Today, consumers care more about eating for health, sustainability and optimal wellness.
by Alexandra Williams, MA
Our grandmothers would be so proud. We are circling back to eating foods similar to the ones they grew and prepared themselves. Not only are we eating more frequently at home rather than going out; we’re also spending more of our budgets on healthy options, and we’re reading labels and nutrition facts (USDA 2014). In 2010, American adults were consuming 78 fewer calories per day than they were 5 years earlier, mostly attributable to lower intakes of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as an increase in fiber (USDA 2014).
What exactly are we doing that would cause our grandmothers to approve? In what ways are our eating and drinking habits like those of that earlier generation? And in what ways are they different? This article highlights 10 popular directions our food choices are headed.
Logic dictates that certain foods are better for us, yet confirmed links between food, aging and brain health have exploded over the past few years. In 2012, Americans spent about $30 billion on health supplements, so it’s obvious we want to improve (Lara 2014). Boomers are hitting retirement age and wanting to stay active, engaged and youthful, so it makes sense that this demographic superforce would look to food for help with that. Chronic inflammation (including stress) accelerates aging, cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia and depression (Lara 2014). Specific nutrients help protect against all of these, and consumers are seeking foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids (wild-caught fish, seaweed, algae); polyphenols (ginger, curcumin, the Mediterranean Diet); flavonoids (chocolate, red wine, green tea); coenzyme Q10 (spinach, broccoli, cauliflower); acetyl-L-carnitine (chicken, beef, milk, cheese); antioxidants (coffee); and anti-inflammatories (cinnamon) (Lara 2014).
The October 2015 issue of Food Technology magazine (published by the Institute of Food Technologists) lists eight nutrients it feels are crucial for healthy aging and brain protection: cocoa flavanols, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphatidylserine and phosphatidic acid, walnuts, citicoline, choline, magnesium and blueberries (Rutberg 2015).
Some of these are easier to pronounce than others, but if you are gaga for ganglia (neuron clusters!), foods such as eggs, wheat germ, garlic, orange vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, edamame, coconut milk and oil, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, grapefruit, olive oil, flaxseed, acorn squash, kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, cranberries, mushrooms, poultry, red peppers, shellfish, leeks and even lima beans should do the trick. Try potato-kale soup, followed by spinach and grapefruit salad, and mustard-crusted beef tri-tip, before finishing with cinnamon coffee and Brazil nut tarts, and you’ll be well on your way to a younger and smarter you. In addition to protecting against memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, free-radical damage, cognitive decline, the effects of a concussion, and inflammation, eating in this way can improve object recognition, brain size and brain cell communication (Rutberg 2015).
In an interesting correlation, chocolate-loving countries have a high number of Nobel Laureates, so all those cocoa flavanols must be working magic on brain signaling. And yes, Switzerland is leading (Messerli 2012).
For many years, our access to food has been based on a global model in which food would travel long distances to arrive on our tables. While the global model is the one most of us grew up with, it’s actually a fairly recent phenomenon celebrating the power inherent in traveling far with relative ease, coupled with a desire to enjoy our favorite foods year-round at low prices. Interestingly, as the world has become even more global thanks to the Internet, consumers have pushed for a system that returns to agrarian times—eating food that is grown and produced locally.
The term sustainable diets was introduced to the American public in 1981 in resolutions written by the Society for Nutrition Education, when it called for increased local production to slow farmland loss (Gussow 1998). In 2007, locavore was the New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year (OUPblog 2007), and in 2008 the U.S. Farm Bill was revised, stating that vouchers for low-income seniors could be used at local farmers’ markets. The bill also added more than $1 billion to the fresh fruit and vegetable program (Dannenburg, Frumkin & Jackson 2011).
Allison J. Stowell, MS, RD, CDN, is a dietitian for Guiding Stars Licensing Company in Scarborough, Maine, and has a special interest in diets that highlight sustainability. “There is no doubt that the ‘eat local’ movement is growing beyond a niche specialty trend to a movement that is important to the general public,” Stowell says. “I believe this movement began with consumers’ desires for shorter ingredient lists, more transparency on food labels, and ingredients that consumers can identify. In fact, the percentage of consumers shopping for ‘only ingredients I recognize’ grew 15% from 2010 to 2015, while choosing foods ‘with the shortest ingredient list’ rose 10% during the same time frame. Consumers have been looking toward smaller, local companies to answer this call.”
