Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
As 2022 starts, we think about our health habits in 2021 and then look to a healthier 2022. Nutrition research still supports the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that is reviewed and updated every 5 years. The 2020–2025 edition is our newest update. It focuses on whole-food, plant-based, minimally-processed foods that are low in added sugar, salt, and processed fat especially saturated fat and trans fat.
Here are the trends that I have observed over the past year as well as my thoughts on how they will influence consumers as well as our health.
The science stays the same. The DASH Diet and Mediterranean Diet along with the MyPlate icon still provide the most relevant scientific information for nutrition and health as they support the Dietary Guidelines.
Consumers' eating habits have not aligned with the Dietary Guidelines and healthy eating. One study showed that 3% eat healthily. The rest of the American population consumes too much fat, salt and sugar to meet the guidelines. 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 say they are expected to triple globally by 2030. Remember, plant and vegan foods can still be highly processed and methods of cooking and food preparation make a difference in whether a dish or prepared food is healthy.
Covid-19 has created change in food habits. The pandemic has caused consumers to worry, and disrupted many lives, health, food, and our food systems along with schools, restaurant and food service systems. There is hope on the horizon. New Covid treatment vaccines, and social distancing along with PPE are enabling us to go from stuck at home to back to life. Consumers, are starting to follow mindful behaviors to control their weight, prevent and treat chronic disease, move more, eat healthier, and navigate the inflation of costs for healthy food they can afford to purchase. The shift to social media adds many truthful and not so truthful information on cultural differences, new methods of cooking and information that is not science based.
Consumers want flavor and convenience first 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). The explosion of food delivery services for restaurant meals with GrubHub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats to mention a few. Also, Instacart and Amazon are offering robust grocery delivery services. American consumers are embracing online food delivery. Online shopping, farmer's markets, and local food markets bring many healthful options to consumers on a budget.
Hot topics include: Gut health and fiber. The research with the microbiome emphasizes a plant-based diet that is high in fiber to promote a healthy microbiome and the growth of healthy bacteria. This is one of the most heavily researched areas of health and nutrition and will continue to give us new information on body digestion and other body systems.
Better days in 2022 if we make healthy eating a priority, take stock of our own health and take small steps to eat mindfully and make sure we get 150 minutes of exercise daily. Good luck and follow science-based nutrition and food research for a healthier future!