New food and nutrition trends—all on view at the annual Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics meeting.
The latest nutrition trends are pretty easy to spot. You’ll often hear about new food and diet trends from friends or in the media, and before you know it there’s a whole host of new food products on the grocery shelves.
Dietitians are able to get a head start on upcoming nutrition trends, as I recently did when I attended annual Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics meeting in Atlanta. This is always a fun and interesting meeting to attend. Not only for the educational sessions, but also because you can spend hours wandering through the exhibit hall to view and sample hundreds of new food products. With all the vendors gathered under one roof, it was easy to spot the latest nutrition trends and hot topics. Here’s a sampling.
One of the most evident food and nutrition trends at the meeting was the focus on protein. So many of the vendors I spoke with were eager to tout the amount of protein in their products, particularly in snack foods.
I was really happy to see this, because it suggests that we may be starting to move away from the idea of that snacking is bad, and that well-balanced, healthy snacks have their place.
Snacking has got a bad reputation because many people associate snacking with “snack foods” that offer little nutritional benefit. Often, snacking is considered bad because it’s viewed as something we do primarily for entertainment, not as a way to boost our intake of vitamins, minerals or protein.
A healthy snack that contains protein can serve a couple of important purposes. It can help keep hunger at bay in between meals, and it also offers up another ‘eating opportunity’ to sneak more nutrition into your day. Putting together your own snack isn’t hard but it does take time. As more healthy snack options begin to appear on store shelves, it’ll be easier than ever to get a shot of protein in between meals. And it may also help support the notion that snacking, when done properly, can be a healthy habit.
Based on what I saw at the meeting, the wheat-free/gluten-free trend isn’t going away anytime soon.
There were so many new gluten-free products to sample, which leads me to think that more people will try them since they’re becoming so widely available. Whether or not people need to go gluten-free, the gluten-free trend could help add more variety and nutrition to your diet.
Since the primary source of gluten in the diet is wheat, the gluten-free trend is introducing us to all kinds of interesting grain alternatives, like quinoa, buckwheat, millet, teff, amaranth and foods made from them. This is a great way to add variety to your diet. And since every plant offers up its own unique set of nutrients, you’ll also be getting a wider variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
There is one caveat, though. Many people have mistakenly jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon, assuming it was a straight path to weight loss. Ten or 15 years ago, that might have been true. There were just so few gluten-free products available that avoiding gluten meant, in essence, avoiding wheat and everything that was made from it. So, a gluten-free diet consisted primarily of fruits, vegetables and protein—and a lot less refined carbohydrate—so many people lost weight.
Many of the gluten-free products that are out there now—as well as the ones I tried which are making their way to your grocery store—aren’t necessarily low in calories. If you decide to follow the gluten-free trend, just be sure to read your nutrition facts carefully so you know how many calories you’re eating. Bottom line: Gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean low-calorie.
There is an intense research interest focused on the gut microbiome. This is the collection of various bacterial species that inhabit your gastrointestinal tract and its role in human health. From what I saw at the meeting, you’ll probably be seeing more and more products that are designed to support the growth of these “good” bacteria.
Fermented foods are one of the primary ways we get these good bacteria into the system. Most people are familiar with fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, as sources of these bacteria. I also sampled something new, a cultured (fermented) cottage cheese that contained probiotics. There were also packaged fermented beets and carrots, as well as several probiotic beverages and probiotic “shots.”
As more people become aware of the importance of the microbiome to overall health, I expect we’ll be seeing more and more of these probiotic-rich, fermented foods on store shelves.