We believe that milestone birthdays and anniversaries, like our 10th year, warrant extra reflection. As one of the first (and leading) supermarket shopping guidance systems, we’ve seen a lot of food and nutrition trends come and go since 2006—and have persevered through them all! Guiding Stars was even awarded two patents for our database system during our first decade! Won’t you join us as we review some of the most impactful nutrition trends to hit the aisles in our first ten years?
1. Protein has been pushed on us from all angles.
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and vegetarian protein sources have been enjoying a very looooong moment of popularity both among consumers and among food manufacturers. If there’s a way to pump more protein into a product, you can be someone is doing it. And if there isn’t, someone will find a way—or a new source of dietary protein (pea powder, hemp, crickets anyone?). Protein powders became mainstream in the last decade, so it’s not just the gym rats and bodybuilders swigging them anymore. Although our protein needs (about 60 g per day for men and about 50g per day for women) are typically exceeded by a wide margin in the U.S., research published in this past decade indicates that getting more than the bare minimum amount of protein can benefit us by increasing metabolic rate (slightly), staving off hunger and contributing to weight loss, among others. And people are listening, judging by the continued interest in carb-restricted eating programs such as the Atkins Diet and the more recent “paleo” eating approach. The importance of protein is, however, still under serious consideration by the nutrition science community. Guiding Stars is watching the results to make sure our stance on protein, as with all nutrients, is informed by scientific consensus as represented by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
2. Cooking shows provide instruction and inspiration for an increasingly diverse audience.
Does anyone remember life before t.v. cooking shows? Okay, we do too, but can’t we all agree that watching people attempt to create meals out of random ingredients, compete in cupcake wars and attempt to gulp down exotic foods from around the world is waaaaay more entertaining than 95% of other reality TV programming? Thought so. Anyway, aside from the obvious entertainment factor, the growing popularity of television food-related programming no doubt reflects the fact that there is a cooking or food show for every conceivable type of cook out there. Plus, everybody eats, so the potential audience is, well, huge. In the mid-2000s, when the recession hit and lots of folks needed to reign in restaurant spending and start making more home-cooked meals, TV culinary shows were shows to remind them (or teach them) how to do so on a budget, and sometimes under 30 minutes! And when schools started eliminating home-ec, cooking shows were there to help fill the void for young or novice cooks. Here at Guiding Stars, we don’t have a live cooking show, but we do our part to meet the need these shows fill by providing great recipes and test cooking tips through our website. You can even catch me discussing nutrition tips and demonstrating some of these recipes on our local morning news from time to time!
3. Two new sets of Dietary Guidelines have come out.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are released every 5 years, so our decade includes two releases of the DGA (2010 version and 2015 version). The 2010 DGA presented some new information, of course (focused on specific nutrients of public health concern, included vegetarian eating pattern options and specific recommendation to increase seafood consumption, included a new chapter on physical activity), but the 2015 DGAs really shook things up. New is an emphasis on limiting added sugar (echoing the World Health Organization’s 10% of total calories limit), increasing nutrient density and the elimination of the limit on dietary cholesterol to reflect newer science that indicates it’s not as impactful on blood cholesterol as previously thought. As a fluid program that is based on science, Guiding Stars is able to reflect changing scientific views, such as those found in the DGA. This results in a more consistent and useful tool for consumers.
4. Gluten-free foods gained major ground.
We would be remiss if we didn’t include the rise of gluten-free foods in our trend list. Truly, this is one of the top trends of the last decade, and thank goodness, the FDA finally defined the term “gluten-free” a few years ago. Interestingly, a recent study that examined nutrition and health data from 2009–2014 found that, despite an unchanging prevalence of celiac disease during the study period (around .70%), there was an increase in the number of people without celiac disease who were following a gluten-free diet. The researchers extrapolated the numbers to apply it to the US population and estimated that 1.76 million people have diagnosed celiac disease and 2.7 million people without celiac were following a gluten-free diet. However, it’s important to realize that there is a non-specific disorder called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, that may be prompting some people to adopt a gluten-free diet. However, it might also be that people believe that eating gluten-free is simply more healthful or can help with weight loss efforts (both are untrue, by the way). We’ve been watching along the way to offer guidance to folks on eating gluten-free if they need to and not being taken for a ride by poor information if they don’t.
5. Cleanses and detoxes and bloggers oh my!
Now that the Internet affords everyone a global soapbox, being able to discern nutritional truth from fiction is harder than ever. Celebrities and self-proclaimed nutrition “experts” frequently cite “personal experience” as proof and present unscientific “research” as evidence. It all amounts to an increasingly confused public who is already susceptible to the promise of a dietary quick fix (and it’s all the better when it comes packaged with a smiling celebrity endorsement). And it’s not just the problem of A-Listers touting ridiculous (unnecessary and sometimes unsafe) detoxes, cleanses and weight loss programs, it’s the downright inaccurate information and goofy suggestions (like “avoid anything that sounds like a chemical”—how supremely unhelpful, seeing as all food ingredients are chemicals whether man-made or nature-made). Let’s toast (you can toast with warm lemon water if you insist, but I’ll go with champagne) to a new year in which celebrities will just stick to entertaining us, and the public stops paying attention to uninformed health hucksters! (Hey, we can dream, can’t we?) In the meantime, Guiding Stars is here to help sort fact from fiction.
