November-December 2016: Healthy Diet Trends in a Nutshell

Have you tried chips and pretzels made with hemp-seed and quinoa flour? Was your post workout snack maple flavored seaweed? Tried fermented foods like tempeh or kombucha? And what about cricket (yes, the insect) tacos? We are spending billions on so-called "out-there" foods as we expand our horizons and palates with an eye to improving our health. Below are some note-worthy dietary trends influenced by the need to be healthier and to work towards more balanced eating habits.

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Organic food redux: now more than ever before, organic foods are "in", especially in the search for more nutritious and sustainable food sources. Sales of organic food posted a new record of $43 billion in 2015, up 11% from 2014 and far outstripping the overall food market's growth rate of 3%. Sounds huge, but bear in mind organic food accounts for a mere 5% of all foods sold in the US. The top organic categories? Fruits and vegetables., which make up 13% of organic food sales. Dairy is second biggest and fresh juices and drinks are the fastest growing with sales up to 34% in 2015 (1). 

Plant-based diets: for anyone living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, plant-based food is far more than a “trend” — it’s part of a fundamental philosophy. More and more people avoid animal foods, which are often cruelly produced in factory farms, environmentally devastating, and often unhealthy. In mainstream culture, however, animal products still dominate but the the good news is, consumers are gradually catching on to the importance of healthier, more sustainable foods (2).

This change in culinary preferences is revealing itself through data — the market for non-dairy products is skyrocketing; meat alternatives sales are expected to reach $5 billion by 2020; and more than 1/3 of consumers are open to plant-based products (3).

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The power of nuts and seeds: related to above, it takes significantly fewer resources to produce and transport plant-based snacks such as peanuts than animal-based products (though conventionally grown almonds are notoriously high for water use). In addition, nuts and seeds are a nutrient-dense great source of protein and healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids, rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Chia and hemp seeds are still going strong. The value of imported hemp seed products for use as inputs and ingredients has increased more than six-fold since 2005 (2, 6).

Healthy fats: Fat have now shredded their devilish reputation. There’s mounting scientific consensus that the type of fat we eat is more important than the amount. So instead of low-fat, the focus is on healthy fats and on shifting the balance towards mostly unsaturated fats found in olive oil, fatty fish such as salmon, olives, nuts and seeds. In addition, research on the much vilified saturated fats, especially those derived from dairy like fats in butter and cheese (butter from grass-fed cows and organic unrefined coconut oil) show that saturated fat, in moderation, is better for you than margarine and other butter substitutes. And there is increasingly reliable evidence that carbohydrates from refined and ultra-processed sugars and while flour are more closely related to diabetes, obesity and heart disease than diets rich in certain fats (2, 4, 5).

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the healthy fats trend has been the avocado – chock full of monounsaturated fats. One avocado trend that rises above all others is avocado toast – smashed avocado on toasted bread, often sprinkled with hot sauce or topped with a fried or poached egg. The avocado and egg combination will continue to be big in 2017 – avocado egg salad, avocado deviled eggs and baked eggs in an avocado half. Other trending avocado recipes outside of the classic guacamole include baked avocado fries, avocado sushi, hummus, pasta sauce and salad dressing. 

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Healthy snacks; snacks like kale chips and roasted chickpeas have been and continue to be increasingly trendy, in part due to consumer preference, and also because snacking accounts for over 50% of eating occasions. Many of my clients struggle with sweets in moderation and I usually recommend the least processed snack bars like KIND bars, that now have allergen-friendly options, and are 100% fruit and vegetable. Savory snacks are also a great substitute for conventional chips and fries - think pumpkin seed-kale-tamari snack pack or all types of roasted (not fried) chips made from various types of whole grains (think quinoa, spelt, buckwheat).

Clean food labels: the “clean” ingredient decks continue to be influential in how health-conscious consumers perceive products. Part of this trend includes “de-junking”. That is, reformulating a product that was not clean before and re-engineering it to get rid of artificial flavors and colors, reducing added salt and sugar content significantly while still having the product deliver the same or better experience than before. This is a huge challenge for the industry, but one can see food manufacturers accelerating the clean label trend and constantly innovating (6).

 Fermented tea

Fermented tea

Gut health: while not new, digestive health remains a “purchase driver globally”, especially as consumers better understand the role of digestion in overall health and wellbeing and how probiotics and fermented foods can aid them. In addition to lending dishes a unique, sometimes earthy and sometimes acidic flavor, fermented foods can play a role beyond digestion and metabolism. That is, there is increasing evidence pointing towards the gut-brain connection where healthy gut bacteria (microbiota) have been show to affect ones mood, sleep, and stress levels (7). To get in on this hot trend, try replacing your tofu with tempeh, snacking on kimchi, enjoying a bottle of refreshing kombucha, or adding flavor to your cooking with miso paste. And remember: sauerkraut is sexy! (6, 7).

 

 

References

  1. Organic Trade Association: https://www.ota.com/news/press-releases/19031
  2. IDEA Food & Nutrition Tips: http://www.ideafit.com/idea-food-and-nutrition-tips/2016/november.
  3. Plant-based food named top trend for 2016: http://latestvegannews.com/plant-based-food-named-top-trend-2016/#
  4. The case for eating butter just got stronger: http://time.com/4386248/fat-butter-nutrition-health/
  5. Eggs don't cause heart attacks - sugar does! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/sugar-heart-attack_b_4746440.html
  6. Health and wellness trends: http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Markets/7-trends-influencing-health-wellness-and-consumers-views-of-food
  7. Gut feeling: how your microbiota affects mood, sleep, and stress levels, Epoch Times, Oct 20-26.