Stowell says the trend is moving into “big box” grocery store chains as well. “While local farms and small businesses are making a name for themselves at farmers’ markets and the like, national retailers are also using ‘choose local’ programs to bring these foods in, highlight them and naturally create a winning partnership between the retailer, local business and the consumer,” she says. “It’s clear in 2016 that major food companies are putting sustainability at the top of their product-line lists. From product reformulations to transparent and ecologically minded packaging, the food industry will address the challenge of making desired changes that don’t have a negative impact on taste or price.”
Weight-conscious consumers have shunned whole milk since the 1980s, so it may surprise some to learn that it’s making a comeback (Shanker 2015). It would seem that the Europeans’ love of whole-dairy products is a model to emulate for those wishing to avoid obesity. You read that correctly: Higher consumption of butter, cream and high-fat milk correlates to lower levels of central obesity (waist-to-hip ratio ≥1) (Kratz, Baars & Guyenet 2013). Whether this unexpected news is due to satiety, decreased sugar intake, the fatty acids in milk products, or recently published studies that show no correlation between dietary fat and coronary heart or cardiovascular disease (Chowdhury 2014), this circles back to the way grandmother cooked.
The resurgent interest in whole-milk products includes some staples and also some newcomers, such as creamy yogurt, savory yogurt (aka labneh), cheese, whey protein, quark and farmer’s cheese. Let’s look at a few that may be unfamiliar:
Greek yogurt. Higher in protein than standard yogurt, Greek yogurt has solidified its place in the yogurt market. Retail yogurt sales in the U.S. continue to climb, from $7.3 billion ($1.6 of that attributable to Greek yogurt) in 2012 to an expected $9.3 billion in 2017 (Packaged Facts 2013). According to the University of Tennessee Medical Center (2012), Greek yogurt has 50% less sodium than regular yogurt, is lower in carbohydrates, and is lower in sugar and lactose, making it easier to digest.
Labneh. This thick, savory, salted Middle Eastern yogurt-cheese has all the health benefits of yogurt, but with less sugar. Served with some olive oil, hummus, vegetables or fruit, it makes a healthy appetizer.
Quark. Long a staple in Europe, quark tastes like a mixture of cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese. It pairs well with both sweet and savory foods and is a soft, mild cheese that’s starting to be sold in more than just specialty shops.
Whey protein. Most people who exercise have heard of it, but not everyone knows quite what it is other than a dietary supplement. Whey protein is a byproduct of cheese production. The Mayo Clinic (2013) states that whey protein may be effective for certain allergies in children over 3 and as a protein source for “older people and women post exercise.”
Farmer’s cheese. Think of Little Miss Muffet eating her curds and whey. While whey is the liquid, farmer’s cheese is the solid curds. Most commonly used in Eastern European dishes such as blintzes and pierogi, it’s also found in the United States in sweet baked goods.
Consumption of cheese in general has skyrocketed in the U.S. In the 1950s, only 10% of the country’s milk production went to cheese; in 2013, that figure was higher than 50%. When you consider that we’ve gone from consuming 7.7 pounds per capita in 1950 to 33.2 pounds per capita in 2012 (Covington 2013), it’s obvious that today’s myriad choices are popular.
Remember when a few grocery store chains offered home delivery, and how that quietly ended with a whimper, owing to lack of interest? Home delivery is now commonplace, with prices that parallel those of brick-and-mortar stores. From ready-made meals to single packages of paleo jerky treats, healthy foods are reaching consumers quickly from both national and local companies.
One fairly new online marketplace recruited more than 2 million registered users in 2015. “We’re the fastest- growing e-commerce company in the history of Los Angeles,” says Gunnar Lovelace, founder and co-CEO of L.A.-based Thrive Market.
“Because of the strength of our social mission (one free membership to a family in need for every paid membership), our members refer at a very high rate,” Lovelace says. “We’re solving a problem—people want access to healthy food for less, and they’re grateful for the increased access they get through us to foods that aren’t chemically laden and processed. . . . For the first time in history we are offering healthy foods at the same prices as conventional options.”
