LeafSide FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
We’re here to help you be more successful with a whole-foods plant-based lifestyle, and your questions are what drive us to improve and create amazing products.
Have a question not listed here? Feel free to ask us at [email protected] and we’ll be sure to reply ASAP.
After 37+ combined years of living a plant-based lifestyle and helping others do it too, we’ve learned that the #1 reason many people aren’t successful with a whole foods plant-based diet, is that they don’t have the expertise, time, and energy to do everything themselves.
LeafSide meals solve this with 3 compelling advantages versus doing it yourself:
- No Work — We’ve removed all the hours of reading about nutrition, shopping, ingredient micro-management, cutting, washing, and cleaning — so you get the amazing health benefits of eating whole plant-based superfoods, without any real effort.
- Complete Nutrition — We stay abreast of the latest and most credible nutrition science per the Daily Dozen food guidelines from Dr. Michael Greger’s global bestseller, How Not To Die. Any one LeafSide meal eaten on its own gives you at least 9 Daily Dozen servings, of the best foods known to science.
- No Compromise — We’ve gotten so used to trade-offs in food, we expect convenient foods to be unhealthy, and healthy food to take a lot of time or cost a lot. No more! With LeafSide meals, you get complete, 100% whole foods plant-based meals with organic ingredients, ready in minutes with almost no effort, and easily stored and moved to wherever and whenever you’re hungry.
We’re long-time DIY/cooks ourselves, and there are still many times when we’re short on time or energy to make something healthy to eat, e.g. after an intense workout, or during or after a long workday. Traveling is another context where a shelf-stable LeafSide savory-bowl or stir-bowl comes in very handy.
The short answer is No and never, because every LeafSide meal is 100% whole foods plant-based (WFPB). As a company we’ve always been 100% WFPB since the beginning, and that will never change.
You can look at the ingredients of any of our meals, and you’ll find no processed franken-foods at all:
- no unpronounceable chemicals,
- no unidentified vague “flavors” or extracts,
- no weird food dyes or colors with numbers,
- no hydrolyzed or isolate foodstuffs,
- no added/processed sugar,
- no added/processed oils or fats.
LeafSide meals are made entirely of 20-30 real foods, almost all organic, from the best sources we can find.
The longer answer: There are at least two excellent definitions of whole/unprocessed foods vs processed foods that we use at LeafSide, and recommend to folks new to WFPB eating: 1) the common-sense definition of Dr. Michael Greger’s “traffic light” classifications, and 2) the more formalized NOVA classification system, by public health and food scientists.
First, Dr. Greger’s guidance is simple and easy to remember: a food gets the “green-light” when “nothing bad is added, and nothing good is removed.” So practically everything in the produce section of a supermarket is “green-light” — a whole, unprocessed food grown and harvested directly from fields or trees. In fact, most governments around the world can agree on this working definition of “whole” food — because unlike processed foods, unprocessed whole fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds, whole grains, etc have no legal requirement for extensive nutrition labeling. For an overview, please watch this short video from NutritionFacts.org
At LeafSide, we’re particularly careful to use the best green-light forms of foods available, that are still easily portable, which is why we use mostly freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, which best preserves nutrition.
The same green-light rule applies to everything else in a LeafSide meal. For example, a common plant food/ingredient, that can end up as either green-light or red-light, is wheat:
- For a few LeafSide recipes we use the green-light forms of organic wheat, i.e. whole grain wheat like freekeh — a satisfyingly chewy and delicious form of cracked whole wheat, that has all the original parts of the wheat kernel/seed, like the bran (rich with fiber and minerals), the germ (that would grow into a new wheat plant, loaded with vitamins and protein), and the endosperm (packed with low-glycemic-index complex carbohydrates, and protein).
- Whereas a red-light, highly processed form of wheat would be refined white flour, which is used ubiquitously in white breads, muffins, donuts, cakes, bagels, boxed cereals, pizza, cookies, pastries, and so on. In the making of white flour, wheat kernels’ bran and germ are discarded, while the remaining endosperm is processed, bleached, and made into a simple carbohydrate — losing all the whole wheat’s fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients (“enriched white flour” is effectively a joke, as it adds back in just a few synthetic vitamins). Unfortunately white flour processed food products are much more frequently consumed in wealthier countries: besides easier storage, white flour’s processed simple carbohydrates are cheap to make and sell in large quantities, thus better for most food companies’ profits. Furthermore, when cheap baked goods are combined with added sugar and fat, they can easily trigger addictive short-term pleasure centers in the brain, assuring repeat buying regardless of health costs — but all that is another story.
A second more formalized and scholarly foods classification system is NOVA (not an acronym, just a name) developed by public health and nutrition researchers in 2009, and increasingly adopted by public health researchers and the United Nations, in particular to support the UN’s goals for its “Decade of Nutrition” from 2016 to 2025, focusing on reversing the rapid rise worldwide, of noncommunicable/lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, etc.
