In April of this year, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) published an article on 2014 food trends that are influencing not only our cuisine but also our health. These trends, rather than specific foods, are influencing the way we eat and how we get access to nutrition. Contributing Editor Elizabeth Sloan pulled information from a number of industry resources to compile this list of functional food trends.

Recognizing food trends in our culture is an important part in understanding access to healthy foods and our overall nutrition. These trends influence social and psychological health as well as our physical well-being. It can influence our choices at grocery stores and restaurants.

Let’s take a closer look at these individual food trends and what they mean for us overall and especially for people dealing with chronic pain issues in their lives.

Adding nutritionals to our daily diets

While supplements were big in past decades, food trends are showing that more consumers are switching to foods that are fortified with nutritional components instead. According to Sloan almost nine in ten adults were making a concerted effort to add more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to their diet. This also included healthy herbs and more fish oils that contain omega-3 fatty acids. The increased consumption of fortified food is changing the way consumers buy their food. Many people also cited maintaining healthy digestive and immune system was a top priority. Patients with chronic pain might consider foods fortified in nutrients to help them prevent pain or reduce its effects.

Shifting away from additives

The article also indicated that more adults are shifting away from processed food loaded with additives. Instead, consumers are focusing on packaged foods with real ingredients and fresher food choices. Not only does this affect foods made with artificial ingredients, but it is also increasing the occurrence of organic food purchases. People are returning to the idea that nutrition can be provided with natural foods.

Influence on Hispanic diets

The 52 million Hispanics currently living in the United States accounted for the spending of $9.4 billion dollars on natural or organic food and beverages in 2012. However, the article also pointed out that this population is also the number one consumer of energy drinks and sports beverages along with real juice drinks. Based on studies cited in the article, the Hispanic population is more likely to spend money on products and foods that can help them look and feel younger. They are often the first demographic to try a new health food or diet fad.

The rise of protein

The role of protein in our diets as a culture has ebbed and flowed over the decades. Currently, however, 57% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 34 and adults over the age of 65 are actively seeking protein rich food sources. Consumers are specifically looking at adding protein to their diets to maintain healthy bones and joints. Protein also helps maintain energy throughout the day. Protein is essential for patients dealing with chronic joint pain or bone loss.

Kid-centered food shopping

Half of the moms in the U.S. indicated that they always purchase healthy foods and drinks for their kids. Many of them are looking for a broader range of healthy kid foods that also take convenience into account. They want to see nutrients and calorie levels that are geared specifically for children. According to the article, 44% of kids under the age of 12 eat organic foods (or drinks) once a week at the least. However, as kids age moms are less likely to focus on organic shopping.

Preventing common chronic conditions

The article also indicates that a majority of consumers are seeking out functional foods to help prevent common conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, and Type 2 diabetes. Some adults also associate these healthier foods with the prevention of age-related memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. The most common condition-specific food purchases in 2013 were those that helped lower cholesterol.

Alternative nutrition

Surprisingly, 80% of households indicated that they were consuming occasional meals with no meat component. Eggs are the most popular ingredient in these meals followed by beans, lentils, or legumes. U.S. households are also replacing their dairy intake with alternatives such as soy, rice, or almond milk. Coconut water also had an interesting rise in popularity, becoming the eighth most popular nonalcoholic beverage choice in restaurants this year.

Performance-based nutrition choices

It also seems as though sports-based nutritional choices are beginning to influence more than just athletes. Even individuals who participate in recreational sports or go to the gym are making purchases based on their activities. The article reported that in 2012, six in ten people used some form of sports nutrition product such as a supplement, nutrition bar, or energy drink. That year the sales of these products reached over $24 billion. Kids are also using these products starting as early as six years old.

Weight loss

Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight has long been a concern for consumers in this country. However, there has been a shift from deprivation based diets and extreme measures to a more healthy and balanced approach to our relationship with food. Individuals have been adding more whole grains, fiber, and vitamin D to get more health benefits from their regular diets. Calcium, protein, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids are also appearing more often. These healthy building blocks can also help patients with chronic pain conditions so they have a variety of positive effects.

Big changes for the millennial generation

Millennials, also called Generation Y, are teenagers and young adults between the ages of 14 and 33. The article indicates that they are making healthier food choices than their parents. They are looking for healthier and more natural or organic foods. This may also mean they are spending more money on food overall. Millennials also subscribe to the belief that healthy foods can replace medicines for some conditions, especially those that are related to aging. Millennials and Generation X (adults born between 1965 and 1984) are also more likely to review food labels than Baby Boomers.

As healthy and natural food trends continue to increase, individuals may see more possible health benefits with this type of diet. People with chronic pain conditions may want to pay special attention to these trends and prepare accordingly to get the most nutritional benefits.

Tell us your stories: have you noticed how these food trends have influenced your shopping or dining experiences?

Image by USDAgov via Flickr


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