2021 Predictions and Trends for Food and Nutrition

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As we welcome 2021 and a new year, it is often fun to contemplate where we have been and where we are going on our food and nutrition journey. The research, as we have seen over numerous years of Dietary Guideline reviews and in the present 2020-2025 edition, has corroborated a whole-food, plant-based, minimally processed diet that is low in added sugar, salt, and fat especially with regards to trans fat and saturated fat. DASH 1 and DASH 2 probably sum it up the best from our viewpoint. MyPlate is 3/4 plants: fruits, vegetables, whole grains!

However, consumers are not exactly aligning themselves to the DASH diet but they are closer than ever. There is a large Facebook group dedicated to "forks over knives," a vegan diet, and vegetarian-based foods are gaining in popularity. Sales of plant-based foods trend upwards in double digits and are over $5 billion a year in the US according to Supermarket News.

Covid-19 heavily influenced what people ate over the year. Restaurant sales are way down and grocery store sales are way up. Of course, food trends are also changing rapidly. People want fresh food. They are budget-minded, and now open to online shopping and delivery. Plus frozen food manufacturers report great increases in sales so that people can cook meals easily. With online shopping and zoom, it is easier than ever to teach grocery shopping without leaving your house.

Consumers want flavor and convenience first and foremost but they do care about health even if their desires do not always match with science (gluten-free and keto/carb-free being 2 examples). We have seen the explosion of food delivery services for restaurant meals with GrubHub, DoorDash, Caviar, Postmates, and Uber Eats to mention a few. And Instacart and Amazon are offering robust grocery delivery services.

Sustainability is a hot topic among all food manufacturers, stores, chefs, and consumers. There has been a shift from nutrition concerning marketing and product development to planet concerning marketing and product development. We have highlighted articles this year that shows sustainable and nutritious can be one and the same and can help save healthcare dollars.

The issues with food sustainability include many topics and challenges that will continue to be seen and felt everywhere food is sold:

  1. the production of plant-based foods such as protein items, kinds of milk, grains, desserts, and many more innovations. This is founded on the idea that making food for humans instead of animals to feed humans is more efficient and produces less waste. We have seen companies like Kind Bar and Impossible Burger explode with sales and success.
  2. the use of byproducts such as coffee flour, shrimp shells (chitlin), eggshells, or banana peels
  3. using versus wasting with IDP produce as well as the utilization of the whole animal - check out the IDP program by Compass
  4. planet-friendly packaging
  5. food recovery with food banks and many community services that feed leftover foods to the homeless
  6. lowering waste with recycling and composting
  7. utilization of sustainable ingredients and ethical farming practices
  8. energy efficiency and local foods for land use, agricultural diversity, and local food stability
  9. food safety and the avoidance of food-borne illness along with the waste that ensues from food recalls

The research with the microbiome fits nicely with the sustainability message because it emphasizes a plant-based diet that is high in fiber to promote a healthy microbiome or the growth of healthy bacteria. This is one of the most heavily researched areas of health and nutrition and will continue to be fruitful for some time.

Personalized nutrition is a hot topic now that the human genome is sequenced. We will definitely be reading and reporting on more research as it is reported.

Basics still prevail. Many Americans are not financially stable and Feeding America reports that over 40 million Americans experience food insecurity.  This precarious world is held together by food stamps, food banks, and local charities. Many food and nutrition professionals work very hard to staff the SNAP programs and to help with food banks. They also educate people in WIC programs.

Chronic diseases still affect more than half the population. Heart disease is still the top cause of death in the US. Obesity/overweight is still over 66%. And Type 2 Diabetes affects almost 10% of the population and almost 35% have prediabetes.

Today's health professionals who educate consumers about food and nutrition have their work cut out for them. They have to straddle many consumer needs from chronic illness management and prevention to budgets, shopping and cooking skills, and sustainability. They also have to battle fad diets and fake facts. And their messages have to compete with billions of dollars of advertising along with social media channels that lead eyeballs astray from the science. The research is always validating and fun to read but the statistics are very real. I think our American Diet infographic says it all perfectly!

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