In a nutshell, here is NOVA’s food classification system;
- Group 1, Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Foods, which includes whole foods plant-based (WFPB) foods. Drying, grinding, freezing, and home/restaurant cooking and preparation are included in this group. Thus all LeafSide meals, being made from 100% WFPB and requiring only steeping or blending, are in Group 1, the healthiest option.
- Group 2, Processed Culinary Ingredients: includes oils, butter, sugar, and salt. These foods are not meant to be consumed by themselves, and are derived from Group 1 foods, used in turn for preparation, seasoning, and cooking Group 1 foods.
- Group 3, Processed Foods are typically made by adding Group 2 foods to Group 1 foods in a package, e.g. fruits in syrup, canned vegetables, or breads and cheeses. Typically the ingredients list for a Group 3 food is still reasonably short, with recognizable Group 1 and 2 foods.
- Group 4, Ultra-processed Foods, are “formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods or additives,” with little or no intact whole foods. Their ingredients lists are long with many chemicals from industrial-scale processes (and definitely not found in home kitchens), combined in ways without domestic equivalents, “covering up” low-cost ingredients and poor taste with sugar, oil/fats, and salt in large amounts, to make the food “hyper-palatable” i.e. addictive.
NOVA’s unique and useful contribution was identifying “ultra-processed” foods as such, and as one of the top causes of the global chronic illness crisis (which includes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc). A 2019 study using NOVA in the USA, by researchers at John Hopkins School of Public Health, found that those in the top 25% eating the most Group 4 ultra-processed foods, had a 31% higher risk of dying from all causes. So please do stick to green-light, Group 1 foods as far as possible.
For those of us who enjoy being nutrition nerds, NOVA researchers remarked:
The term “ultra-processed” was coined to refer to industrial formulations manufactured from substances derived from foods or synthesized from other organic sources. They typically contain little or no whole foods, are ready-to-consume or heat up, and are fatty, salty or sugary and depleted in dietary fibre, protein, various micronutrients and other bioactive compounds. Examples include: sweet, fatty or salty packaged snack products, ice cream, sugar-sweetened beverages, chocolates, confectionery, French fries, burgers and hot dogs, and poultry and fish nuggets.
NOVA’s classification system is useful and important because ultra and highly processed foods pose growing, systemic, and global health risks:
- Older food classifications aren’t helpful anymore, e.g. an advisory to eat “cereals and cereal products” could easily be misunderstood by many to falsely equate whole grains (e.g. oat groats, quinoa — whole grains full of healthy micro- and phytonutrients), with sugary processed cereals (also laden with artificial colors and flavors).
- Scientific evidence is rapidly accumulating that the degree of food processing is directly related to a food’s health risks, e.g. industrial hydrogenation processes and trans-fats.
- As supermarkets displace traditional fresh food markets worldwide, ultra-processed foods take up most of a supermarket’s shelf space, with billions of dollars spent marketing them, especially to children.
- Highly/ultra-processed foods are produced and promoted by multinational food companies, aka “Big Food” with resources (billions of dollars of advertising, pseudo-studies) and other means (lobbying) to undermine national/public health policies of many countries.
How can LeafSide meals be both shelf-stable (no fridge needed), and healthy? Doesn’t that require preservatives and a lot of processing?
Because LeafSide meal packs only use dried ingredients, and because we often use the drying technique that best preserves the full nutrition of fruits and vegetables (especially vitamins, minerals, & phytonutrients): freeze-drying. We never use any preservatives.
The recommended consumption timeframe on a LeafSide meals pack is thus set by the more sensitive ingredients, which are typically nuts or coconut, with 2 months as the lower limit to ensure the best taste (some nuts last longer, and many recipes don’t use coconut). As mentioned elsewhere, if you expect to take longer to consume the meals, putting them in a fridge or freezer can extend their best-taste period at least 2-3 months or longer.
Freeze-drying food has a long history, possibly more than a thousand years old, as peoples living near mountains would leave produce out in favorable locations, where the combination of cold temperatures and high altitudes (lower pressure) would enable the water in foods to freeze, then sublimate, i.e. the water in the food changes from ice to evaporated gas, without passing through the liquid form. The low-water-content food left behind would be much lighter, still resemble the original food (especially with the original colors and thus nutrients), and last much longer.
Modern freeze-drying starts with the frozen produce (just like in supermarket freezers), then puts it in a large vacuum chamber, where the frozen water inside the food sublimates under controlled conditions. The resulting freeze-dried foods are lightweight, retain the original colors and tastes, don’t spoil for years, and most importantly, retain the macronutrients, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and phytonutrients remarkably well. Studies have shown that freeze-dried foods often retain over 90% of the original fresh food’s nutrition, much more than other drying techniques (air-drying, heat-drying) which usually damage micronutrients and phytonutrients — as easily seen by the large changes in the food’s colors.
