The Top 5 Food and Nutrition Trends for 2017

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It’s a new year, and with a new year comes predictions and a look into the future. But instead of thinking inwardly, which seems to be the norm this time of year, instead I am going to take a look outward to make some predictions about some of my favorite topics: food and nutrition trends for 2017. Since we’ve got about 51 weeks left to go in this new year, it will be interesting to see how close or far off the mark I will have been in identifying some new trends in this space, so let’s get started!

Getting Funky with Functional Foods

Not too long ago, the concept of foods with added functional benefits- aka functional foods- was not really on the radar of most Americans. However, there has been a recent surge in interest in foods that work overtime for our health. Recent data from the IFIC Foundation’s 2016 Food and Health Survey found that nearly half of consumers said “weight loss/management” is the top health benefit they are interested in getting from foods. Moreover, about one-third of Americans listed “increased energy,” “cardiovascular health,” “healthy aging,” or “digestive health” as additional health benefits they were seeking from the food they eat.

Powering up with Protein

There are no signs that the health halo around protein will be knocked off in 2017. If anything, protein will continue to rise in popularity, especially given the increase in interest in plant and alternative proteins. According to the 2016 Food and Health Survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans are trying to consume more protein or as much as possible, up significantly from 54 percent in 2015 and 50 percent in 2014.

In regard to the difference between plant and animal proteins, one-fifth of Americans view plant protein as more healthful than they did the previous year, compared to 8 percent who see it as less healthful. Views of animal protein, however, were split, with 12 percent perceiving it as more healthful than the previous year and 15 percent perceiving it as less healthful.

Cozying up with Coffee

America’s favorite hot beverage will gain even more steam in 2017, with demand growing in the U.S. far more quickly than in other markets and setting new records. Millennials (including yours truly!) are behind much of that growth, along with increasingly popular and novel ways to consume coffee, such as cold brew and coffee’s use in recipes.

Combine that with coffee’s especially good bill of health in 2016, and there could be a lot more heat this year in our love affair with java. Americans also appear to be more knowledgeable about their caffeine intake, according to the 2016 Food and Health Survey, with 69 percent stating that they know how much caffeine they consume—up significantly from 64 percent in 2015 and 63 percent in 2014.

A Defining Moment for Healthy

Food labeling has been more broadly discussed and debated in the past several years, from organic certification and “absence labeling” to changes in Nutrition Facts labels. In 2017, the spotlight will shine on what qualifies a food to be marketed as “healthy.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently working to redefine what qualifies as a “healthy” nutritional claim on package labels. In case you were wondering where Americans stand on the term “healthy,” the 2016 Food and Health Survey found that for more than one-third of consumers, a “healthy” food is defined in part by what it does not contain rather than what it does contain.

A New Era of Editing

If you were to ask me the one technology I am most excited about for 2017, I would definitely say CRISPR (“clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”). CRISPR is a form of biotechnology that edits an organism’s own genes in a highly targeted and efficient manner, rather than splicing in genes from other organisms (or “transgenics”). Because transgenics are not involved, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2016 determined that it does not need to approve individual applications of the technology.

Despite the polarizing debate over GMO foods going back more than a decade, the 2016 Food and Health Survey found that one-third of Americans say they still need more information about biotechnology in order to make an informed decision about it. Less than one-quarter see no application for biotechnology whatsoever in food production. CRISPR could come without the stigma of other biotechnology applications, thus potentially accelerating consumer acceptance.

Only time will tell if these new and continued food trends will remain important as we progress into 2017. I know I am certainly hopeful that many topics on this list will be relevant for many years to come!

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The IFIC Foundation’s full 2016 Food & Health Survey findings and additional information are available on the Foundation’s website: http://www.foodinsight.org/2016-FHS. The 2017 Food and Health Survey is scheduled for release in May