Pamela Hernandez, a certified personal trainer and health coach in Springfield, Missouri, recently tested out a few Internet-based ready-meal programs on behalf of her clients and blog readers. In one case, she was impressed that a dietitian had created recipes to go with her order, and that the nutritional information was included. These services can be a big timesaver for my clients,” she says. “It’s a big step to go from eating out two to three times a week to making your own meals, and with these programs my clients can control portions and get comfortable with cooking.” With home-delivered meals projected to grow by $3 billion to $5 billion over the next 10 years, Hernandez is not alone in her curiosity (Cernansky 2015).
David Hack, founder of Direct Eats in Wilton, Connecticut, speaks to the demand for home delivery of specific dietary and food requests as part of the reason for the company’s 300% monthly growth. “The [special diet market] is a $110 billion industry that shares about 25% of the food market, and [our company has] become home to the largest number of online specialty natural organic foods available.”
Hack says the “local eating” movement has also been affected. “We are allowing local food purveyors to give their products the national reach they wouldn’t otherwise have,” he says. “Even if local food makers reach a national grocery store, they usually don’t get the opportunity to branch out of their region. Our consumers appreciate being able to choose items that meet their specific diets, tastes and needs, and having local makers on our site helps them find exactly what fits their lifestyles (and values).”
One happy consumer is Alexandria Williams, owner of FitHair in Dallas. “I like having organic, non-GMO, antibiotic-free food delivered to my doorstep, as I’m a busy woman. I don’t have to drive to the grocery store and am able to stay within my budget.”
According to a recent survey, Americans are getting about one-quarter of their daily calories from snacks, and consumers are paying attention to the items they choose (USDA 2014). Not only are people more particular about their snacks; they’re also willing to try new things, including bottled, potable soups; meat snacks, especially if they bear the “grass-fed, hormone-free” label; and whole and sprouted grains in items ranging from hot cereals to raw protein bars. Cakes, candies, chips and cookies are still quite popular, yet a long-term shift toward healthier snacks has occurred (Conick 2015).
To find such snacks, consumers no longer need to hunt down side streets for an obscure co-op; sprouted-grain cereals and risotto mixes, seeded granola bars, and even ready-made salads with grains and seeds are more widely available (Helm 2015). When you consider that less than 50% of U.S. consumers take in adequate daily fiber, this trend is positive news (Palmer 2012). Healthy-food bloggers have been creating and sharing protein bars and bites, no-bake bars, raw bars, minimal-ingredient snacks, high-fiber breads and rolls, and fruit- and vegetable-based snacks for a few years now, and brands are paying attention.
“The popularity of easy, no-bake snack recipes, like granola bars and protein bites, directly correlates to the increase in on-the-go snacking,” says Julianna Abdallah, a media manager at Justin’s in Boulder, Colorado. “Over the past few years, consumers have started to forgo traditional mealtimes in favor of frequent snacking throughout the day. Quick, no-bake recipes allow you to create healthy, homemade snacks in a matter of minutes.”
What do moringa, hemp, algae, purple corn, red palm oil, reishi mushrooms, turmeric and maca root have in common? They have joined blueberries, cinnamon and ginger root as must-have superfoods.
It’s hard to define exactly what a superfood is, but a general definition is a food that has health-promoting properties, improves physical or emotional health, or has a high antioxidant and vitamin content (Medicinenet.com 2015). Driven by Boomer spending, the superfood industry was expected to reach $130 billion in 2015 (Global Industry Analysts 2014). But it’s not just Boomers who want superfoods; each year the Natural Products Expo gets more and more attendees and vendors, and it isn’t surprising to find crowds at booths tasting shrimp and moringa curry, turmeric rice, popcorn seasoned with red palm oil and hemp seeds, and purple corn cereal.
With consumers deciding en masse that they want their diets to include gluten-free foods, these items are getting more shelf space in grocery stores worldwide.
According to a Gallup Poll, 20% of Americans say they actively try to eat gluten-free foods in their diets (Riffkin 2015). A Mintel research study (2014) found that sales of gluten-free foods increased by 63% between 2012 and 2014. According to the poll, “Far more U.S. adults say they actively try to include gluten-free foods in their diets than actually suffer from celiac disease.” People with celiac disease or wheat allergies have to eat a gluten-free diet, while those with gluten sensitivity feel better without gluten, but for those who are voluntarily considering a gluten-free diet, it might be helpful to know a bit more about it. Gluten is a composite of two proteins: gliadin and glutenin; is found in wheat, barley and rye; and works like glue to hold food together.