Like frozen food, freeze-dried foods are first harvested at peak ripeness to have better taste and nutrients. But typical store-bought “fresh” fruits and vegetables are harvested early, artificially ripened, and lose up to half of their nutrient value sitting in the fridge.
Freeze-dried food has long been consumed by people in demanding contexts like mountaineering and space flights, where lightweight and high nutrition food is absolutely essential. But you don’t need to be an astronaut to benefit from its convenience and super nutrition!
A broad review of freeze-dried foods vs other drying methods, in preserving antioxidants and phytonutrients: A Review on the Effect of Drying on Antioxidant Potential of Fruits and Vegetables (2016)
Typical studies on fresh vs frozen nutrition include: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889157517300418 and https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1999.tb15943.x
Due to the low moisture content of our meals, and the use of 100% plant-based ingredients, each recipe will be shelf-stable and maintain the best taste and texture for about a 2-3 month timeframe from its creation date if stored in a cool, dry (non-refrigerated) place. Depending on a specific recipe’s ingredients, we do adjust that to be shorter or longer based on our ongoing tests of each recipe, and evolving packaging.
Typically, the limiting factor is any fresh ingredients used in the meal (nuts, seeds, dates, coconut, etc.). If you want to extend the storage duration, you can put your pack(s) in the fridge, just as storing these fresh ingredients in the fridge will help add several months of shelf life. You may consider storing the meals in the freezer as well, which is likely to add years of shelf life.
Our meals contain no preservatives or additives! Many of our ingredients are shelf-stable due to a special freeze-drying process that removes the moisture content from whole plant-based foods. This helps maximize the nutrient content and keep the ingredients safe to consume, without adding any unnatural preservatives or extra ingredients to our products.
Previously, we printed a “best by” date on the meal labels, with about a six-week time frame from the meal’s creation date, to be very conservative. But as many LeafSiders have discovered, some of our meals remain perfectly fresh even well past that date.
After extensive tests of all our meal packs, we’ve updated the time frame of each meal’s best freshness to be meal-specific.
Henceforth, all LeafSide meal packs will have a “Created On” date, and also a specific time frame of 2 or 3 months after that date on the back label, to ensure you enjoy the best taste and texture possible.
See below for an example:
Please note: We have NOT changed ingredients to increase the shelf-life. As always with LeafSide, ingredients remain unprocessed whole plant foods, with NO additives or preservatives.
Another quick reminder: The best-by time frame of dried foods is very different from an expiration date; the latter is needed for high moisture, perishable products. LeafSide meals are safe to consume weeks or months past the best-by time frame (yes, we’ve tested old meals on ourselves), though taste & texture may decline.
Finally, if you think you’ll need your LeafSide meals beyond their usual best-by time frame, remember that you can always store them in a fridge/freezer, to greatly extend their best-taste/texture lifetime. It’s yet another way to get more value & flexibility from LeafSide, while never wasting food!
We’re currently based in Tempe, Arizona, and that’s where our meal packs are made. All ingredients — organic and conventional — are from USA vendors, and in particular, all organic ingredients are USDA certified organic.
Yes! Each pack contains a full meal portion, averaging around 500 kCal up to 690 kCal (“calories”).
Because our meals are made from real whole plant-based foods, they have lots of nutrition and fiber, and will keep you feeling full and ready for demanding work or play, typically for 4 to 5 hours.
Our meals pack a lot of food, so many LeafSiders just set their smoothie or stir-bowl down at their desk and “graze” slowly on the food, for over an hour or more, enjoying the steady and sustained energy they feel. Or they share a meal with family members.
It’s also easy to “extend” a single meal into something that feeds multiple people, e.g. some LeafSiders have used the Tex-Mex as a chili to pour on top of sweet potatoes; or they use a soup with sprouted bread or tortilla chips; or they add frozen fruit to a smoothie to serve two; or they gather a few leftover veggies from the fridge and toss those into a smoothie or soup, etc. etc.
It’s entirely up to you. We’ve designed our meals so that just eating one will deliver plenty of plant-based nutrition, at least nine Daily Dozen serving units, from the global bestselling book How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Dr. Michael Greger.
Typically our customers lead busy lives and they use LeafSide meals whenever they don’t have time or desire to prepare something, like in the morning before commuting; for lunch during crunch time; or for an easy, satisfying dinner ready in minutes.
Smoothies are the only type of LeafSide meal needing a blender. Fortunately you don’t need an expensive blender, though it should be high-powered (800+ Watts motor) so that ingredients like whole flaxseeds are cracked open for good digestion; and the blender container should be at least 32 oz (4 cups, about 1 quart or 1 liter) in size, so that there’s enough space to blend well.
