My email inbox is constantly exploding with nutrition information. Some of it is more focused on product marketing, while other emails are from doctors, researchers, and experts devoted to advancing the cause of clinical nutrition, holistic health, and other preventative forms of wellness. There are usually some common denominators in this information that allows us to connect the dots and those connections usually show up as new emerging nutrition trends.
Here are some of the top nutrition trends I see taking front stage this year:
5 Nutrition Trends Coming This Year
Although plant-based nutrition and veganism have been around for many years, it isn’t until recently that vegan living has really started to take hold as an accepted, mainstream way of life. With the release of documentaries like What the Health?, and more people turning to resources like nutritionfacts.org to get their wellness information and advice, plant-based living is finding its permanent place in the way we live and fuel ourselves. Plant based protein, in particular, is one to watch, as even some meat producers begin converting their farms to plant-based protein farming. I believe we will see the vegan and plant-based industries explode this year more than ever.
TIP: If you are curious about the vegan lifestyle, remember that from a nutrition and wellness standpoint, any fad packaged into processed food is probably not going to serve you very well. No matter how noble the cruelty-free cause or green the packaging appears, you can do your self a favor by keeping the approach nutritionally sound. A Whole-Food, Plant-Based diet would be a better objective than just being “vegan.” That means, if you want to go vegan, make sure your meals contain whole, unprocessed, organic foods. And try to avoid the processed soy cheeses, fake hamburger meat, and sugar-laden coconut yogurts, to name just a few. Check out my recipe blog for a collection of mostly plant-based recipes from mostly whole, nutrient dense foods. Learn the nutrition ropes of a vegan diet and give yourself a huge step toward freedom from the “processed vegan food machine.”
2. Functional Foods
Functional foods are foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Proponents of functional foods say they promote optimal health and help reduce the risk of disease. Some perfect examples of functional foods are this Activated Popcorn, or this Spirulina Chocolate Drink. Another example of an unmodified or unfortified functional food is oatmeal because it contains soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol levels.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates the claims that manufacturers can make about functional foods’ nutrient content and effects on disease, health or body function.
TIP: In my opinion, all food should be functional and should have a positive, therapeutic impact on your body and overall well being. That is why I always advocate for getting more nutrient density-per calorie into every meal you consume. If you want to try functional foods, choose wisely. And keep in mind that while functional foods may help promote wellness, they can’t make up for poor eating habits. Before you spend a fortune on a food that you believe can benefit you, do some quick research on the key ingredients. If you can’t find credible scholarly studies backing up the claim, that could mean the food either hasn’t been extensively studied yet, or it simply doesn’t live up to the claim being made on the package. The best and easiest way to get more functional food into your body is to just eat a variety of colorful whole vegetables, fruit, raw seeds, nuts, and pseudo grains like buckwheat, teff, and quinoa. Just starting with that habit can make a huge difference. But there are some awesome functional and super food products out there as well!
3. Healthful Adult Beverages
Have you ever been offered a glass of kombucha in lieu of an alcoholic cocktail? If not, get ready. Vinegar drinks, kombucha, and other low sugar or sugar free, functional, and alcohol-free drinks, are gaining momentum. Whereas cold pressed juices were all the rage in the last couple of years, these bottled concoctions are taking a step up, and I think you will be seeing a lot more of them in the grocery stores and deli counters this year. One of my local neighborhood markets even opened a “kombucha bar” where you can drink on demand, or fill your refillable growler to take home.
TIP: Before you buy any bottle of healthful potion from the refrigerated section of the market, flip the bottle over and read the nutrition facts. Make sure it contains your ideal amount of sugars, hopefully not added from refined or cane sugars, and check the micronutrients to see what you are really getting in each bottle. Sugar sneaks its way into so many commercialized products, and it comes in many disguises. Cane sugar, brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, glucose syrup, coconut sugar, brown sugar, are all sugars and can have the same adverse affect as plain old table sugar. And that is just listing a few. The easiest way to ascertain sugars is to first look for “sugars” on the nutrition facts. If you see a reading for sugars, then go to the ingredients and try to determine where the sugars are coming from. Sugars from natural fruit would be an example of a better representation of sugar, as opposed to sugars from glucose syrup. These details can make a huge difference in how beneficial these beverages can actually be to your health. I try to keep sugars down to less than 5g per serving whenever I choose a kombucha.
