Almost everything is susceptible to trends and food and nutrition are no exception. Some trends are new while others are a return to the tried and true, while others are a backlash against extremes. If you haven’t noticed, anti-intellectualism and pseudoscience [lemon water as a liver decongestant anyone?] have reigned supreme for several years now but there IS a glimmer of hope that people are starting to re-embrace reason, or at least I hope so. I’ve witnessed hints of a backlash against the digital as those of us who like to plan, appreciate the irreplaceable experience and value of using pen (pencil, highlighters and post-it notes) and paper, or backlashes against the fear-mongering of nutritional pseudoscience. As we head into 2017, below are some of the trends I predict will continue to gain traction.
Functional foods reboot
Functional foods aren’t new; it’s the idea that foods can promote health and reduce the risk for chronic disease in a way that goes beyond their fundamental nutrient (vitamins and minerals) content. Functional foods can be foods that have an added ingredient that’s leveraged to promote health such as omega-3 fortified yogurt or a food with an existing ingredient that goes beyond what nutrients can do like the polyphenols in green tea that influence disease-fighting genes.
You might be thinking ‘aren’t you really talking about superfoods?’, in a way yes, but ‘superfoods’ took the functional food concept and distorted it into a marketing buzzword that more often than not stretched the truth with dubious claims and a hefty price tag to match. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to buy goji berries, have at it, but there’s nothing ‘un-super’ about a 2-kg, $2 bag of carrots when it comes to reducing the risk of chronic disease and maintaining health; the only difference is that carrots haven’t enjoyed the sexy PR campaigns that gojis have.
Bottom line: Functional foods and food functionality will continue to get the reboot it deserves in 2017 and beyond with a focus on evidenced-informed health benefits that savvy consumers will come to expect and demand, while the dubious & sensationalized claims of ‘superfoods’ will start to come to an end.
Death of the ‘detox’
As a dietitian who’s worked with people in all stages of kidney disease including dialysis, as well as, those who’ve undergone medically supervised detox for alcohol and drug withdrawal, I know what is, and what is not, real detoxification. I’m not talking about the ‘worried well’; perfectly healthy folks who have been lead to believe they’re walking cesspools of toxins which are blamed for everything from MS, headaches and allergies, to bad skin, ADD, weight gain and cancer. Salvation, they’re told, is found in green smoothies, lemon water, juice cleanses, and ‘clean living’.
Fortunately this trend is starting to die as more and more people are learn that ‘detoxes’ & ‘cleanses’ are hype and that the body has a well-orchestrated and sophisticated system for detoxification that includes the liver, kidneys, lungs, skin/pores. If it didn’t, real health issues would rear their heads quickly. Many are relieved to learn that detoxification happens 24/7 and it’s not something that only happens during cleanses nor can it ‘ramped up’ with kale in a biologically or clinically meaningful way; we’d never survive or thrive as a species if it did.
Having said that, the body does need a steady supply of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids and phytonutrients to support the liver’s natural detoxification process which is easily achieved with a variety wholesome nutritious foods. It should also go without saying that reducing the liver’s detoxification burden will go a long way where maintaining life-long health is concerned; avoiding tobacco, tobacco products & other smokeable products, limiting alcohol, responsible use of medications and other over-the-counter products like acetaminophen, or excess fructose from foods high in free/added sugars will go a long way.
Bottom line: the best ‘detox’ diet you can choose is a healthy diet based on minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods from a variety of sources including plant & animal foods using a variety of preparation methods.
Every nutrient has its day and vitamin D has been stealing the spotlight for several years now and with good reason; despite the seemingly confusing chatter and debate, vitamin D remains a very important nutrient with many health benefits but the nutrient to now watch for is zinc.
Zinc as a mineral category in supplements has been steadily increasing due to its low cost, and as a nutrient to watch, it’s gaining popularity due to the fact that 14 to 40% of Canadians don’t get the minimum recommended daily intake on a regular basis. Interest is zinc is also growing because of its health-promoting properties and clinical effects. Zinc is critical for immunity and maintaining taste perception especially in older adults and the elderly. As a co-factor in almost 300 metabolic processes, zinc is needed for healthy bones, reducing metabolic-associated inflammation, to maintain eye sight, as well as, cognition, memory, and healthy moods/mental health.