The blender we use and highly recommend is the Nutribullet Pro, aka 900 (900 Watt), available from Walmart.com or Amazon for usually $75 to $99 — a price that’s usually cheaper than directly from the Nutribullet website. It’s easy to use, has sufficient power, and is very quick and easy to clean, saving you time and effort.
One more important reason we recommend the Nutribullet Pro blender is that the personal sized 32 oz “colossal mugs” are the perfect size for making our smoothies and taking them to go. Also, you can affordably buy extra mugs for everyone (at home or office) to have their own, and you can get them for only $10 each at Walmart.com.
Yes, all LeafSide meals have been designed with expert chefs to be made by just adding (hot) water. The amounts and temperature of water needed are specified on the back-label instructions of each pack, ranging from 1 to 2.5 cups of water.
Yes! Although we designed all the meals to taste good with just water, some LeafSiders like to add plant-based milks like almond, rice, oat, hemp, or coconut milk (particularly to the smoothies). Those will give the meals a richer and creamier flavor, along with adding extra calories one may want and need, e.g. after a workout.
Our soups and stir-bowls (savory and sweet-bowls) have been designed to be placed into a small pot or bowl (minimum volume 1 quart, or 1 liter, or 4.5 cups), and then have boiling water added. For best results, stir the contents thoroughly, then cover them for the time shown on the package instructions, for complete re-hydration. That’s all there is to it; after 7-10 minutes you can eat a delicious and nourishing meal!
Don’t have such a pot/bowl handy? We’ve tried and like using this small, lightweight bowl+lid available on Amazon:
It’s a good item, but not perfect: the lid isn’t quite tight enough that you can fill it with hot water, close it, and safely put it in a bag as you head out the door. But for stationary soup or stir-bowl making at your counter, desk, hotel room, etc. it works well.
If you also want total portability, eating tasty WFPB meals anytime and anywhere during the day, another solution is to put a soup or stir-bowl pack in a real thermos (with a tight screw-on or locking lid) with the required amount of hot water, then seal and shake — it’s safe and ready for travels.
Boiling water is usually available on planes and trains, in hotels, etc. For home or office, the easiest way we’ve found to get hot water quickly is with an inexpensive electric kettle, although using a microwave to heat water beforehand also works.
Nutrition & Health Basics
We add extra information to the typical food/nutrition label because 1) it’s important to convey that LeafSide products are whole-foods plant-based, not processed; 2) the current standard food labels can be extremely misleading: their original intent was to force transparency from processed food manufacturers, but the label information is well behind nutrition science’s state-of-the-art, and relying on them exclusively deepens confusion not just about LeafSide meals, but about nutrition generally (a much larger concern).
First, when you go food shopping, you don’t see nutrition facts labels on fruits, vegetables, and other produce because they are whole, unprocessed foods, without chemical treatments and additives, and thus exempt. Because those label-exempt whole ingredients are all we use in LeafSide meals, it would suffice legally for us to just list the ingredients, but we show the macro- and micronutrients to customers for the sake of familiarity. Nevertheless, we’d want folks to understand that all LeafSide meals are:
- 100% whole plant foods, with dried whole foods being considered unprocessed — especially freeze-dried ingredients that generally preserve over 90% of measured nutrients, including macronutrients, micronutrients, and critical phytonutrients. Per Dr. Greger’s definition of “processed” foods and his green/yellow/red classification, nothing bad was added and nothing good removed, from our ingredients.
- Free of any added sugar or oil. The sweet meals (smoothies, sweet-bowls) are SOS-free, i.e. no added sugar, oil, or salt. Savory meals use a small amount of salt, for a baseline good taste that discourages the common habit of adding more salt. Alternatively you can request SOS-free versions of any LeafSide savory meal.
- Free of any animal or processed saturated fats, which are strongly associated with worsening cholesterol (thus raising heart disease risk), and lipotoxicity (increasing type 2 diabetes risk), while also bringing unwanted toxins like pesticides, growth hormones, glycotoxins, etc. By contrast, plant fats in their whole form are generally clean, and loaded with supporting antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber. Even with the whole plant foods containing the most saturated fat (e.g. coconut flakes), the fiber and other nutrients counteract the bad effects of saturated fats. But this kind of “package deal” of foods is not at all conveyed on current food label standards.
Second, the other broad reason we modify current nutrition labels, is that they otherwise promote an outdated way of thinking about nutrition, over-emphasizing the macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats) and some select micronutrients, while completely ignoring the growing tidal wave of evidence in nutrition science, that we need far more nutrients to be healthy and thrive:
- Thousands of powerful phytonutrients like flavonoids that protect us from disease;
- Antioxidants that keep our cells functioning optimally and prevent cascades of cellular damage, that would otherwise be unavoidable;
- All delivered in the abundant fiber of whole plant foods, that supports our gut microbiome which in turn nourishes us.
