I just returned from Boston where I attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 2016 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE). I was there with 10,000+ registered dietitian nutritionists from the U.S. and across the globe. The annual meeting is always an ideal venue for trend tracking.
Digestive health was a major theme — from the fermented, probiotic-studded and FODMAP-friendly products at the expo to the education sessions focused on feeding your microbiome and influencing the gut-brain highway.
In all the years I’ve attended this conference, I’ve never seen more attention paid to our gastrointestinal tract. There was an entire Healthy Gut Pavilion on the exhibit floor, which was probably the greatest indication of just how big the trend was this year.
The natural and organic section on the exhibit floor seemed bigger than ever, and many companies highlighted their commitments to sustainability, transparency and responsible sourcing. Protein was spotted in many aisles, including protein bars, shakes, chips and even water. There were multiple sugar substitutes, meal replacement drinks, fancy waters, and better-for-you snacks. Here’s a closer look at seven trends I spotted this year at FNCE:
Could low-FODMAP foods be the new gluten-free? Although, neither should be considered a fad. Just like gluten-free is vital for individuals with celiac disease, foods that are low in FODMAPs (types of short-chain carbohydrates that may be poorly absorbed) are part of the treatment for people with irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive conditions. FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) was the focal point of a range of new products, from salsa and pasta sauce to protein bars and drinks. Monash University in Australia created a certification program and app to make it easier to identify low-FODMAP foods. Similar to the certified gluten-free stamp, you can now find this low-FODMAP certified stamp on a growing number of food products.
A California-based company called Farmhouse Culture served up Gut Shots, bottled probiotic drinks made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables. The bold, savory flavors included smoked jalapeno, garlic dill pickle, ginger beet and kimchi. I also sampled the company’s fresh kraut, which is definitely not your mother’s sauerkraut. Sold in unique “ferment-o-vent” pouches designed to keep the active cultures alive, the krauts came in flavors like horseradish leek, classic caraway and smoked jalapeno – perfect for adding to sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, power bowls and other dishes. The flavored krauts were served up on gluten-free crackers for sampling.
Eating more plants does not mean forgoing meat altogether. The Mushroom Council promoted a “Blended Burger” that swaps in some finely chopped mushrooms for part of the ground meat. It was a delicious combination that helped cut down on calories and fat, but left the enjoyment of a full burger experience. Eating less meat also doesn’t mean simply switching to meat substitutes (such as soy burgers designed to taste like meat). Several exhibitors sampled products that were plant-forward without screaming “vegetarian,” such as the new power bowls from Luvo Hawaiian Un-Fried Rice and Great Karma Coconut Curry. Pulses (beans, peas and lentils) were popping up in several booths — after all, 2016 is the International Year of Pulses.
Convenient whole grains.
I found several products that will allow you to eat whole grains on the go – in a portable pack, pouch and cup. GF Harvest created a unique GoPack for oatmeal. All you do is tear the pack open at the top, add hot water and turn the pack into a bowl. A company called Munk Pack sampled Oatmeal Fruit Squeeze – pouches of ready-to-eat oatmeal in flavors such as maple pear quinoa, blueberry acai flax, and raspberry coconut. Beyond breakfast, it’s now easier to eat quinoa with Q Cups. Simply add hot water to the microwaveable paper cup and the quinoa is ready in 5 minutes. The varieties include Southwestern Barbeque and Savory Garlic and Mushroom.
It was also great to see an old-school grain making a comeback: sorghum. This whole grain, described as “nature’s super grain,” comes in a variety of forms to easily incorporate into meals — from grain bowls and salads to casseroles and stir-fries.
While I love pasta and I don’t think it needs to be banned from anyone’s diet, many people are looking for ways to cut back on refined grains. That’s why we’ve seen the explosive popularity of spiralized vegetable noodles and cauliflower rice. I spotted several exhibitors, including Banza and Explore Cuisine, touting new and improved noodles, including chickpea rotini, red lentil penne, green lentil lasagna noodles, edamame and mung bean fettuccine and black bean spaghetti (touted as gluten-free and higher in protein and fiber). A company called Miracle Noodle created shirataki pasta and rice made from glucomannan, a soluble fiber extracted from the root of a Japanese plant called Konnyaku Imo. The pasta is so full of water that’s it’s promoted as a zero calorie noodle. Keep in mind that it’s virtually nutrient–free, too (except the fiber). So that’s a downside. Plus, I’m biased against any product calling itself a “miracle” or “guilt-free.” No food should evoke guilt, even real pasta.
Veggies in new forms.
We still fail to eat enough vegetables, but there’s never been more creative ways to try and change that. I sampled beet chips, frozen vegetable and fruit blends for smoothies, and veggie fries made from potatoes combined with carrots, broccoli, kale, chickpeas and red pepper. Several salad kits were on display, including creative combinations with kale, shredded Brussels sprouts, beet greens, chard and sliced broccoli stalks. Tasty toppings, such as dried fruit and nuts, along with packets of dressing, were all packaged together.
A company called Kuli Kuli is trying to give kale some new superfood competition by introducing moringa — a leafy green from a tree grown in Haiti, parts of Latin America and Africa. In fact, the Wall Street Journal just included moringa in an article about the next hot trends in food (along with jackfruit, new plant waters like cactus water, and spirulina). Kuli Kuli is selling powdered moringa, green energy shots and bars. Although give me a kale salad anytime — even if the kale craze has peaked.
Seeds in spotlight.
Seeds may be the new nuts — although nuts are still riding high. Many of the new snack bars on display featured seeds, including 88 Acres, a company named after the 88-acre organic farm in Massachusetts where the founder grew up. They make craft seed bars, including varieties with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flax seeds. Thrive by GoMacro sampled a variety of ancient seeds superfood nut bars, including blueberry lavender, ginger lemon and caramel coconut. Mediterranean-inspired bars from Mediterra included kale and pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds with pistachio and honey. (I also loved their savory bars with olives.) Go Raw sampled bags of sprouted seeds, including watermelon, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Seed butters are also surging. I stopped by Betsy’s Best and chatted with the founder Betsy, a registered dietitian, who was sampling her sunflower seed butter with chia seeds. Just love it when I see dietitians creating their own products!
Here’s a look at some other FNCE trendspotters: