As we welcome 2022 and a new year, it is often fun to contemplate where we have been and where we are going on our food, health, and nutrition education journey. The nutrition 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 processed fat especially with regards to trans fat and saturated fat.
Here are the trends that I have observed over the past year as well as my predictions for how they will influence consumers as well as health and nutrition education.
- The science stays the same. The DASH Diet and MyPlate icon still provide the most relevant summaries of what science shows best for nutrition and health and they support the Dietary Guidelines.
- Consumers' eating habits are not exactly aligning themselves to the Dietary Guidelines and DASH diet. One study showed that 3% eat healthily. We published an "American Diet" infographic and post which sums up the factors that influence diet in America:
Many consumers are closer than ever. There is a large Facebook group dedicated to "forks over knives." Many bloggers and social media influencers are popular because they show consumers how to put healthy meals on the table fast. Sales of plant-based foods keep trending upwards in double digits and are over $7 billion a year in the US according to The Plant-Based Association who also says they are expected to triple globally by 2030. However, as health educators, we need to remind people that plant and vegan foods can still be highly processed, too.
3. Covid-19 is the biggest monkey wrench of a lifetime. The pandemic fallout of worry, chaos, and disruption of our lives, health, food, and education systems has changed everything and almost eclipses the foundation of health education we experienced before 2020.
There is hope on the horizon. New covid treatment pills, vaccines, and social distancing are enabling us to go from stuck at home to back to life mindfully. We all know that as health educators our messages have never mattered more as we help people control their weight, prevent and treat chronic disease, move more, eat healthier, and navigate inflation for healthy food on a budget.
4. The pandemic has clearly shown people that health is wealth so we believe the health messages will be welcomed like never before as the dust settles.
BUT the one thing we have learned is that you can never be too basic or simple with messages and lessons. The amount of misinterpretation from being health illiterate just astounding. Our lessons have to be fun and easy to learn and understand. We also have to address social media, various cultural differences, and new methods of learning while we guide folks to better habits for health.
5. Make it easy. 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 two 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. New grocery stores that only offer delivery of fresh local food are proliferating. America is embracing online food delivery.
6. Online and covid disrupted the old food systems. There are more small manufacturers and fewer restaurants. One good thing that has erupted from the online e-commerce world is the birth of small food manufacturers who have taken sales away from big manufacturers. Big food lost $12b to them while CPG sales increased 10% during the pandemic. Online shopping, farmer's markets, and local food markets can bring many healthful options to consumers on a budget so our education has to help our audiences!
7. Younger food consumers want to save the planet. The issues with food sustainability and security include many topics and challenges that will continue to be seen and felt everywhere food is sold:
- 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 for animals to feed humans is more efficient and produces less waste.
- the use of byproducts such as coffee flour, shrimp shells (chitlin), eggshells, or banana peels, and we will see words like renewal, upcycle, imperfect to denote the use of byproducts in new ways.
- planet-friendly packaging
- people-friendly production methods and companies who support treating everyone in the supply chain fairly
- food recovery with food banks and many community services that feed leftover foods to the homeless
- lowering waste with recycling and composting
- utilization of sustainable ingredients and ethical farming practices
- energy efficiency and local foods for land use, agricultural diversity, and local food stability
- food safety and the avoidance of food-borne illness along with the waste that ensues from food recalls
8. Gut health and fiber are hot. 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.
9. Basics still prevail. Many Americans are not financially stable and Feeding America reports that over 38 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.
10. When the covid fog lifts, people will have to lose weight. 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.
11. Social media is here to stay. 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, education level, languages, 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 influencers that lead eyeballs astray from the science.
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. But after learning that the quality of a croissant directly varies with how much butter it has, Judy sought to challenge herself by coming up with recipes that were as healthy as they were tasty.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.