A label that would enable proper comparison across the whole spectrum of known nutrients, would simply not fit on any normal sized package. As just one example, consider grape juice vs soda: the nutrition labels seems similar, but the actual contents and effects on our bodies are radically different! Grape juice, of course, is a processed food (we lost the skin, pulp, and fiber), and already a few steps removed from its whole food form — yet still brings many, many phytonutrients to us.
So, while we work on better ways to convey the true, full nutrition value of whole plant foods, we also want to promote better mental models about nutrition.
In the US and developed world, the top causes of death and chronic illness are tied to lifestyle diseases: heart disease, cancers, lung diseases, diabetes, and brain diseases are linked to lifestyle choices of smoking, exercise, sleep/stress, and most importantly, our habitual food choices. If the bad news is that illness arises from habits (by some estimates, lifestyle factors make up 90% of health risks), the good news is that we all have the power to choose and make new habits.
The proof of the importance of plant-based whole foods is from four large and growing bodies of scientific knowledge:
- Clinical (intervention) trials: For heart disease, the only diet clinically and repeatedly shown to stop and reverse advanced heart disease is a whole-foods plant-based diet. Similar studies are emerging for reversing diabetes, cancers, and other chronic diseases with plant-based diets.
- The longest-lived people on Earth, in the so-called “Blue Zones” all eat predominantly plant-based diets, especially rich in legumes and beans.
- Large population observational cohort studies that distinguish between omnivorous, vegetarian, and vegan diets show lower all-cause mortality for plant-based diets. Such studies include the Adventist Health Study 2, and the EPIC-Oxford study. Other large longitudinal studies (tracking large numbers of people over time) such as The China Study find strong correlations between the amount of meat consumption, and disease rates.
- Growing knowledge of our biochemistry and digestive systems increasingly confirms the importance of nutrients available mostly or only from plants. Only plant foods have tens of thousands of phytonutrients (providing antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, anti-cancer molecules, etc.), and dietary fiber, which literally scrubs our innards and feeds our microbiome, which in turn releases vital nutrients to us (“To eat is human; to digest is divine.” — Mark Twain).
If you’re interested to learn more of the nutrition science for yourself, start with Dr. Greger’s global bestseller How Not To Die. Here’s a brief video summary: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-not-to-die-an-animated-summary/
A brief selection of references from the scientific literature includes:
- For excellent recent overviews of plant-based diets’ protective benefits against chronic diseases, see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466942/ and http://www.thepermanentejournal.org/issues/2016/summer/6192-diet.html
- Plant-based diets and reversing heart disease — see the works of Dr. Ornish, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Kahn. One recent summary is https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466936/
- For more about Blue Zones commonalities, see https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/
Fiber is what gives plants their structure, and where many nutrients are bound, to be released in our bodies for our benefit by the bacteria living symbiotically in our intestines and digestive systems. Examining fossilized remains of early human excrement shows that our ancestors consumed over 80-100 grams of fiber daily, eating very plant-rich diets. But today in developed countries, 97% of the population is deficient in this absolutely vital nutrient. The minimum recommended daily allowance is 31.5 grams per day, and most people get only 15 grams per day.
Whole plant-based foods are naturally very rich in fiber; we are meant to have a high level of fiber in our diet to support normal health. There is a whole host of new research indicating there are links between fiber deficiency and modern disease.
A recent observational study about healthy aging and disease found that “of all the factors examined — including a person’s total carbohydrate intake, total fiber intake, glycemic index, glycemic load, and sugar intake — it was, surprisingly, fiber that made the biggest difference to what the researchers termed ‘successful aging.’”
However, it’s important to emphasize that fiber by itself is not what delivers the health benefits; and that such reductionist thinking (hoping for one magic nutrient) has caused no end of confusion and failures. Rather, it’s consuming whole plant foods that are rich in fiber and many other nutrients, that boost our health.
One of the most active areas of nutrition research is investigating how our digestive microbiome affects our health. We have over one trillion bacteria in our digestive system, and most of the healthy bacteria require fiber for optimal function. Fiber deficiency is therefore linked to an imbalance of “good” versus “bad” bacteria in this vitally important bodily system.
Yes! Per the USDA standard, all the certified organic ingredients we use are non-GMO. For the remaining few conventional ingredients we’re using, they are also all non-GMO.
As fans of the scientific method, we’re aware that there’s a long-running debate about the safety and benefits (or lack thereof) of GMO food. So when it comes to very complex biological systems like food and our bodies, we go with the precautionary principle: unsafe until demonstrated otherwise.
