NatureBox Snack Service – A Review

NatureBox helps you eat healthier without needing to change your eating habits. We focus on snacks because that’s the easiest habit to change.”

This is from the NatureBox Mission Statement. Their goal, to make you healthier one snack at a time. Since starting back at a desk job, I don’t have the convenience of running to the refrigerator every time I get hungry. When I came across their ad on Facebook (damn you, Facebook ads!) I decided I would give it a shot.

NatureBox

I eagerly awaited my first order, which arrived approximately a week later in a tidy rectangular box. Your first order is a sample box with 5 bags of assorted goodies left to the discretion of the Gods of Packaged Snacking. So when I opened my box I was a little let down that 4 out of the 5 snacks were…vegan. GASP! 2 of them were corn products…seriously? Well, ok, but at least they are from non-GMO corn. And another was a granola product. So, coming from a mostly paleo diet, 80% of my snacks didn’t jive with me. Luckily, I am not a purist and have no allergies that would send me running to the bathroom or reaching for the Benadryl, so I tore everything open and began to sample. My first box contained:

  • Cherry Berry Bonanza
  • Vanilla Macaroon Granola
  • Masa/Flax Crisps
  • Toasted Corn Kernels
  • Pistachio Power Clusters

The vanilla macaroon granola was heaven in my mouth, but it was pretty much dessert in a bag. The pistacho power clusters were also very sweet, as well as the cherry berry bonanza. The masa/flax crisps (think healthy Fritos) were so salty I couldn’t even finish them and the toasted corn kernels (like Corn Nuts) were ok, but you’d better have strong teeth to chow down on those puppies. First impressions on flavor…not so hot, but these snacks are Nutritionist Approved!, so I took a look at the back of the bags.

Let’s examine the Cherry Berry Bonanza for a moment.

Berry Label

The second ingredient is sugar and if you look at the the total carbohydrates it is 33 grams per serving. You know what else has 33 grams of carbohydrates per serving? A full size Snickers bar. Yep. At least a Snickers bar has 4 grams of protein with all that sugar (not that I’m condoning snacking on a candy bar…step away from the vending machine). Not sure how this one  became Nutritionist Approved. The other snacks were a little better but still not in my ideal realm of nutrient composition and many of their products contain soy ingredients. No bueno.

The second month of service you can log in to your account and choose your own snacks. I picked out the following:

  • Plantain Chips
  • Dark Chocolate Almonds
  • Peanut Butter Nom Noms
  • Smokey BBQ Peas
  • Dark Chocolate Cherry Trail Mix

Much happier with this second round so far. The peanut butter nom noms and chocolate almonds were still too sweet, but had sugars under 11 grams per serving. The plantain chips are amazing. Light, crispy and just salty enough. I think they are my favorite of the snacks. The trail mix and BBQ peas are tasty too and much more acceptable with the sweet/salty factor than the first order of snacks.

My opinion of NatureBox is that it is a good transition for people who tend to snack on vending machine food looking to improve their food choices. It’s a good start. There are many options to choose from and their selection varies from month to month so you can always find new things to try. For $20/month, it’s not a bad way to ensure you will have some moderately healthy snacks around when you need them; especially if it keeps you from eating the donuts in the break room. Many of the products are high in sugar or sodium, and contain soy or vegetable oils, which I prefer to stay away from. If you are looking for a gentle push towards eating better then give NatureBox a try, but if you are a purist you’re better off seeking your own snacks where labels can be read meticulously before purchase, or just make your own from scratch.

The Future of Food May Not Be Food At All

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Yeah, but what does it taste like?

If you could be healthy, lose weight, and save money all without eating food, would you? I recently read an article on a product called Soylent (obvious nod to Solent Green, except it’s not made from people, I hope) that claims to be the future of nutrition.

Created by Rob Rhinehart, a former electrical engineer, when he was too poor to eat a balanced diet. He decided to do some research on what nutrients were needed in the human diet, ordered the nutrient powders online and proceeded to create a recipe for a shake that one could subsist and even thrive on without the need for actual food.

His personal experiment became so popular that Soylent’s kickstarter campaign of $100,000 was funded within 2 days (they were hoping to succeed within 2 months) and there are now over $1 million in pre-orders. Clearly, others are interested in doing away with the inconvenience of buying, preparing, and eating real food.

The formula is constantly being updated and currently consists mainly of oat powder and maltodextrin for carbs, an EPA/DHA blend, flax seed and MCT’s for healthy fats, and a rice/pea protein isolate blend (switched recently from whey protein due to concerns with allergies and vegan compatibility).

My concerns with this type of diet are digestive atrophy and micronutrient deficiencies. Soylent makers claim that there are no detrimental effects to being on a liquid diet long term; but adding a few solid food meals a week should offset these concerns. As for micronutrients, the complete Soylent recipe isn’t published to protect their formula and I’m sure they have taken this into account. However, the human diet has variety for a reason. This wide variety of foods helps ensure we have maximum absorption of macro and micronutrients. I have a hard time believing a single formula can provide long term health benefits.

It might be nice to have a nutritionally complete meal replacement such as Soylent on occasion, but personally, I’ll stick to eating real food. There’s no substitute for the pleasure of a well-made meal shared in good company.

What I Learned From Nutrition Tracking

I have a lot of clients who use the My Fitness Pal website to track their calories. I decided to make an account and try it so I could become familiar with the process.

It has been several years since I have bothered with nutrition tracking. I believe if you eat the right foods you shouldn’t have to count calories. I learned something interesting though; I don’t eat what I thought I did.

Mistake #1: I thought I ate more calories. I have always struggled to eat more than 1200 cals/day. I figured since going paleo, the additional fat in my diet would fix that. Nope. Still barely making it to 1200. This is too low, especially for an active individual.

Mistake #2: If my carbs are low, my sugars are low too. In my world, these are the same thing but MFP breaks these into separate categories. My carbs are doing well with under 120 grams most days, but my sugars are typically going over the recommended amount. That means the majority of my carbs ARE added sugars. Not good at all and probably the reason I still crave sweets. I’m feeding the monster without even realizing it.

I have also realized that the simple act of logging my food intake helps me make better choices. I feel guilty if I have to confess to eating something I shouldn’t. It’s there in black and white right in front of me, driving up those sugar grams!

My opinion on nutrition tracking has changed somewhat. I DO think it’s a good thing to do. Do you have to do it forever? No. Should you become obsessed and stressed out with your logging? Hell no! But logging can be helpful to determine where you are actually starting so you can more realistically define your goals and change your habits.

MFP is free and easy to use. It is a little time consuming at first while you build your library of foods that are typical for you, but it does have a pretty extensive library which makes it easy to find foods, even specific brands and restaurants. There is some guesstimating involved but it doesn’t have to be perfect.

A note on MFP: It automatically calculates target macronutrients based on your goals. These numbers are based on the USDA food pyramid and therefore, not accurate for those following a different diet. Your protein and fats may be in the red, while it expects you to exceed 150 grams of carbs/day. You may need to mentally adjust the targets to support what works for you.

UPDATE: Yes, you can change your macronutrient profile! Took some digging to find where to change the settings, but you can adjust these goals to fit whatever diet works for you.

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Target nutrients based on weight loss goal of .5lbs/week.