Thursday, April 26, 2012

GF Taste Project: Cocomama Quinoa Cereal

Here's the first official product review for my new project: the GF Taste Project. I was recently asked by Cocomama Foods to review their new product: Quinoa Cereal. They sent me three of their flavors to taste and review on the blog. Whether or not you're required to eat a gluten-free (GF) diet, read on! If you're looking for variety, this cereal makes a great addition to any diet.

Product Introduction:
The first thing I noticed about Cocomama Quinoa Cereal is that it is based in just a few simple ingredients: quinoa, coconut milk, fruit and natural sweeteners such as honey, syrup and fruit concentrates. It appears that all the ingredients are "real" and that there are no preservatives. This I really liked. All the cereals are gluten, dairy and soy-free making them a great option for those with food allergies. That's tough to come by in a convenience product.

Preparation:
Per the instructions, you can eat the cereal at room temperature or heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds. I tried the cereal cold, but decided that I would much prefer it heated. I trialed different heating times and found that 40 seconds was more adequate to warm the cereal to my liking. The quinoa still maintained its "al dente" texture when heating for a little longer than instructed, but at 60 seconds, it became a little mushy.

Nutrition Information:
The calories range from 210 to 240 per packet, depending on which flavor you choose. Each cereal has about 8 grams of total fat, 6 grams of which are saturated. It's a low sodium option, containing less than 300 mg, and is high in fiber, with 3 grams per packet. Each packet of cereal contains about 30 grams of carbohydrate (2 carb choices), which is similar to an oatmeal packet, and a nice serving size for those monitoring carbohydrate intake in their meal plans. 

A Nutritional Note About Coconut:
The amount of saturated fat contained in the product is high (we only need about 15 grams of saturated fat in the whole day)--but it comes from coconut milk. At this time, research on the saturated fats in coconut remains conflicting. I would say that the overall consensus of the dietetics community is still that coconut oil is to be limited in the diet, since it is a saturated fat (along with other similar fats such as butter and cream). Saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels and risk of cardiovascular disease. But the debate lies in that coconut oil, although a saturated fat, has benefits because of it's medium-chain structure (versus long-chain). Without getting too technical, this means that the body is able to metabolize it more quickly than other fats. Some research demonstrates that this causes increased energy expenditure, potentially decreasing weight and cholesterol levels. Still, other research indicates that medium-chain fatty acids, such as coconut oil, still increase cholesterol and specifically, triglyceride levels, known markers for heart disease. I don't think the research is clear enough yet to recommend regular consumption of coconut oil, especially since this could pose a health risk if you already have high cholesterol and/or heart disease. But will a little hurt? Most likely not. My advice is to continue consuming saturated fats in moderation, and that includes coconut oil. That means it would be safe to consume Cocomama cereal on a regular basis, but I would make sure that other sources of saturated fat in your diet are limited, especially if you have high cholesterol.

Part of a Balanced Meal:
I aim to build balanced meals, and Cocomama Cereal was the perfect jumping-off point. Since it is low enough in calories, I was able to add a fruit and a glass of milk to complete my meal. Nuts would be great on top too! In combination with these additions, I found Cocomama Cereal to be a very filling breakfast. I was full for 3 hours afterward and not starving by the time I got to lunch, even after my 60-minute morning exercise routine. Now this is a feat for me, because I'm usually starving by 11:00 and ready to start eating my desk! Alone, the cereal wouldn't have been enough for me. The portion size is fairly small and looks quite a bit larger as pictured on the product package than it really is. As part of a balanced meal, though, it was perfect. And it's a very quick meal!

Taste:
I got to try three of the four flavors offered by Cocomama. Here's my review of each:

Banana Cinnamon 
The banana cinnamon cereal had a rich, indulgent flavor. It was like a treat to me! Most prominently, I tasted the sweet cinnamon flavor, which I enjoyed, but it was almost a little too sweet. However I am accustomed to eating more "plain" foods for breakfast and typically don't add any sweetener or sugar at all. The texture was smooth and creamy and the flavors blended well together. I added a sliced banana and a glass of skim milk to balance out the meal and really enjoyed it.
Wild Blueberry
When I poured the Blueberry pouch into my bowl, my first thought was that it was a little unappetizing; it didn't look particularly appealing. Still the blueberry, vanilla and maple flavors blended nicely together, with blueberry being most prominent, but at times I still tasted notes of maple and cinnamon too. I would prefer this flavor to be a little less sweet also; the sweetness was a little overpowering. It was not my favorite flavor and I would most likely pick the others over this one.
Orange Cranberry Cocomama Quinoa Cereal
Orange Cranberry

The flavor of the Orange Cranberry cereal was refreshing and bright. I didn't taste the cranberry much or see any "plump cranberries," but I did get the perfect hint of orange. I can picture myself adding cranberries and walnuts to the top and enjoying it with a glass of milk. It had a great flavor in combination with the crisp texture of the quinoa. Great for a sunny, summer morning.

Overall, all the cereals tasted great and they offer a great base on which to add fruit, nuts and milk to plan a balanced, complete and filling breakfast. They are a little sweeter than I would prefer to eat on a daily basis, but I would consider purchasing the Banana and Orange flavors as well as the Honey Almond, which I didn't try. I would like to see a "plainer," more lightly flavored option too!

Cost:
The cost of a six pack is $21.00, which comes to $3.50 per pack. Alongside milk, fruit and nuts, you would still have a breakfast that costs less than $5. Cocomama also offers $3.99 flat shipping on all orders.

Summary:
Since I am not required to follow a gluten-free diet, but do enjoy quinoa, Cocomama Quinoa Cereal is a nice addition to my breakfast repertoire. For those people who are required to eat gluten-free for health reasons, convenience is really a huge factor! Many gluten-free hot cereals take longer to prepare, coupled with advanced planning. You just can’t beat the convenience of this product, especially if you’re on-the-go or eating breakfast at work. I would consider it a great option as well for camping trips and travel too, especially if you don't mind eating it cold.

Cocomama makes a nutritious breakfast quick. If you're required to eat GF, this is a very delicious option. I would consider purchasing Cocomama cereals as a breakfast treat to add variety to my breakfast options.

To read more about Cocomama Foods or to purchase the Quinoa Cereal, visit http://www.cocomamafoods.com/.

One of the perks of my job is receiving complementary samples of products or compensation for passing along my expert opinion as a Registered Dietitian. Please be assured that my opinion and review is not guaranteed to be positive solely because I have received compensation. I'm here to help you--the consumer--sort through the vast amounts of nutrition information available to find legitimate answers. This is my primary goal in providing product reviews on my blog.