Also, being skeptics by default and growing up through the Human Genome Project, we can’t help but notice that practically all the fantastic claims and promises of genetic engineering have NOT been delivered on, while the main actual, real-world application of GMOs is to make plants better survive repeated use of pesticides like glyphosate — we’ll take a pass on that.
Most of our meals are nominally gluten-free, meaning they have no specific ingredients with gluten, but it’s possible that trace amounts are present. We are not a gluten-free kitchen, so our meals are not certified as such. In particular, one of our meals does use organic whole grain wheat (bulgur): the Tex Mex savory bowl. You can see all of our meals here: https://www.goleafside.com/meals/ Simply click on each meal to see a description, the ingredients, and the basic nutritional information.
If you have been clinically diagnosed with celiac disease by a licensed medical professional (using blood tests and a biopsy), we advise not using our meals.
Otherwise and in general, if you suspect you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), consider working with a licensed lifestyle medicine professional (RD or MD) who can carefully review your current actual diet, while following an evidence-based protocol to properly diagnose the situation. A careful and thorough diagnosis can save you a lot of needless worry, avoid incorrect dietary restrictions (and missed social events), and avoid wasted money on unhealthy foods. Certified gluten-free products can easily cost 3× more, while still being highly processed and loaded with added sugar, saturated animal fats, and salt.
Put another way, it’s important to distinguish between refined, ultra-processed, high glycemic-index, and nutrient-poor wheat products, versus minimally processed, fiber-rich, low glycemic-index, high-nutrient whole grains. The vast majority of Americans eat far too much of the former, which include:
- Bread, bagels, and tortillas from white/refined flour
- Cakes, cookies, crackers, donuts, and pretzels from white/refined flour
- Pizza from white/refined wheat flour
- Pastas from white/refined wheat
- Ready-to-eat cereals from white/refined wheat
We all recognize the above foods, which are ubiquitous in developed countries. By contrast, few recognize, and regularly eat, minimally processed wheat products like wheatberries, or cracked whole wheat (bulgur, freekeh), or other whole grain wheat foods. Furthermore, practically all the above ultra-processed wheat products come with added processed sugar, processed (saturated) fats, and lots of salt — unhealthy additives that are very cheap, increase shelf life, and above all, are now provably addictive (esp. sugar, fat) on top of the addictive properties of refined flour itself.
Small wonder that when people reduce or eliminate such refined wheat products, they often feel better (better energy, better sleep, better mood) — but it’s easy to mistake correlation for causality, i.e. in dropping processed foods, much more (and worse) than gluten was cut from entering the body.
One more wrinkle to NCGS that’s worth mentioning: Anecdotally, many people who suspect gluten sensitivity (e.g. brain fog, poor sleep, depression, or an upset stomach after eating white flour bread or typical baked goods) experience fewer or no issues after eliminating processed food from their diets, and/or eating organic wheat products. These outcomes suggest one possible cause is the heavy use of pesticides (e.g. glyphosate) in conventional wheat foods. It has become a common practice to use pesticides (with glyphosate as a primary chemical) on conventional crops like wheat, soy, corn, etc. shortly before and/or after harvesting (as a desiccant for faster drying, or with conventional wheat, to kill the crop for early harvesting), which can greatly increase the presence of those chemicals in conventional, non-organic consumer food products.
To learn more about allergies, gluten, glyphosate and the effects it has on the human body, we recommend listening to this Rich Roll podcast interview with Dr. Zach Bush: https://www.richroll.com/podcast/zach-bush-353/ as well as his second return interview here: https://www.richroll.com/podcast/zach-bush-414/
First, because many people switching to a WFPB diet initially have a hard time getting enough calories, e.g. they may start by eating lots of salad, and not get enough calories, and wonder why they’re often hungry/tired. It takes time to research and understand what fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and other ingredients deliver the most nutrition, so we solve that problem for them.
Second, because LeafSide’s core value is healthy convenience: Thus we deliver a truly complete, organic foods meal (not a snack) that’s ready in minutes. Most other “meal” services will charge you more while only giving you a third of the calories (like 150 to 250 kCal) and nutrition (e.g. only a handful of ingredients, instead of our 20-30) — and that’s simply not enough for a real meal.
Finally, remember that calories are often not equal: 500 calories of donuts and soda has an entirely different effect on your body compared to 500 calories of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, etc. Most people eating a complete WFPB diet find they don’t really need to count or worry about calories, as the ample fiber in the diet naturally regulates feelings of hunger and satiety. When eating whole plant foods, the body’s natural wisdom takes over to reach a healthy state — as the old (pre-soda, pre-candy-bar) Zen saying goes, “When you’re hungry, eat; when you’re tired, sleep. Fools will laugh, but the wise shall understand.”
