Can packaged foods on-the-go be healthy?


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For much of my career as a dietitian, I have focused on helping people embrace food even as they learn how to lose weight safely and sensibly. Yet, while health-conscious people used to focus primarily on eating for weight control, today we see more interest in what ingredients offer optimum health benefits and disease-fighting potential. It’s no longer enough to just control calories or shrink portions when thinking about being healthy. To combat the effects of a contaminated environment, we must consider the quality and purity of what we’re eating as well. That’s why we’re seeing a paradigm shift away from packaged foods containing artificial flavoring, dyes, and processed fats, and back toward farmers’ markets, organic food, and, of course, superfoods.

While there is no scientific definition of the word “superfood,” I define superfoods as hardworking functional foods that far surpass basic nutritional content. They are, quite simply, the cleanest, most powerful, antioxidant-rich, anti-aging foods available anywhere. While these ingredients have been staple foods for centuries in other parts of the world, many of these foods are only recently available in the United States.

As a registered dietitian and author of two Peruvian superfood books, it excites me to witness the surge of Peruvian superfoods entering the United States market. Food companies are beginning to sell Peruvian ingredients and incorporate them into products. That has the potential to redirect popular snacks and supplements away from the synthetically processed route onto a more natural and wholesome path. Nonetheless, one of my jobs as a dietitian is to be the toughest critic of packaged products. I am inclined to doubt food companies’ claims and consider the underlying intentions they have in selling these convenience foods.

So with some product detective work and a critical eye, I was able to find several promising packaged snacks and supplements in the form of chips, chocolate, nut bars, cereals, and beverages. These products contain both Peruvian superfoods as well as some healthful benefits when compared to their synthetic alternatives.  

Vega maca chocolate bar-apology-free

For all you chocolate lovers, I have found your daily dose of deliciousness. Vega has combined two rich Peruvian superfoods, maca root and cacao, to form a decadent health supplement:  Maca Chocolate. With 4,000 mg of gelatinized maca per bar, you will start feeling an increase of alertness and stamina due to maca’s ability to stimulate the pituitary gland. Packed with anti-oxidant-rich cacao, this vegan-friendly chocolate bar is a health-conscious treat for your sweet tooth.


Those synthetic energy shots are full of caffeine and fake ingredients, finding a caffeine-free energy product that was made of natural ingredients was a win. Discovering youthH2O made my day because it contains the extracted forms of three of my favorite Peruvian superfoods-- maca, camu-camu berry, and purple corn; all of these are natural and organic. YouthH2O is packed with naturally occurring Vitamin C due to camu, making it not only a super-efficient immune-booster, but also a collagen-forming agent that is great for skin health. It’s the perfect addition for pre-workout shakes because maca helps with energy, and is an anti-aging and beauty enhancer as studies have shown, maca acts on the pituitary gland to help release the youth hormone HGH. This formula is also a great source of antioxidants  due to the content of purple corn which is rich in anthocyanin a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. The 2-ounce shot contains one of the most nutrient-dense formulas on the market.

Two moms in the raw

Another great product I found was the Two Moms in the Raw Cacao Nibs nut bar. I was drawn towards this snack for its high-quality, wholesome ingredients in a convenient package. The 2-ounce bar is the perfect addition for traveling days, since I always advise avoiding airport food, which is almost never fresh or healthy. It’s also great as a pre-exercise snack, or just as an office desk goodie to help you resist the temptation of the office vending machine. It pairs the bitter but antioxidant-rich benefits of the power food, cacao, paired with the sweetness of agave, for when you’re on-the-go or busy at the office.  

Vigilant eats

I have been telling my clients for years that one of the best things they can do for both health and weight control is to always eat breakfast! But for those who are so short on time that they find that hard to do, this cereal is a great alternative. By just adding water, hot or cold, or a milk of your choice, you can enjoy this hearty and flavorful cereal on-the-go, without the taste of a powdered product. The Espresso Maca Mulberry Superfood Cereal is a healthy choice not only because of the energy-sustaining maca it contains, but also because of the array of spices, which include a variety of phytonutrients. They’re delicious and healthy, and hearty enough to keep your hunger at bay. Since they store well, the cereals are a great 3 p.m. pick-me-up snack for the office.

Casa Sanchez totopos tortilla chips

This snack is for all you salt-craving chip lovers! Totopos Tortilla Chips are a gluten-free, hearty, and nutritiously-filling alternative to plain corn and fried potato chips. Since they are made with protein-packed quinoa and chia, as well as the energy-boosting maca, they give an array of amino acids that support the body’s metabolic processes. These ingredients also add texture, flavor, and powerful nutrients to every bite.  I recommend packing a handful for work along with a delicious homemade guacamole for that afternoon energy boost.

So it seems that companies are beginning to find that happy medium between wholesome ingredients and processed packaged foods. Although these are healthier alternatives than some, I am still an advocate of fresh and wholesome foods. Keep in mind there is no one single magic food that will be the cure for all ailments. It is still critically important to eat a well-balanced meal that contains lots of fresh and colorful vegetables, an array of whole grains, heart-healthy fats, and lean meat or vegetarian alternatives. Nonetheless, in a nation badgered with fast food and potato chips, it is refreshing to see how many of these superfoods are entering the United States market, creating healthier options for our on-the-go snacks.

DISCLAIMER: Manuel Villacorta is the registered dietitian and national nutritionist spokesman for youthH2O. He does not represent any other company mentioned in the article.

Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes and his newest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss.

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