Food trends. They’ve been around for as long as we’ve had a choice about what we eat. From the mania for exotic spices like black pepper and cinnamon during the Renaissance to a Jell-O salad on every luncheon plate in the 1930s to today’s unshakeable craving for avocado toast, we humans love to jump on the food-trend bandwagon.
And while some trends—like the cupcake mass hallucination of the early 2000s—do not lead to healthier eating, other foods become trendy because of their (real or imagined) health benefits.
“There are hundreds of ‘healthy’ food trends out there at any time, and they are forever changing,” Carly Metcalf, a graduate student in nutrition and dietetics at Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI, tells The FruitGuys Magazine. She emphasizes that it’s important to think somewhat skeptically about “healthy” food trends, because the science isn’t always there to back up the claim that a food is healthy. That’s why it’s important to eat a varied diet that includes nutrients from across the spectrum, no matter which trends are currently popular.
Metcalf offers five foods that she sees as peaking in popularity among healthy eaters right now—along with the caveat that the research is still inconclusive on whether these foods are the end-all of a healthy diet.
- Whole foods. Ever since food guru and journalist Michael Pollan told us to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” back in 2006, the idea of eating real food in an unprocessed state has caught people’s interest. Eating, for example, locally sourced produce from small-scale farming operations isn’t as easy or inexpensive as eating highly processed convenience food, but its health benefits can be tremendous.
- Prebiotics/Probiotics. Increasingly, research is pointing to the importance of beneficial gut bacteria. “A healthy gut is extremely important when we talk about your overall health,” says Metcalf. “Eating foods that support gut health in turn can support immune function, vitamin and mineral absorption, and mood, just to name a few.” But first, a primer: Probiotics are organisms that help maintain the beneficial bacteria in our digestive system. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. While there are plenty of “trendy” pre/probiotic items, Metcalf reminds us that you don’t have to get your probiotics from trendy foods or beverages like kombucha. “You can get them from dairy foods, including yogurt, kefir products, and aged cheeses, which contain live cultures, as well as non-dairy foods that also have beneficial cultures, including kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and cultured non-dairy yogurts. Prebiotics (think complex carbohydrates) can be found in foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”
- Tea. The practice of drinking tea goes back centuries, but what is trendy these days is using it to flavor other things. For instance, matcha, a type of green tea that is high in antioxidants and other potential anti-cancer substances, is showing up in ice creams, chewing gum, lattes, and cocktails.
- Turmeric and other anti-inflammatory spices. A bright-yellow spice with a compelling flavor, turmeric is also landing in our lattes, popcorn, and crackers. Turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years as a medicinal herb. Curcumin, one of the primary compounds in turmeric, gives it its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. While acute inflammation (for example, a fever) can help us clear infection, chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and reduced brain function in older age.
- Plant-based foods. Plant-based diets are as good for the environment as they are for our health. And they are becoming more popular. While adopting a vegan diet may seem too strict or stringent, a plant-based diet can be flexible enough to allow small amounts of meat or dairy. As in a whole foods diet, the goal is to eat mainly plants in as minimally processed a state as possible.
Metcalf notes that while it’s fun to try foods that are popular, “overall, eating healthy is about balance and what works for you.” She explains that while people may feel that nutrition advice is “always changing,” the truth is that the trends may come and go, but the nutritional science is mainly stable. “Trends are forever changing, and it is hard to keep up, but there are a couple of things that haven’t changed: increasing fruit, vegetable, and whole grain intake is something we can strive for no matter what is trending.”
Dana Lester has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. She is passionate about holistic wellness, eating fruit, and writing.