With the possible exception of people suffering from advanced heart disease, whose doctors have ordered a low-fat diet for medical reasons like reversing atherosclerosis, the human body needs significant amounts of dietary fat to function properly — the main issue is what kind of fats, from what sources.
As researchers have noted, between the long-lived populations of the “Blue Zones” there is a wide range of fat intakes, from the 10-12% fat of Okinawan diets, to around 30% for some Mediterranean groups like Icaria, or Sardinia. What these long-lived peoples have in common is that the sources of fat are minimally processed, and from plants: nuts, seeds, avocados, or whole olives more than olive oil. Even when oil is used, it’s minimally processed, e,g. made directly from mechanical pressing without further chemical treatments.
The least healthy fat is saturated fat, where the balance of evidence continues to show strong associations with heart disease risk. But even there, the source of saturated fats matter: it’s animal or processed saturated fats that are strongly associated with worsening cholesterol (thus raising heart disease risk), and lipotoxicity (increasing type 2 diabetes risk), while also bringing unwanted toxins like pesticides, growth hormones, glycotoxins, etc. which are stored in animals’ fat cells.
By comparison, plant fats in their whole form are generally clean, and loaded with supporting antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber. Even with the whole plant foods containing more saturated fat (e.g. whole coconut flakes), the fiber and other nutrients counteract the typical bad effects of saturated fats. But this kind of “package deal” of foods is not at all conveyed on current food label standards.
Unfortunately this term and number on nutrition labels is confusing, and only recently did the FDA revise the label to separately specify “Added Sugar,” i.e. the chemically processed and separated white sugar/fructose crystals of table/refined sugar. LeafSide never uses any kind of added sugar, thus that number is and always will be ZERO on all our products.
The fructose/sugar in LeafSide meals is only in the form of whole plant foods like berries, mangos, bananas, etc. and thus come packaged with nature’s good stuff: phytonutrients, antioxidants, and above all, fiber. This “package deal” nature of real food is still being understood, but it’s already clear that eating whole fruit is good for us, and totally different in effects on the body, than eating the same amount of fructose as table sugar.
Because words like “sugar” and “fructose” are often used loosely and ambiguously even by health professionals, it’s no wonder that many people have notions like “all sugars are bad for you” and throw whole foods sugars into the same category as ultra-processed white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
But there’s abundant science to show that, while ultra-processed sugars do immediate damage to our bodies, at the same time there are no such adverse effects with whole plant foods like fruit — and in fact, in carefully controlled studies it seems there’s no daily upper limit to fruit consumption, and consuming more brings greater health benefits:
The short answer is, YES! All meals are either SOS-free by default, or have that option.
All LeafSide products come with zero added oil or sugar; zip, nada, zero We have had that constraint — of no added sugar and no processed (nutrient-stripped) ingredients — from the beginning of our product development.
All of LeafSide’s sweet meals (smoothies and sweet-bowls) are SOS-free: no added sugar, oil, salt.
For our savory dishes (soups and savory-bowls) there are two options: the first is low-salt & miso, using a minimal amount of sea salt and miso powder, which has been shown to remarkably offset the negative effects of sodium in salt, even when the effective amount of sodium in miso is the same. We also follow Dr. Greger’s low sodium rule, that a meal should have its milligrams of sodium (mg) number, be less than its calories (kCal) number, e.g. here’s our popular Tex-Mex savory bowl with a sodium number lower than its calories number — a rule which holds for all our meals.
Why: With our savory meals, minimizing and cutting the salt is a balancing act of what tastes good, and health concerns from current nutrition science. Most of the population regularly eats far too much salt/sodium (as that is the cheapest way to increase flavor and increase the addictive aspect of food) and their taste buds are used to high salt. Until someone’s taste buds have adjusted to the more subtle, fuller flavors of whole-foods plant-based eating (it only takes 3-4 weeks after fully switching to 100% WFPB), there needs to be just enough salt (and many other flavors) in a LeafSide meal to discourage people from adding more salt.
However, for those customers already eating 100% WFPB and SOS-free, who want a “no SOS” or “SOS-free” compliant meal, we offer SOS-free versions of all savory meals, i.e. without any added salt or miso. Note: all SOS-free savory meals contain 100 mg (or less) of sodium that is naturally occurring in the ingredients. Please contact us or write a note in your order if you want your savory meals SOS free. (And if you’re wondering about whether to choose the regular or SOS-free version, please read the other FAQ on sodium, thanks.)
