Nutrition and diet have never been so “hot.” It’s easy to get caught in the swell of enthusiasm, jumping onto every diet-trend bandwagon. Some of the current trends are good and some are a waste of time. Here to help us sift fact from fiction and give a thumbs up or thumbs down to the latest trends is Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness.
1) Tapas and Small Portions
Portions have ballooned up to 10-fold in the past few years. The bigger the portion, the more we eat and the more calories we consume, which is a big contributor to Americans’ bulging waistlines. With child obesity rates now in epidemic proportions and signs of adult-onset diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and more being diagnosed in children as young as 9-years-old, you will see more emphasis on weight management and low-calorie options for kids, as well as adults. To meet this need, more companies will offer single-serve packages, following in the footsteps of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Singles, Earthbound Farm Organic Apple Slices, mini-bags of baby carrots, and Laughing Cow Mini Babybel Light cheese. You also will see more restaurants offering tapas, small snacks or gourmet, appetizer-size dishes that can be mixed and matched.
Common sense says the more plain fruits and vegetables you eat the better, but if you’re going to eat ice cream, then smaller versions of these less-than-healthy foods make it easier to practice safer snacking. Of course, these foods are more expensive. A cheaper version would be to make your own mini-portions by plunking a few nuts, cookies, or crackers into zip-lock bags...just make sure you don’t go back for more!
Bottom line: Thumbs up.
2) Fad Fruits
Acai and goji berries have come and gone, but Americans still fall victim to the snake oil salesmen touting the latest fruit as the cure-all for everything. What will be next? Probably another South American exotic fruit number, such as Cupuaçu, a Brazilian rainforest fruit rich in antioxidants. Oh, but wait. All colorful fruits are rich in antioxidants. Besides, all the research showing that a diet packed with produce lowers everything from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, cataracts, hypertension, and obesity to dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, and stress has been done on conventional produce that is easy to find at any supermarket and inexpensive, and it is a mix of produce, not one fruit, that gives the greatest health bang for your buck. Don’t buy into this trend. It will drain your pocketbook long before it lengthens your life.
Bottom line: Thumbs down.
3. Sexy is In
The Baby Boomers backed and fueled Viagra, and they will continue to look for other - and natural - anti-aging ways to stay vital, young, active, and eager. Any food that promises to improve and maintain the ol’ joie de vivre in and out of the bedroom will be an attention getter, from fresh herbs and spices like rosemary and nutmeg to aphrodisiacs such as pomegranate and figs.
Bottom line: Thumbs up if it leads to healthier eating and more exercise. Thumbs down if it leads to more hype than help.
4. Locally Grown, Local Markets, Organic
People are seeking fresher foods and many are turning to local produce markets, local family farms, and produce grown in their own communities, as well as the local butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. Because they are fresh, locally grown produce often has a nutritional edge over produce raised on “factory” farms. The latter is typically picked four to seven days before it arrives on supermarket shelves, and shipped an average of 1,500 miles before it is sold. If not handled properly, produce can lose up to half of its nutrients, especially vitamin C and folate. The fresh factor means the produce tastes better and is better for you and the environment.
Organic foods are produced following a government-regulated practice of growing and processing that minimizes exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals used in traditional farming. Organic food is one of the country’s fastest-growing food trends. It’s not been proven that organic produce is significantly more nutritious than conventional produce, but it is lower in pesticides and gentler on the environment. (However, keep in mind that all the research to date on fruits/vegetables lowering disease risk and enhancing longevity have been on conventional produce!). When people can afford the price, they will go organic. When it comes to processed foods, such as chips, cookies, and baked goods, a food touted as organic is no guarantee the food is good for you. It may still be too high in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, calories, salt, or too low in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber.
Bottom Line: Thumbs up for produce, thumbs down for packaged foods.
We’ve known for some time that the types of fats in fish, called the omega-3 fats, lowered heart disease risk. More recent research suggests these fats also boost mood, memory, and mind, as well as maintain strong bones and possibly aid in healing head injuries. But, we are fishing out the oceans, and many people either don’t like fish or are concerned about mercury and other contaminants in seafood. While farmed seafood will gain in popularity, you also will see more products fortified with a vegetarian, algal-based omega-3 called DHA. Look for Life’sDHA listed on the label. Of course, wild salmon, sardines, and herring are still great sources of the omega-3s, while the omega-3, called ALA, in flax, walnuts, and soy is not as effective.
Bottom Line: Thumbs up.
6. Cut the Sodium
Although not new, this trend will heat up in 2011. Studies repeatedly show that everyone benefits from a low-sodium diet, both people with and without high blood pressure. To be able to use the words “reduced sodium” the food must have 25% less sodium than is found in the regular product. It may not be perfect and you still are probably getting too much sodium, but it definitely is a step in the right direction.
Bottom Line: Thumbs up.