Food Trends Spotted at ADA’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo

I’ve  just returned from the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association in Boston – the ADA’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo.  It was a great conference to hear the latest science, reconnect with my dietitian colleagues and learn about new products.

Beyond the scientific sessions, the conference attracts all the major food and beverage manufacturers (and small niche companies) that want to showcase their offerings to registered dietitians.   I’ll be posting more about the conference in the weeks to come, but for now, here are some of the trends I spotted on the Expo floor.

For starters, two big buzz words were CLEAN and CONSCIOUS .

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Products boasted about clean labels (no artificial ingredients or colors) and touted multiple free-from claims. Perhaps the biggest was GLUTEN-FREE. In fact, there was an entire gluten-free pavilion where all of the exhibitors with gluten-free products assembled in one big area. It’s great that they are more options now for people with celiac disease, but a lot of the products on display were not really so healthful.  I saw an awful lot of gluten-free sweets, including brownies…


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Gluten-free cookies…

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Gluten-free donuts…

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Gluten-free ladyfingers for making your own Tiramisu or other desserts.

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I’m happy that people with celiac can enjoy a greater variety of foods — including favorite desserts that they’ve had to eliminate after their diagnosis.  But  I’d like to see more efforts in creating gluten-free grain products that are high in fiber (which is often low in gluten-free baked goods), or products made with nutritious grains that are naturally gluten free.   Gluten-free diets can be fairly restrictive, which makes it even more important to eat nutrient-rich foods.  Plus, I’d hate to see other people snatching up these foods just because “gluten-free” is on the label.  The trendy term carries a health halo and many people who don’t have celiac may assume that these sweets are somehow healthier options.  They’re not.  See my previous articles on the topic: Gluten-free is Latest Diet Craze and The Blinding Light of Health Halos.

Another product that I feel conflicted about is Gimme Chocolates — billed as the world’s first nutritionally enhanced candy.  So a fourth trend I found was FORTIFIED SNACKS.

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Gimme Chocolates are rice puff balls coated in neon-colored chocolate and infused with different nutrients — vitamin D, omega 3, probiotics and calcium. I know the argument of…well, if you’re going to eat candy, why not make it nutritious. And it’s true that most Americans need more vitamin D and calcium in their diets.  But I just can’t excited about this product. I think candy should be candy.  I don’t think we should try and turn it in to something it’s not. We shouldn’t feel so virtuous that we’re eating something “good” that we slack off in trying to get these nutrients in other TRULY good-for-you  foods. Fortifying a product with one single nutrient doesn’t suddenly transform it into a nutritious food.

The Gimme Omega 3 candies are made with Salba — the white version of chia seeds that are quickly gaining superstar status (not deserving, in my opinion).  The promotional materials that were distributed at the Gimme booth said Salba provides 8x more omega 3’s than salmon.  Well, I sure don’t want people to be grabbing handfuls of these candies instead of salmon.  Plus, the form of omega 3 in Salba is quite different than what you’ll find in salmon – so it’s not even a fair comparison.  Salba contains ALA omega 3, while salmon contains EPA and DHA omega 3 ( and that’s what you want to aim for.)

Do you think I’m wrong about these candies?  What do you think about Gimme Chocolates?

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I’d be more likely to snack on some of the new products I sampled from Cabot Cheese. I liked these portion-controlled, reduced-fat snack bars, including Habanero cheddar cheese….

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and reduced-fat Pepper Jack cheese.

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Speaking of portion control, I liked these MU Measure Up Bowls that can help people measure portions to prevent super sizing….

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I thought Dr. Praeger’s offered some interesting products, including different types of veggie burgers, sweet potato pancakes, falafel flats and fish sticks.

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And take a look at these cute broccoli “nuggets” for kids.  So a fifth trend, if you’re keeping track, is MEATLESS MEALS.  A lot of new vegetarian and vegan products were on display.

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Wrapping up, trend six is FUNCTIONAL BEVERAGES. I just couldn’t believe the various drinks on display — from superfruit juices and nutrient-spiked energy drinks to pumped up protein drinks.

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Protein seems to be the new darling in drinks, and here’s just one example:  protein-fortified water from the folks that make Muscle Milk.

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My favorite booths on the exhibit floor were showcasing products that didn’t have a fancy label or nutrition claim on the front of the package.  Believe me, there were wonderful displays from the industry groups representing strawberries, blueberries,  raspberries, raisins, avocados, mushrooms, peanuts, walnuts, almonds and other fresh, whole foods.

To my fellow RDs, what food trends did you spot at FNCE this year?

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