Given its role in maintaining testosterone levels and good quality sperm, zinc is a critical nutrient for men. Zinc is easily lost during heavy sweating making it important for sport nutrition, especially for those involved in endurance sports. Good sources include supplements such as multivitamins with minerals, multi-minerals, or individual zinc formulas, as well as, food sources such as meats like beef, veal, pork, lamb, liver, sunflower & pumpkin/squash seeds, oysters & other molluscs, & pulses (chickpeas, lentils, dried beans & peas).
Bottom line: zinc is a nutrient that many of us struggle to get and because the body doesn’t have a way to store zinc, we need to get it everyday.
Fruits and vegetables come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colour with broad groupings of red, orange-yellow, green, white, and tan-brown. One of my earliest memories of nutritional advice came from my grandmother when she told me to include a dark green and dark orange vegetable at dinner every day but this year it’s all about purple.
Purple foods are gaining in popularity and purple varieties of your old favourites are showing up in grocery stores in droves. Some purple foods have been part of our repertoire for years such as plums, prunes and elderberries but few have likely heard of, or tried, purple Brussels sprouts for example.
What gives purple foods their distinctive gorgeous hue are a group of phytonutrients, plant compounds that are good for us, called flavonoids; specifically anthocyanidins. Many will cite anthocyanidins’ antioxidant activity as the reason for their disease-fighting prowess but it’s so much more than that. These superstar compounds are potent anti-inflammatory agents, improve how our blood vessels expand and contract, and positively influence our genes to reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes and cognitive decline such as dementia all independent of their role as antioxidants; can you say functional foods?
Bottom line: purple does a body good. The following all come in vibrant shades of purple: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, plums, cauliflower, elderberries, sweet potatoes, asparagus, corn, basil, kohirabi, carrots, and acai berries. Check them out and give them a go.
Beans, chickpeas and lentils (a.k.a. pulses) are the richest plant-based sources of protein so what better way to make high-protein pasta? These alternative pastas pack more protein compared to traditional pastas made from wheat, not to mention they have more fiber too. Because they are made with fiber-rich pulses, they tend to be lower in carbohydrate than their-wheat derived counter parts.
So how much protein do they have? Anywhere from 19 to 25 g per 100 g serving, all for a mere 340 calories or so; a lot more than wheat-based pastas with only 5 to 10 g for a similar 100 g serving.
Best of all, they cook like regular pasta and ‘feel’ like regular pasta when you eat them making them easy swaps in the kitchen and most are gluten free but be sure to check the ingredient list for hidden sources if you or someone you know has Celiac disease.
Bottom line: pastas made from pulses are a convenient way to sneak in more protein and fiber into your diet and most are gluten-free making them suitable for those who need to avoid gluten.
Turmeric as a spice remains hot, hot, hot because it has a potent biologically active polyphenol called curcumin. Mounting evidence from clinical research shows that curcumin positively modifies many aspects of our biochemistry, most importantly is its ability to squash and temper inflammation, turn on disease-fighting genes while turning off disease-promoting genes all the while offering far-reaching cognitive and neuro-protective properties like reducing the risk for demenetia including Alzheimer’s disease.
But it doesn’t stop there, research supports curcumin’s promising role in preventing & treating colon cancer, preventing Type 2 diabetes, diabetes-related kidney disease and reducing inflammation in arthritis.
Unfortunately, the polyphenol curcumin is poorly absorbed from food and what is absorbed is quickly excreted. Populations where turmeric has been shown to promote and maintain health are in countries like India where the spice is a staple and consumption in the neighbourhood of 1 1/2 to 2 tsp per day is the norm. For this reason, standardize supplements can helpful. Whether one chooses to include more turmeric in their diets or opt for supplements, this spice will continue to enjoy the spotlight into 2017 and beyond.
Bottom line: go for gold; experiment using more turmeric or see a health practitioner to get guidance on the right formula and dose of a standardize curcumin supplement as it relates to supporting health or chronic health issues.