6. Sugar becomes the new dietary villain.
In the last decade, sugar has climbed up the ranks of dietary enemies—passing fat and sodium—to take the top spot as the #1 dietary enemy. It’s not hard to realize that consuming an average of 13% of daily calories from sugars (17% for teens) probably isn’t a healthy diet move. After all, sugar delivers calories, but no nutrients. A high-sugar diet can contribute to obesity and increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. Sugar consumption has decreased over the decade, and the shift away from sugar stimulated the rapid introduction of various artificial and “natural” alternative sweeteners in the past decade. Where we used to have one or two sugar substitutes to choose from, we now face a supermarket shelf packed with many choices. Although the more natural sweeteners may seem less processed and therefore more preferable to something “manufactured,” the truth is that most sweeteners—including agave—are processed and refined. Caloric content for sweeteners varies, as do their best uses (some are great for cooking/baking, some just for sweetening drinks, for example). Unfortunately, despite declining sugar consumption, the obesity rate in the US has not followed suit. Most likely, obesity is not attributable just to one thing—not just to sugar, nor was it just fat’s fault. Cutting back on sugar is certainly a smart move, and use alternative sweeteners in moderation. Training your taste buds away from all sweet stuff is probably the best goal. Because our algorithm debits foods for added sugars, watching the stars while you shop can help you cut out sugars you might not realize you’re getting.
7. Trans fats finally get booted by the FDA.
Congrats to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for joining multiple European countries (who banned trans fats much earlier) in getting these man-made fats out of the food supply! In 2013, after years of research showing their dangers, the FDA finally took away the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) regulatory status of trans fats, which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Trans fats—the kind produced by adding hydrogen to liquid oils to make them solid (a process aptly called hydrogenation)— are typically found in fried foods, baked goods such as muffins, crackers and pastries, refrigerated biscuit dough, ready-to-eat frosting and stick margarines/spreads. (Natural trans fats, found in small amounts in meat and dairy products, are not thought to be detrimental to health.) Many food manufacturers have already taken steps to eliminate trans fats in their products, as have many restaurants chains which no longer fry foods in trans-containing oil. These fats have been on our debit list from day one, so we were glad to see them get the boot.
8. Juicing and smoothies: blenderized meals go mainstream.
Juice bars and smoothie shops popped up all over the place in the last decade. Although no panacea, these fruit and veggie-based beverages gave the public extra opportunities to cram nutrients (and calories) into their daily diets. Juicing was hailed as a way to get a day’s worth of produce into a single (albeit large) Mason-jarred serving, and expensive juicers found their places on kitchen counters across the country. Kale jumped off the plate as a half-hearted garnish and into the Ninja as the famous (infamous?) green drink craze swept the nation, leading the way for a variety of specialty juices. Smoothies, once a daily habit mostly for those with poor dentition or who had their jaws wired shut post-surgery, found their way into the mainstream as a breakfast/snack/post-workout staple for anyone who wanted a convenient and nutritious meal-in-a-glass. The smoothie train shows no signs of stopping yet, so there’s still time to achieve your Master Smoothie Maker status (hint: extra points awarded for including matcha, maca or turmeric—and don’t forget to garnish and ‘gram it)! What goes into your smoothie makes a big difference in how much nutrition you’re getting, so we keep an eye out for great recipes and offer advice on working these and other mini-meals into your day.
9. Eating “clean,” “green” brings more to the table than just food.
Apparently, eating well doesn’t just mean eating nourishing, healthful food anymore. More and more, eating “well” includes choosing whole, minimally-processed, and organic (when possible) foods that are also sustainable for the planet. Ticking off these characteristics while trying to get your week’s food purchased in a timely manner can make for some complicated shopping, which is why you can feel free to focus on just one quality (or one at a time). While the inherent judgments attached to these eating styles can be off-putting (so if I don’t eat “clean” then I’m eating “dirty,” or if I eat meat I don’t care about the environment?), their basic principles are admirable. However, some of the tenets of the clean eating movement in particular might lead right down the “slippery slope” of fanatical health behavior: avoiding entire food groups or encouraging an unhealthy preoccupation with the healthfulness of one’s diet, for example. Aiming to eat more whole foods, shopping at more farmer’s markets or purchasing from local purveyors, and eliminating food waste are more logical, common-sense ways to work some of these trends into your life. When new fad diets come along pushing extreme ideas, we review the science to give you a trustworthy perspective.
10. New Nutrition Facts label is on the horizon.
Just this year, the FDA unveiled a new Nutrition Facts Label for packaged foods, and food companies have until July, 2018 to get the new labels on their packages. This update was a long time coming (the current label is over 20 years old!), so Guiding Stars and many others applauded the effort as a way to assist consumers in making educated decisions about their food choices. One of the biggest changes to the Nutrition Facts label is the listing of added sugars as separate from natural sugars. Another one of our favorite changes to the label is the updating of serving sizes. There’s long been an obvious problem with serving sizes on food labels: what’s listed frequently wasn’t even close to what people typically consumed. Therefore, people had to do math in order to understand the rest of the information listed on the label (and getting folks to do math in order to understand that they just consumed way more fat or sodium than they intended was no easy task apparently). Now if people typically drink the entire amount of juice in a bottle, the label information will reflect that. Plus, the layout of the label will highlight the serving size (and calories) with bigger, bolder type, which should make it easier for consumers to see and comprehend the information. Our algorithm uses the nutrition facts label to rate foods, so we excited that the stars will be able to reflect the difference between natural and added sugars soon.