The Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo -also known as FNCE- took place once again this year in Chicago. Organized by the Academy of Food and Nutrition, the conference is an opportunity not only to learn about new findings in the field of Nutrition but also to look at food and nutrition trends on the expo floor and in the sessions. Let’s take a critical look at some trends from the perspective of a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist:
1. Goodbye Greek Yogurt
Compared to the previous conferences there was a noted absence of Greek yogurt on the expo floor. Instead we saw several booths with various alternative dairy products. Starting with Misha Quark, described as a type of cultured dairy, it is a officially a type of cheese with a mild flavor. It has a similar nutrition content with strained Greek yogurt.
Another product is Icelandic style skyr sold by Siggis. This is a Icelandic type yogurt, but is also considered a type of fresh cheese according to some sources. It also has a similar nutrition profile with yogurt. Both products have a smooth texture and could offer a change from yogurt, especially if you don’t like the sour flavor.
We also had several dairy substitutes such as products from Daiya which produces mainly cheese products based on tapioca and potato starch. They have a good texture so they could be a good alternative for vegans.
Califia is another brand that specializes in plant milks such as almond, coconut milk and horchata milk (combo of rice, tigernut and almond milk (and sugar). Generally it is good to stay with unflavored unsweetened plant milks unless you want sugar in your milk. There was also Muuna cottage cheese, a new face for cottage cheese. Gone are the days of the chunky cottage cheese, this version boosts creaminess and a “New way to cottage”.
2. Fat is back and so are oils
As research is showing us that low-fat diets just don’t work we saw plenty of oils on the floor. Apart from canola and soybean oil that are at the expo almost every year, several new oils made an appearance.
Oleico a high oleic safflower oil. It is not a new oil, but they do have a new product line. There are 2 types of safflower, one produces oil high in oleic acid and one high in linoleic acid. Oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid and gets its name from olive oil. The new product line Oleico Gourmet is infused with different flavors such as rosemary, oregano and garlic. Since safflower oil is tasteless, adding some sort of flavor would extend its use for dipping or in salads.
Thrive Algae oil. This oil says it’s “The Best Oil For Your Heart” that’s quite a claim. It also notes it is best for cooking since it has a smoke point of 485 degrees, however the temperature for sautéing generally does not surpass 320 degrees. Here I should note that olive oil which is the original heart healthy oil that everyone is comparing themselves to, not only is rich in monounsaturated fats but also antioxidants which appear to play an important role in heart health and which no other cooking oil contains. Therefore, I will take the above claim with a grain of salt.
Another interesting oil I saw called Olive your Heart, a combination of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Fish oil made by the supplement company Carlson. Not suitable for cooking and I’m not sure exactly what happens to the olive oil polyphenols (antioxidants) of the olive oil when blended with the fish oil, but it could be another way to get in those omega-3’s. But for the olive oil antioxidants I would stick with high quality extra virgin olive oil.
Avocado oil from Chosen Foods also made an appearance, a great source of monounsaturated fats and could provide an interesting flavor profile if used in certain recipes. It did note on it’s label that it had a 500 smoke point, but again you really do not need that high of smoke point (see above). And one can’t help but wonder why such a push for the smoke point? If someone is frying and deep-frying in their home that often maybe the smoke-point of their oil is the least of their worries.
As for olive oil I did not see any apart from a booth from the North American Olive Oil Association.
3. Comfort food that (may) be good for you
There were several foods that we often associate with higher calories or snack foods made with better ingredients. Several ice cream choices were available such as Enlightened Good for You ice cream with higher protein and sugar substitutes.
Cauliflower is also having it’s moment: Farmwise offers veggie rings (instead of onion rings) made with cauliflower, beans and onion. The ingredients are similar, with the veggie rings having slightly less fat and 1 extra gram of fiber. Cauliflower pizza crust with only 4 ingredients was also on the floor.
A variety of chips or crackers were also available such as Simple Mills that offered crackers made with almond flour with flavors such as BBQ Cheddar and Rosemary and Sea salt with simple ingredients and sunflower oil. Lundberg offered a new product: rice and quinoa tortilla chips in a variety of flavors, made with organic ingredients although the ingredient list was quite long and some had added sugars, in addition the calories and fat content is the same as a typical 3 ingredient corn tortilla chip.
4. Traditional pasta is not enough
While Barilla was at the expo and while we know that pasta in moderation consumed Mediterranean style (small amounts with vegetables based sauces) is just fine, there were several products that offered vegetable based pasta. Perhaps this is spurred by the gluten free movement and the plant protein trend. Some choices include Banza Pasta made with chickpeas (also includes pea protein) that boasts 2 x the protein and 4 x fiber.
Cybele’s “Free to Eat” Superfood Veggie Rotini is gluten free made with a variety of vegetables and legumes offering 25 grams of protein and a whole serving of veggies.
Explore Cuisine also offers pasta made with beans, rice or edamame. Again the product contains more protein.
5. To cook or not to cook?
Here things got a bit confusing. Last year there were several meal delivery companies and I had noted that this was a great first step for people wanting to cook more or even learn how to cook, but this year it seems like we were going back to prepared and grab and go meals that are convenient and require little preparation. On the other hand there were several sessions discussing the importance of cooking, culinary demonstrations and generally a sense that we need to cook more, particularly as cooking is becoming more and more of a spectator sport. Kimbal Musk mentioned in his presentation how important it is to eat real food, to eat together, to cook. But yet there is a disconnect when you are out there on the expo floor. Of course we have to be aware that what is on the expo floor does not necessarily mean it is where we should be heading. The reality is that if you want to eat well and healthy, cooking is essential.
Elena Paravantes is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Food Writer and a Mediterranean Diet Expert.
For more information, inspiration, tips and recipes on the Mediterranean Diet and Greek Food visit: OliveTomato.com