And that's ok! But let's talk about what's been going on with alternative carb products and everything you need to know.
There has been a huge bean and veggie boom in the packaged carbohydrate space. Traditionally carb-heavy foods, like dry pastas, rice, pizza crusts, chips, tortillas, and gnocchi can now be found made with untraditional ingredients, like chickpeas, black beans, zucchini, edamame, and sweet potato.
While I am a huge carbohydrate advocate, I also love the idea of using unique and innovative ways to sneak in more veggies. The more veggies the better, however each of these alternative ingredients come with some pros and cons.
💥The chickpea boom
The industry trailblazing chickpea has the unique ability to boost fiber and protein while also being an excellent gluten-free option for people who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. Chickpea and other bean-based products are typically made with 100% beans because beans are naturally excellent binders and they don't need extra ingredients to make a product stick together or hold its shape.
Unlike bean-based products, veggie-blended foods, like cauliflower gnocchi or zucchini pizza crusts, need extra help sticking together because vegetables are not great binders. These types of veggie-blended products have added potato starch, rice flour, and other binding ingredients that help firm up the product with texture and structure. And let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with adding extra flour binders into veggie-blended products. It is totally fine!
One of the issues I have with veggie-blended products is that the public perception is that these products are made with 100% veggies, creating an illusion that people are eating more vegetables than they actually are. Because someone ate a zucchini pizza crust, they may decide to skip their side salad or opt for no-veggie pizza toppings but the reality is that there probably isn't a lot of zucchini in that pizza crust.
To get an idea of how many vegetables are in veggie-blended products, check the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so if a vegetable is listed first, that means there is more of that vegetable by weight than any of the other ingredients. Keep in mind, even if a vegetable is listed first on the ingredient list, that doesn't mean you are getting a full serving of vegetables; that information would be voluntarily provided by the manufacturer either printed on their packaging or listed on their website.
🚫 Anti-carb culture
Another issue with these types of products is that they can further the idea that traditional carbohydrates are bad and we need to add things like chickpeas to make pasta ok to eat. I recently came across a brand of edamame fettuccine 'pasta' that had the slogan "The better for you pasta" written across the top of the box. This 'better for you' narrative creates a health halo where wheat and flour products are demonized and cauliflower pizza is considered a better alternative.
The irony is that 99.99% of these alternative carb products have carbohydrates. Sometimes even more carbohydrates than their traditional counterparts! Let's pull back the curtain on the anti-carb messaging around these types of products and perception they may have.
On Instagram Stories, I was showing the nutritional information of my favorite cauliflower gnocchi and I got a direct message from a follower that was shocked and horrified that the product had carbs. She had been eating the same brand of cauliflower gnocchi trying to lose weight (which is a whole other topic of discussion) and she was under the impression that the whole product was made out of zero carb cauliflower.
While the carb misconception is not the manufacturers fault, it's a symptom of public perception potentially caused by people not being comfortable or familiar with reading nutrition labels and ingredients list. Again, I'm a huge carb advocate and think we should be getting carbs from diverse food sources, so I am happy with the amount of carbs in these types of products.
🙇♀️The deciding question..
When it comes to these alternative carbohydrate products, whether they are bean-based or blended with veggies, you should always ask yourself - does this actually taste good?
Like I said before, I'm a huge traditional carbohydrate advocate and I adore semolina pastas, sourdough crust pizzas, and corn tortillas. I also eat Baza frozen chickpea pizza, frozen cauliflower gnocchi, and zucchini pizza crusts but I actually love their taste and texture. Food is meant to be enjoyed, don't waste your time eating something you don't like!
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DIETITIAN'S TAKEAWAY: 1) Think of these types of products as just an added veggie boost and not the main way you're hitting your daily veggie goal. 2) These types of products can also play into the carb-phobic mindset and they should not be used to demonize traditional carbohydrate products. 3) Only eat these types of products if you like them and they actually taste good!
COMMENT BELOW: I would love to know your thoughts on alternative carbs and if you have any products favorites you'd like to recommend!