The year 2016 will probably see more new promises and false hopes that a certain miracle food will solve every one of your health ills– that’s just the nature of capturing the public’s attention at any cost. But my 4 nutrition trends presented here are not pipe dreams and wishful thinking; they are solid ideas you can incorporate today for many tomorrows to come.
Nutrition trends are a tricky thing. They can make a big splash and then disappear into oblivion forever. Or they can be resurrected from sound advice that had been given years ago but somehow has been forgotten. The trends I predict for 2016 are the latter. What is old is new again and fortunately these trends are anything but too vogue. I grew up with a mother who focused on common sense at the table, preparing foods that were simple and healthy without too much heed paid to every calorie and gram of this or that. Ours was a relaxed way of eating, we made made smart choices just based on a few principles. My 2016 predictions are based on this reasonable approach to all things food.
Just last week, the Dietary Guidelines For Americans made their debut. The 2015-2020 set of recommendations have some really excellent new protocols ( such as a specific amount of sugar that should be consumed, not just an arbitrary suggestion to limit sugar). But don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed at all the current research within this important document. Some of the strongest trends I foresee sticking around for at least 2016, are on a short list. Strive to accomplish these, and you’ll naturally be on your way towards better health.
TREND 1: A MORE PLANT-BASED FOCUS
When one of the most famous chefs in all of France, Alain Ducasse, decided very recently to shift his restaurant menus from traditional French fare with a focus on meats to practically all vegetables, you know the trend for more plant-based eating is here to stay. The trend is not really new, but with more visible sectors of the food industry leading the charge, the acceptability factor increases many-fold. When I was growing up in the 1960’s, at least two vegetables plus a salad appeared on my nightly dinner plate. And we weren’t the only ones on the block eating our broccoli. Then somehow consumption of foods from the garden fell off. Perhaps we just became too busy with more sped up lives and vegetables just became an afterthought. Now they are back with a vengeance, and I believe in a more approachable way with new and delicious ways to prepare them. Dietitian Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN agrees.
“Plant-based eating is often used as a catch-all phrase for healthy eating, but what does that mean? There is no official definition for plant-based eating. As a dietitian, I counsel on the benefits of eating more plants than meat. Sometimes, referred to as a flexitarian diet or semi-vegetarian, plant-based eating does not simply mean that you only eat fruits and vegetables, but that you reduce the amount of meat in the diet. Years of research have proven the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet because of the high antioxidant load of vegetables and fruit.”
She suggests there are several great reasons to shift toward a plant-based diet:
1. The health benefits are overwhelming: It’s no secret that most Americans are not getting enough vegetables and fruit in their diets. Making plant foods the focus of the meal helps put them center stage and helps increase consumption. Plant-based diets have now been proven, not just assumed, but proven to reduce the risk of chronic disease such as obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes.
2. A smart economic choice: It is becoming more important to find a way to stretch the dollar and meat and fish are expensive. Switching to a plant -based diet can save some money on the grocery bill by buying produce in season and plants proteins such as quinoa and tofu.
3. It is not all or nothing: Just because you have switched to a plant-based diet does not make you a vegetarian. You can still enjoy meat, but you have shifted the focus of your meals from animal proteins to plant proteins. Use your new plant-based eating to explore beyond the “meat and potatoes” way of eating.
She goes on to explain, “The biggest hurdle I hear from clients is how family members are resistant to meatless meals. It’s all about small steps and helping them realize that plant-based meals, rather than meat-based meals, are just as flavorful and satisfying. Starting out with one plant-based meal a week, to test the waters, works best for those that are resistant to change.”
TREND 2: ANCIENT GRAINS
Just by the name alone, these high fiber starches are definitely not new. My family started eating them in mid-last century. Back then though, they were relegated to being sold from dusty, earthy “health food” stores, but today they sit right next to the Rice-A-Roni in a conventional supermarket. This is probably my favorite trend, as the choices are many, and grains are so satisfying. Unless you have a diagnosed medical issue that prevents the consumption of wheat, oat, corn or rye-based foods, these centuries old grains will give you many health benefits. I consulted with expert Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, who shares and confirms my belief that this trend should be on your 2016 health goals list.
She explains, “According to the Whole Grains Council, an ancient grain is a grain that has remained unchanged over hundreds of years. Ancient grains, such as kamut, spelt, farro, einkorn and black barley, have become more widespread and accessible to the public in recent years. Adding ancient grains to the diet can add a whole new variety of nutritious foods with multiple health benefits.”
She goes on to say, “Because ancient grains have not been processed, they are whole grains that contain many nutrients like protein, fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Try switching up your grains routine by visiting the bulk section at your local supermarket and trying something new (and ancient)!”
TREND 3: THE YEAR OF THE BEAN
So I must admit, when we started out adding more beans and less meat to our meals, my mother began with canned baked beans. Ok, so not exactly the healthiest food with all that added sugar( and I think there was some animal-based flecks in there as well), but she did try hard and it was a start. Gradually, we moved on to lentils, chickpeas and black beans and eventually we were preparing bean-focused meals several times a week. The popularity of beans is so strong now that one of the most successful social media campaigns, Meatless Mondays, has placed beans front and center. And if anyone should know the very bright future of the bean’s continued acclaim it’s Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, Clinical Associate Professor at Boston University.
“What’s not to love about beans? They are good for your health and your wallet. Beans are chock-full of soluble fiber, which can help lower your blood cholesterol levels,” explains Salge Blake. “Once consumed, the soluble fiber in the beans latches on to cholesterol in your GI tract and blocks its absorption in the blood. Because beans are also a good source of protein, they can also provide satiety, or that feeling of fullness, at your meals. Lastly, at less than $1 a serving, they are nutrition bargain. Add them to soups to keep you warm, healthy, and full as the winter temperature drops!”
TREND 4: MINDFUL EATING, NOT JUST CALORIE COUNTING
I love numbers. I love that effective nutrition communication uses hard scientific data to back up claims. Without numbers, anyone can just throw around personal opinions which can lead to mass confusion and too many unreasonable voices in the nutrition community. But we still eat food, not numbers, and while calories, grams and other such figures are useful, they only occupy a portion of the toolbox you’ll need to be healthy.
Being present to why we eat is something dietitians and health professionals have coined as mindful eating. Learning how to listen carefully to our inner feelings and thoughts as well as better methods to steer our external behaviors around food, have proved extremely useful to long-term weight control and overall better health. And it’s not simple willpower that’s needed, it’s far from that ineffective concept. Professionals are teaching formal strategies more and more to those they help that are delivering desired results.
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a private practice dietitian and a contributing blogger for Weight Watchers, believes that when you think about why you’re eating and the satisfaction you’re gaining from that food, you’re likely to be more satisfied than when you’re simply counting calories.
She says, “You could snack because you’re hungry or because you’re bored or upset. If you decide to snack because you’re truly hungry, you could eat filling, nutritious foods or ones that may make you feel not so good.”
For example, she says suppose you choose to eat a slice of whole-grain toast topped with a tablespoon of almond butter and half a sliced banana. That’s about 230 calories and offers filling healthy fat and fiber to keep you satiated. She explains, “On the other hand, you could have a handful of candy or a couple of cookies for that amount of calories. Those choices contain more sugar and less filling nutrients–meaning they wouldn’t keep you satisfied for as long and may cause a sugar crash.”