4. Microbiome Everything
The word microbiome is defined as the collection of microbes or microorganisms that inhabit an environment, creating a sort of “mini-ecosystem”. Our human microbiome is made up of communities of symbiotic, commensal and pathogenic bacteria (along with fungi and viruses) all of which call our bodies home. With more and more studies linking microbiome health to a variety of physiological functions, the healthy food marketing engine is revved up to make sure they have a pro-gut, micro-biome-loving solution to sell you.
TIP: You will probably hear a lot more about probiotics, prebiotic inulin fiber, and fermented foods as ways to feed your “gut garden.” But simply ingesting a probiotic yogurt from the store is probably not going to do much for your gut health. Balancing your microbiota can be a delicate dance, and is best done under the advisement of a doctor or natural health practitioner who has access to the right information, clinically sound methods of assessing your individual gut health, and professional grade food and herbal supplements. People with gut bacteria overgrowth and other intestinal complications can make matters worse if they don’t understand exactly what they are feeding in their intestines, and how and why to feed, or weed out certain organisms. Having said that, if your gut is healthy and your doctor says it’s cool, an easy way to give your gut a little helping hand is to just increase your fiber from whole fruits and vegetables.
5. Transparency in Food Labeling
Here is the predominant modus operandi of most food product manufacturers when it comes to labeling: The front of the package tells you what the manufacturer wants to tell you. The back of the package tells you what the manufacturer is legally required to tell you. Having said that, there is an emerging small but mighty force of food products that are going out of their way to be super transparent with their labeling. Many even go out of their way to educate the consumer on each and every ingredient in the product. Why is this happening? Because consumers are getting smarter and more informed about the sad truth in the way our food is produced and supplied. Consumers are growing tired of living with preventable diseases simply due to the poor quality of their meals. And many are realizing that just because something is sold at the grocery store, does not automatically qualify it to be safe and harmless to our health. So, food manufacturers are racing to be the “biggest and noblest and most honest” supplier of your food. This study shows some interesting market statistics to this effect. This is great news for consumers, but unfortunately, you’re still going to need your magnifying glass to analyze many of the products you purchase to nourish yourself and your family. Maybe 2019 will bring absolute honesty and transparency in labeling.
TIP: Never rely on the words you see on the front of a package. Words like “natural” or even “organic” have no legal definition as stand alone words on a package. Always turn the package over and look at the real facts, which can only be found in the ingredients and nutrition information panel. Organic products should show a credible third party certification from the USDA or certifying farm or university. Another easy way to tell if a food is healthful, is to compare the amount of fiber to other factors like sugars, carbohydrates, and less healthful fats. And, scroll down the micronutrient information. If you see a bunch of “0%” listed after vitamins and minerals, think twice about how many calories of this food you are willing to give yourself.
So How Can You Navigate the Best Nutrition Trends This Year?
Keep things in perspective and give yourself some credit for your ability to outlive most food fads. Information and new discoveries will constantly change. That is an awesome thing! However, foundational nutrition facts based on evidence remain fairly consistent with many common denominators that should never be abandoned. New discoveries are meant to improve our quality of life, not replace that which we have already proven is an optimal way to fuel ourselves. So don’t allow yourself to be tugged around by confusing marketing messages and hype from product sales people. Keep yourself grounded in sound facts and credible studies, and remember to listen to your body too!
If you have enjoyed reading about these emerging trends, and if any of this resonates with you, please consider treating yourself to some nutrition coaching or personalized clinical nutrition services. Working with a professional who can help you understand and leverage your unique ability to heal and thrive can make a huge difference in your overall health. You can schedule a nutritional assessment here, or take advantage of my complimentary phone or video chat consultation if you have questions. Get off the crazy train of confusing food trends. Instead, get empowered and informed about your food supply and how it can fuel you in the best way possible. I look forward to speaking with you soon!