracts Omega-3 from plants.
Manufacturer Technology Crops International, of Winston-Salem, N.C., also makes CardioSun High Oleic Sunflower Oil for frying food. The company says it is lower in fat and better for you than other kinds of oil.
So you can make a healthier doughnut or fries.
A more natural energy drink
Energy drinks are as popular as soda and just as bad for you because of all the caffeine and sugar they contain.
Wichy Plantations, of Sri Lanka, came up with a natural alternative made from coconut water and banana extract. Potassium and magnesium in the fruit provide an energy boost without caffeine or sugar, CEO Kushan Perera said.
"It's even safe for small children," he said.
Kid cereal with probiotics
H.R. Brueggen, of Canada, has come up with a children's cereal that contains probiotics.
Probiotics are cultures of bacteria, often found in yogurt, that help digestion and aid stomach and intestinal problems. In children, probiotics have been found to fight off tendencies to develop allergies.