Jesse and Kate Watson are on a mission. Kate, a registered dietician, and her husband, Jesse, an entrepreneur, coach and teacher, teamed up to start Nicer Foods. Their goal was simple: to create and market a nutritious, gluten-, corn-, dairy- and soy-free, low-FODMAP friendly, vegan meal replacement bar.
They totally nailed it.
For anyone who suffers from celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fructose, gluten or lactose malabsorption issues, finding a convenient way to satisfy hunger in an on-the-go lifestyle can be utterly frustrating. Thanks to their invention, the Be Nice Low FODMAP Diet Bar, life just got a lot easier. And tasty.
Kate and Jesse started out operating the Watson Center, an online organization offering classes, coaching, dietary information as well as a community for people suffering IBS, gluten, celiac and other dietary malabsorption conditions. Having dealt with IBS for over 20 years, Kate knew many things about how to address the pain she suffered for so long. But it was not until her honeymoon that she learned about the low-FODMAPs diet, and what she learned changed their life. (FODMAP is an abbreviation used to describe fermentable carbs, often the source of gluten, celiac and IBS issues.)
“Nicer Foods started as the result of my own battle with IBS,” Kate explained. “On our honeymoon in Mexico last year, I suffered terrible abdominal pain and nausea. I was scared, especially because I was in a foreign country. I stopped eating for a few days, living on rice cakes. After that trip, I started looking into research on IBS, and came across the low-FODMAPs diet. I was a vegetarian, but the idea of cutting out beans, wheat, and lactose was overwhelming at the time. Embarking on a big lifestyle change means that you must have a good support system to make it work.
“When I started on the low-FODMAP diet, I was amazed at the results almost immediately. I felt like a new person. It was huge after struggling for 20 years. I also began teaching clients about this diet. The frustrating part was that it felt like you had to cook everything from scratch. We like to travel, and we are busy with our careers. We found that so many people on IBS forums felt that embracing the complexities of the low-FODMAP diet were overwhelming. Too complicated, too hard. And it is a complicated diet.”
Through their online community, Kate and Jesse heard from people all over the world whose lives had been changed for the better from starting a low-FODMAP diet. They realized the need was there for a convenient, ready-to-eat low-FODMAP product.
“Frequently, our clients and members asked us, ‘How do I make this simple? Every day, we’re cooking from scratch, creating a kit of safe foods. We can’t go out to eat very often, and we have to make almost everything from scratch. It gets exhausting day after day,” Kate said.
Kate and Jesse quickly realized: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a FODMAP-safe meal replacement bar that was high in protein?”
That simple question was the genesis of Nicer Foods, (http://www.nicerfoods.com) the first US company dedicated to producing FODMAP-friendly food products. Their goal isn’t just to focus on creating products to cut out FODMAPs: Kate and Jesse dream of creating natural, healthy products for people with all kinds of food sensitivities, food allergies, and specialized food needs.
Doing the hard work to find a solution
“We spent so much time in our kitchen throwing out batch after batch of failed recipes,” Kate said. “We started with a list of low-FODMAP friendly ingredients. It was a ton of work to find the right balance of ingredients for low-FODMAP, for nutrition, good taste, shelf life and affordability. We analyzed the results for nutritional balance. Enough protein? Too many carbs? Adequate fiber? Too much fat? Making something so seemingly simple as a nutritious, low-FODMAP friendly protein bar turned into a much bigger challenge than we expected.”
After months of work, they developed a winning recipe. Jesse and Kate built a website to test market interest in a bar safe for people with food allergies to enjoy. They were amazed at the response and realized there was a need. They then launched a Kickstarter campaign and quickly reached their funding goal to research and produce their first product, a peanut butter chocolate chip, protein rich meal replacement bar.
After trying out their recipe at local food fairs, Jesse and Kate knew they were on to something big. They realized that making the bars by themselves would be far too challenging. So, they consulted with a food scientist to tackle issues of shelf life, quality assurance, cost, low-FODMAP compliance, nutrition, flavor and manufacturing.
Nicer Foods contracts Element Bars in Chicago to manufacture their bars. Element is willing to work with a start-up like Nicer Foods to produce small volumes. In addition, Element is a gluten-free certified manufacturing facility that specializes in making protein bars. Looking ahead, Jesse and Kate are talking with other manufacturers with the goal of making other low-FODMAP and IBS-safe products.
Containing only low-FODMAP friendly ingredients, the Be Nice Low-FODMAP Diet Bar is vegan, and free of dairy, soy, corn and gluten. Each bar contains 7 grams of protein from natural peanut butter, rice and quinoa, plus a touch of decadence from bitter-sweet chocolate chips made by world-renowned chocolatier Callebaut (the chips are dairy and soy free, of course).
Today, Nicer Foods is working on the formulation and flavor for its second bar. Jesse and Kate actively seek feedback on their website’s community forum on what their customers would like to see. They are also working with The FODMAP Friendly Food Program (FODMAP PTY. LTD.) in Australia to gain low-FODMAP certification from Dr. Sue Shepard, the world’s leading authority on FODMAPs. Nicer Foods bars have been analyzed and approved as being low in FODMAP by an independent lab in Australia, and are in the final stages of certification. When FODMAP PTY. LTD. launches a low-FODMAP friendly program in the US, Nicer Foods will be a part of the launch.
“Our dream is to be a one-stop shop for low-FODMAP and IBS-safe products,” explained Jesse. “We want to be known as the go-to for food products that are safe from food allergies and GI irritants with no surprise food ingredients. We want to create the opposite experience of what we encountered in the grocery store. We want our customers to be confident that they can say, ‘I can eat this!’ ”
The verdict: An epic WIN.
When we discovered Nicer Foods, we ordered a batch immediately. Their bars are delicious! Rita (my incredible wife), who suffers from gluten, fructose, lactose, soy and other food allergies was thrilled – finally, she could enjoy a delicious meal on the run with no side effects.
Until now, we’ve been frustrated trying to find a simple way to stay healthy and satisfied on a busy day. We spent hours in grocery stores looking for low-FODMAP friendly foods, especially protein bars, that didn’t contain ingredients like inulin, agave, honey, dates, apple or pear juice, milk products (including whey), corn or soy. Finding Nicer Foods was a godsend for us.
Worldwide, up to one billion people, and at least 30 to 45 million people in the US (10-15 percent of the population) suffer from digestive issues like IBS. In fact, FODMAP sensitivities have been found to be an underlying cause of gluten intolerance. Many people have no idea why they feel the way they do. Like Kate, my wife Rita was frustrated at the dead-ends she would find when trying to shop for her diet, and resigned herself to making everything from scratch. It’s time consuming and limits what we can do. That’s why we’re cheering on Kate and Jesse with their new business, and why we hope you will too.
To learn more about FODMAPs and a low-FODMAP diet, see our previous post, "A New Path: Living FODMAP, Gluten and Lactose-free," and an excellent article by Kate Scarlatta, "FODMAPs Basics."
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