Whole grains, portion control, and designed yogurts top this year's list of food trends.
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Whole grains, designer yogurts, controlled-portion packs, and products enriched with green tea are among the helping to satisfy Americans' thirst for what's new, hot, and sexy. Low-carb diets, sugar (and anything else refined and white), salt, high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats, meanwhile, are out.
Trying to keep up with food trends can make your head spin. But it's a good bet that healthier eating will be on many menus this year. With 60% of adults overweight or obese and kids not far behind -- plus rising rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer -- many Americans are realizing that eating a more nutritious diet and getting regular physical activity is the best defense.
And restaurants and manufacturers are scurrying to find replacements for unhealthy trans fats, thanks in part to the Center for Science in the Public Interest and its efforts to get Congress to require labeling of trans fat content in foods.
Trying to predict what will be on the culinary horizon is always fun -- and always an inexact science. But based on events of past years, I have looked into my crystal ball to try to anticipate what we can expect to find on our plates in 2007. Here are my predictions:
- Healthier food for kids. Marketing to children has become a political issue, with watchdog groups pushing to make sure manufacturers offer healthy foods for kids. I think we'll see more of things like the portion-controlled packs of fresh fruit and "100-calorie" treats, low-fat milk chugs, and snacks such as Fizzy Fruit Sparkling Fresh Grapes.
- Convenience with a healthy twist. Both speed of preparation and good nutrition factor into consumer decisions. Manufacturers are delivering with "halfway homemade" foods - things like sauce mixes and spice blends -- so our work in the kitchen is more assembly and less preparation.
- Food for one. I think we'll see more packaged products like Green Giant "Just for One! Vegetables" and Baker's Inn "Short Loaf" sliced bread, to accommodate smaller households and promote less waste.
- Lighter desserts. Americans have a real sweet tooth. And one of the fastest-growing dessert segments involves the new ice-cream technology that allows manufacturers to produce a product with half of the fat, one-third the calories, and all the flavor of full-fat ice cream. Look for more companies to come out with the "slow-churned" and "double- churned" ice cream offerings. Also look for more dessert products that use natural sweeteners in place of high-fructose corn syrup.
- Fresh, natural, and organic. Consumers continue to demand more wholesome, farm-friendly, preferably organic foods -- grown locally, if possible. Concern over the environment, a willingness to pay more for "fresh" foods, and the perception that organic is healthier are here to stay. Watch for more groups such as the California "locavores," who only eat foods grown within a 100-mile radius.
- Exotic fruits and vegetables. Tropical fruits and vegetables are making their way into mainstream supermarkets. Pomegranates were big in 2006. Look for acai, cupuacu, rambutan, feijoa, or kiwano to be the next exotic fruit. Different varieties of squash, such as turban, curry pumpkin, sibley, kabocha, delicata, and buttercup, are also increasingly making their way onto grocers' shelves.
- Superfoods (beyond dark chocolate and green tea). There appears to be no end to products enriched with "better for you" substances like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, cholesterol-lowering plant stanols, omega-3 fatty acids, and immunity-boosting probiotics. Also look for "satiety-enhancing" foods, aimed at helping you feel fuller and thus control weight.
- Whole-grain everything. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend three servings a day of whole grains. To help consumers meet their needs, the explosion of whole-grain products will likely continue. I do hope that manufacturers will clearly label their products, so consumers will know which products actually provide a whole-grain serving.
- Drinks with less sugar and lots of extras. Look for more "calorie-burning" beverages, drinks sweetened with 100% fruit juice, and drinks with added ingredients such as Nutrisoda's "nutrient-enhanced" line of drinks with flavors like "Calm," "Energize," and "Immune."
- Nutrition information at point of purchase. New York raised the nutrition bar in December with its ban on trans fats in restaurant food. At the same time, the city voted to require many restaurants to put calorie information about their products on menus. Plan on seeing more such initiatives from cities, as well as companies like Disney, which recently announced a commitment to making food at its theme parks more healthful.
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.
Published January 12, 2007.
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