The short answers: all our sweet meals (smoothies, sweet-bowls) are free of added salt. For the savory meals (soups and savory-bowls), we add the least amount of salt that still tastes good, use miso to lower salt’s risks, and we adhere to the sodium < calories number rule, from Dr. Greger and Jeff Novick RD. We also offer "salt-free" (no added salt nor miso) aka SOS-free versions of our savory meals. All SOS-free savory meals contain about 100 mg (or less) of sodium that is naturally occurring in the ingredients (except for the SOS-free Creamy Potato Leek soup, which is under 180 mg of naturally occurring sodium). Background: We conducted many tests for each savory recipe when deciding how much added salt (and thus sodium) to use. The general concern was that healthy but bland recipes ("bland" to those accustomed to high salt levels from fast food and the Standard American Diet) would encourage the unhealthy habit of adding too much salt. So we put the absolute minimum necessary to create a good taste for more mainstream eaters, while still keeping the overall meal’s sodium milligrams number, below its calories number.
We also use miso powder, which research has shown has remarkable abilities to cancel out two of the main health risks of salt: hypertension and stomach cancer.
If you have further concerns about added salt and prefer SOS-free savory meals, please note our other FAQ entry about that option, and be sure to let us know (via chat or in your Order Notes) that you want the SOS-free option, thanks.
In general we recommend that most people new to LeafSide, and especially those new to WFPB eating, order the regular savory meals — until and unless your tastes in food are very accustomed to SOS-free foods at every meal. One good test: a committed SOS-free eater will find practically all fast food and restaurant food intolerably salty, and easily notice the effects of excess salt in their body afterward.
Can’t I just take vitamins or one of those “smoothie” vitamin powders to get the same benefit as LeafSide’s products?
No: nutrition science reveals that nature and our bodies are far more complex than we thought.
The vitamin and supplements industry relies on a reductionist view of nutrition, meaning they claim that it suffices to reduce food to macro and micronutrients, then chemically separate the beneficial ingredients from food or chemically synthesize the individual nutrients, often resulting in a processed supplement or powder form, that they can then sell to you as a panacea.
However the research overwhelmingly demonstrates that these isolated and processed compounds provide no long term benefit in the prevention of common modern diseases, and in some cases may contribute to it. Instead, the thousands of phytonutrients in whole plant foods combine in ways that are often surprising and synergistic, i.e. the combinations are much more than just the sum of their parts.
Please view the following pages for excellent summaries of current science:
- Food Synergy discuses the importance of combining whole plant foods and their thousands of phytonutrients, and the lack of benefits of supplements.
- Industry Response to Plants Not Pills gives a brief history of beta carotene and ineffective vitamin A supplements, and the larger lesson of whole foods over isolated supplements being suppressed by commercial pressures.
- Reductionism and the Deficiency Mentality gives an overview of reductionist thinking’s history and hold on scientific research, and the food industry. The change from adequate nutrition to optimal nutrition, calls for new thinking, and returning to whole plant foods.
- Even fiber doesn’t provide its health benefits by itself; it’s all the healthy nutrients that come with it that make the difference for your body.
Yes, and organic food is important, and more than a “nice-to-have” marketing feature.
First of all, it’s more nutritious: meta-analyses and reviews in the scientific literature show organic produce generally has 20-40% more phytonutrients, than conventional fruits and vegetables (though vitamins and minerals levels are similar).
Second, it’s safer: the more organic food is grown and eaten, the fewer toxins we directly ingest, like glyphosate and Roundup (banned in many other countries, but not the US). Recent studies show up to 25% lower incidence of cancers for frequent organic produce eaters, and rapid reductions in pesticide levels in our bodies after less than a week of eating only organic food.
Third, it’s more just: food is never only about us consumers, but always involves many other participants:
- Farm workers: those heavily exposed to pesticides have measurable genetic and immunological damage and shorter life expectancy.
- Farmers: smaller-scale organic farmers have been bravely fending off massive corporate interests like Monsanto for years.
- Wildlife: the alarming worldwide drop in insect and bird populations is likely tied to decades of pesticide usage.
- Ecosystems: while organic marketers typically highlight greater safety and nutrition of organic food, the important longer-term ecological benefit is healthier soil — the most important of all-natural resources. Here’s a highly-cited scientific paper comparing the two systems, see the Conclusions section for a summary:
Environmental, Energetic, and Economic Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Farming Systems
We know that the organic standards of the US and EU are not perfect, and could use many improvements. But they are nevertheless important steps towards truly sustainable food systems, and thus worth supporting. We need to put our money where our mouths are!
Currently, LeafSide products contain a majority of organic ingredients, as certain ingredients are still difficult to find in organic form. We’re in the process of moving to 100% certified organic for all recipe ingredients. We are especially careful to source and use organic ingredients for any items on the Environmental Working Group’s annual Dirty Dozen list, and do not use any conventional supplies of those ingredients in our recipes when possible.*
*Exceptions arise due to supply-chain challenges preventing us from finding an acceptable organic supply; for such cases, we may use conventional products that are tested and washed thoroughly prior to freeze-drying. Current exceptions include yellow and red bell peppers and jalapeno.