Whatever reasons people have for opting out of gluten, sales of gluten-free foods are expected to hit $15 billion in 2016, so the choices keep getting better (Golodryga 2015).
Sweets will probably never go out of style, but sweeteners sometimes do. The demand for “natural” plant–based sweeteners is currently driving the market, and a few have moved up to the front row lately.
Monk fruit. This extract comes from a gourd that is native to the forests of southern China. It has a fruity taste and is 300 times sweeter than sugar, with a consistency similar to granulated sugar. Given FDA approval as “Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)” in 2010, it is now found in beverages and in foods like ice cream.
Stevia leaf. A calorie-free, natural alternative to artificial sweeteners, this extract has exploded in popularity since it gained FDA approval as GRAS in 2008. Thirty times sweeter than sugar, with some research showing it may help in reducing hypertension (Ulbricht et al. 2010), it’s used in many sports drinks, foods and even wine.
Erythritol. Found in some fruits, erythritol is a sugar alcohol mostly used in sugar-free cookies, chewing gums and cookies. With just 0.2 calories per gram (zero for U.S. labeling purposes), it differs from other sugar alcohol sweeteners in that it has a sugary texture and doesn’t cause stomach upset (Medlicker 2015).
You might say wine has always been in style, yet recent research about resveratrol has made red wines even more popular. Resveratrol is a member of a group of plant compounds called polyphenols, which are thought to have antioxidant properties (Lara 2014). Pinot noir, beaujoulais, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel are desired for their taste and their ability to reduce inflammatory, oxidative and metabolic stress. Some preliminary research also shows that resveratrol can prolong life for mice and pigs, although this benefit has not been tested in people (Mayo Clinic 2014).
Other research shows that resveratrol can help prevent heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes—all diseases of great importance to the market drivers, Boomers. People older than 55 are projected to represent about 27.6% of the U.S. population in 2016, and they are determined to stay active into and throughout retirement (Esri 2015). If a glass of wine helps with that, they are willing to make that “sacrifice.”
Would you put an avocado (California’s superfood) in your morning drink? What about a liquid probiotic? Matcha? Garden herbs?
Combinations that would have been considered “weird” a few years ago are now found in refrigerators everywhere. For example, Uncle Matt’s Organic Juice now has orange turmeric juice, while REBBL makes tonics and elixirs such as ashwagandha chai and reishi chocolate coconut milk. Bulletproof and nitro cold-brew coffee are amping people up, bone broth has moved from the soup bowl to the tea cup, birch water is coming up behind coconut milk, Bragg makes apple cider vinegar drinks such as pomegranate-goji and ginger spice, and flavored kombucha now gets more shelf space in grocery stores. Even whey-based protein drinks have changed to meet the specific demands of exercisers. For example, Orgain produces an organic cafe mocha nutritional shake with ingredients that include grass-fed milk proteins, brown rice syrup, sunflower oil, kale, beets and açai.
If you’re still thirsty, how about some organic, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, non-GMO raw milk from a cow with a name?
Whether you or your clients follow the latest in food preferences or not, it certainly is nice to have so many choices. You might choose whatever ice cream is on sale, but it’s reassuring to know that the person next to you with celiac disease and a dairy allergy can have her cinnamon bun “ice cream” made of pea protein, monk fruit, stevia, tapioca and guar gum. We’re told variety is the spice of life; maybe it also offers health and longevity.
Do you know the top superfood produced in your state? Huffington Post created a list in 2014 to showcase each state’s superfood offerings (www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/superfood-by-state_n_5732830.html). While some may be obvious, such as oranges in Florida, pears in Oregon, and pineapples in Hawaii, others may be known only to that state’s inhabitants. Maybe it’s time to go on a food tour to try beets from Wyoming, artichokes from Vermont, ginger from Rhode Island, lima beans from Ohio, pecans from North Carolina, apples from New York, and Walla Walla sweet onions from Washington.
IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 13, Issue 3
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