Friday, June 8, 2012

Food and Nutrition Trends

Were you ever enticed by a new diet fad? Ever heard a new trendy nutrition term and wondered what it meant? Every year, new food and nutrition trends sweep our nation from fad diets to super foods. What are some current trends, what’s their terminology, and what’s driving their popularity?

Phil Lempert, a correspondent for NBC news, states that the farm to fork trend is one of this year’s top trends. With this trend comes a menu of trendy terms. Test yourself on the terminology:

Organic versus Natural: “Organic” is a strict, federally regulated term. Certified organic foods must meet USDA farming and production regulations regarding pesticide exposure and other agricultural practices. “Natural” is a broad term that has the implication that nothing artificial is added, however these foods require no specific federal regulations, except when applied to meat and poultry. Natural meat and poultry products must not have artificial colors, preservatives, flavors, sweeteners or other ingredients that do not naturally occur in the food. Other foods using the term “natural” need only meet standard food regulations.

Cage Free versus Free Range: In both instances the animal lives in an open area, usually indoors, which allows for some natural behaviors. Free range applies to poultry raised for meat and requires some outdoor exposure. Time and quality of outdoor exposure are not specified in the federal regulations.

Processed: Controlled changes are made to food before it is available for consumption. The process can be as simple as cleaning and separating spinach leaves or as complex as grinding, refining, or bleaching. Corn, for example, comes in many forms like canned, frozen, popped, chips, or syrup.

Slow Food: An international movement that started in Italy in 1986. Beliefs include living an un-hurried life, beginning at the table. Supports organic principles and lobbies against genetically engineered crops. Their motto is good, clean, fair food. This farm to fork trend has an impact on the increase in organic and natural items hitting our supermarket shelves. Why is this trend is so popular? Driving forces behind this trend include the green initiative, food safety concerns, and increased nutrition knowledge.

A second trend that continues is the super food trend. What makes a food super? Consumers believe that super foods are high in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals and low in negative properties such as saturated fat. They may believe the foods will improve their health. There are no official regulations regarding this term, so consumers should be wary of super food claims.

Two of the year’s hottest selling super foods are chia and flax seeds. Chia seeds were once made famous as the amazing “chia pets”. They are high in omega 3’s, antioxidants, minerals and protein. Proponents claim chia seeds promote weight loss by gelling in the stomach and cause the consumer to feel fuller for longer. However, there does not seem to be sufficient scientific evidence to support this claim. Flax seeds are also high in omega 3’s in addition to fiber and antioxidants. These trends are driven by the desire for instant health improvement, increased nutritional awareness of the public, and media marketing.

As consumers, it’s easy to become confused as new trends emerge. What does all the terminology mean? Which trends have validity? Before adopting new trends, seek out reputable sources and evidence based research in order to distinguish fact from fiction.

By Megan Dean, Penn State Dietetic Intern in Adams County.

1 comment:

Fran Alloway said...

Good information about these food labeling terms.
Nicely organized for reading.