Thursday, January 6, 2011

Saluting Nutrition Trends of 2010

It’s time to say goodbye to 2010 – the year we will fondly remember for silly bandz, iPads, Lady Gaga, Harry Potter and Glee (just to name a few).

Yes, it was an interesting year.  But the best part for me?  Trying to keep up with the roller coaster ride of nutrition trends - there were so many ups and downs, it was hard to keep track of them all.  This was way more entertaining than anything else in my book (and if you happen to recall Lady Gaga’s meat dress, you know that’s a bold statement).

So, in honor of the fascinating year that was, here are a few of my favorite 2010 nutrition trends.  Take note – some may be around in 2011, while others…..well, let’s just say they’ve had their fifteen minutes of nutrition fame.

Buying Local 
Farmers’ Markets, locally-farmed produce, CSA’s (community-supported agriculture) and even at supermarkets - buying local was big in 2010. 

And especially for produce.  Why?  Locally-grown produce (either in your own county or even state) doesn't have to travel as long.  This allows the produce to retain freshness and ultimately better taste; plus it's typically less expensive and creates less negative environmental impact. 

Don’t expect this trend to wilt anytime soon.  Consumers will continue to demand to know where their food is sourced - and they are beginning to understand that it is not only their right to know but their right to ask, as well.
There’s an App for That
Have an iPhone or iPad?  Chances are, you’re using one of the thousands of health and nutrition apps to shop, track calories and log exercise.  Lose It!, Calorie Tracker and Restaurant Nutrition are popular on iPhone while Diet & Exercise Assistant and Nutrition Facts are big on the iPad (as well as cool educational apps for kids like Big Fork Little Fork and Charlie Wonders: Milk).

And if you don't use apps?  No worries; there are millions of online tweets, Facebook pages, blogs and websites ready and waiting to quench your thirst for nutritional inspiration and knowledge (and sometimes offer just plain old bad advice, as well).

This, folks, is no longer a trend.  It's here to stay, so embrace it.

Revitalizing School Lunches
Between Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution show and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, school lunches are getting some long overdue attention.  Parents, schools, organizations and even the government are discussing the sorry state of many public school food systems – and how to improve them.

This trend is here to stay, but don’t expect quick changes.  School lunch systems are complicated and slow to change - strapped by government mandates, reimbursements and budgets. 

In the meantime, what can a parent do?  Review menus with your child, teach her the hows and whys of choosing healthy items, and limit school-bought lunches to a few times per month.  Bag it the other days so you can ensure a healthy meal.

Lower Salt
After always playing second banana to cholesterol, salt finally took center stage.  

The new USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines (to be published any day now) recommends that adults reduce their daily sodium intake to just 1500mg per day (that’s a little more than ½ teaspoon of table salt - and about 800mg less than what was previously recommended).

And in November, several major food companies voluntarily signed on with the National Salt Reduction Initiative, pledging to reduce sodium in their products by 20% over the next five years.  Companies like Butterball, Heinz, Kraft, Starbucks and Subway have signed on, as well as many other organizations and government agencies.  

It's a small start, but it's a start, and I applaud them all.  

And let's hope it only gets better.  Because considering Americans currently eat twice the amount of recommended sodium per day - and that too much sodium clearly contributes to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease  - we need all the help we can get.  

Using “Real” Sugar
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) backlash intensified and food manufacturers relented by reformulating products – replacing HFCS or other sweeteners for real cane sugar, agave or honey.  And then they reformulated their advertising, touting the "new products" as “simple” and “healthier" and, yes, "clean".

Soda companies jumped right on this bandwagon (witness Sierra Mist “Natural”, Dr. Pepper “Throwback”, Pepsi “Throwback” and Mountain Dew Natural, to name just a few) as did hundreds of other food companies like Haagen-Dazs, Hunt’s and Sara Lee. 

But is plain old sugar any better for you?   Here’s a fact – in your body, all sugars (no matter what the source) are processed basically the same way.  And in America, we eat too much sugar of any type, be it honey, white, brown, agave, HFCS, whatever.  And no matter what the type, we need to cut way back.  Period.

“Real sugar” mania will wane next year as consumers and manufacturers turn their eye to other food fads like vitamin D, “detox” and “beauty foods.”

The "it diet" of 2010.  Celebrities raved, books were published and the Internet was abuzz.  The gluten-free industry exploded, with new products in supermarkets and restaurants.

But what is it?  Gluten-free is the only diet people with celiac disease can follow (any exposure to the protein gluten wreaks havoc on their bodies).  But a big wave of non-celiacs searching for something new and/or seemingly healthier adopted it, as well.  While there's nothing wrong with that, problems did arise as most new adopters didn’t understand the complexities or dedication required to maintain this difficult diet. 

Be aware - a strict gluten-free diet is not easy to maintain and can be expensive.  Plus, many packaged foods are typically high in fat, calories, salt and sugar – the very things dieters are trying to reduce.

Interest in gluten-free will wane in 2011; diets like HCG and Paleo are already overtaking in popularity.

“Natural” Ingredients
Products labeled “natural” were everywhere in 2010.

Legally, a "natural" product must be free of artificial colors, flavors or synthetics.  But look out – it may not always be healthier.  Products can still be full of sugar, salt, butter, fats and preservatives (“natural” ingredients, but not so healthy).

“Natural” labeling will stick around awhile as consumers continue to search for "simpler" foods. But protect yourself – check the ingredient list to make sure your product is a natural and healthy choice.

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