I recently attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE), the world's largest annual meeting of food and nutrition professionals. Over 8,000 registered dietitians, nutrition researchers, policy makers, health care providers and industry leaders attend this four-day event. Each day is packed with research, educational presentations, lectures, debates, panel discussions and culinary demonstrations.
This year, the expo portion of the event drew more than 350 food and nutrition related exhibitors. It's here that new products and innovations are launched and food trends come to life.
Here are the top seven food trends spotted at FNCE 2014:
1) Snacking is king
About 25 percent of our calories come from snacks and over 50 percent percent of us are snacking two to three times a day, which is up from just 10 percent back in the 1970s. So, it's no surprise more companies are popping up with snack solutions.
a) Healthy snack club (Nourish Snacks, @NourishSnacks)
Enjoy healthy, portioned snacks delivered right to your door. These snacks are designed by a dietitian to contain protein, fiber and antioxidants. Each snack pouch is gluten-free, dairy-free and less than 200 calories.
b) Coconut chips (BareSnacks, @BareSnacks)
Chips are the No. 1 snack in the U.S. with 63 percent of us eating chips at least once a month. Companies are creating novel chip experiences such as these baked coconut chips in savory and sweet flavors with a simple ingredient list.
c) Chocolate covered diced prunes (Sunsweet, @SunsweetGrowers)
Chocolate is the No. 1 most popular snack around the world. Sunsweet makes diced prunes covered in dark chocolate, which is the perfect balance of virtue and vice. When I worked in their expo booth, the individually-wrapped prunes called "Sunsweet Ones" were a crowd-favorite (and are just 25 calories each!)
2) Kale gets competition
Kale is the celebrity of leafy greens. In fact, there's even a National Kale Day the first Wednesday in October. Now that our palates are getting used to the strong green flavor, other dark greens are edging their way into the spotlight.
a) Pre-cleaned leafy greens (San Miguel Produce, @SanMiguelProd)
How convenient! All types of dark greens such as bok choy, snow pea shoots, beet greens, mustard greens, turnip greens and collards are cleaned, cut and ready to eat.
b) Broccoleaf (Foxy Organic, @Brocco_Leaf)
For all those broccoli lovers out there, now there's a way to enjoy the whole plant. Broccoleaf (short for broccoli leaves) are a nutrition powerhouse; one to two leaves are 50 calories and packed with vitamin A, C, K, folate and potassium.
3) Veggies in new places (especially beets)
Vegetables are moving well beyond the typical veggie trays and stir-frys into some unique new products.
a) Beet and carrot hummus (Eat Well Embrace Life, @EatWellHummus)
These unique hummus flavors are made with pureed white beans plus 30 percent beets or 25 percent carrots. It's common for veggies to be dipped into hummus, but here they are a main ingredient.
b) Beet kefir (Lifeway, @Lifeway_Kefir)
Kefir is the creamy drinkable cousin of yogurt. It contains 12 strains of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) to support digestive health and immunity.
4) Lentils find fame
Lentils are quick cooking since, unlike beans, they don't require presoaking. They are packed with fiber, iron and plant protein -- in fact they have 13 grams of protein per 3/4 cup cooked, which is about double the protein of an egg.
a) Lentil granola (Canadian Lentils, @cdnLentils)
An appearance by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson (@MarcusCooks) brought lots of deserved attention to the humble lentil. The foodie buzz was all about using lentils in non-traditional places such as in a granola parfait for breakfast!
b) Red lentil pasta (Prohealth Pasta)
The taste and texture is just like traditional pasta. You won't believe that there's just one ingredient on this label: Red lentils. A standard two-ounce dry serving has an impressive 16 grams protein and 11 grams fiber (for comparison, this is about double what whole wheat pasta contains).
5) Protein gets real
People just can't get enough protein for its muscle building and satiety effects. Now, instead of protein powders and bars, protein is being celebrated in real, wholesome foods.
a) Foods we love
Real food being highlighted for its protein content:
- Eggs (egglandsbest.com)
- Fish (starkist.com and wildplanetfoods.com)
- Nuts (almonds.com, peanut-institute.org, georgiapecansfit.org walnuts.org, getcracking.com)
- Cheese (sargento.com)
- Cottage cheese (daisybrand.com)
b) Plant-based protein mix (neat foods, @eatneatfoods)
The mix contains simple ingredients: pecans, garbanzo beans, oats and cornmeal along with spices. Just add water, eggs (or vegan egg replacement) and cook into everything from burgers to tacos to meatballs.
6) Fat is back
Fat phobia is being replaced with fat fanatics who see the value in fat for mouth feel and satisfaction.
a) Avocado ice cream (Hass Avocado Board, @HassAvocados)
Avocados are rich in healthy fat so adding this superfood to your ice cream ups the nutrition factor. The deets: A fifth of a medium avocado has 50 calories and about 4.5 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber.
b) 4 percent plain Greek yogurt (Chobani, @chobani)
Extra fat for extra creaminess and satisfaction. A 5.3 ounce container has 130 calories and 6 grams of fat compared to the non-fat version's 90 calories and 0 grams fat. It's great to eat as is since the extra fat makes the yogurt taste less tart or use in cooking and baking for even better results than no-fat versions.
7) Wholesome meets convenience
Healthy plus easy is always a winning combo.
a) Culinary quinoa (Ancient Harvest, @AncientHarvest)
Quinoa and other ancient grains are mixed with flavors like spicy curry for a fast side dish. This product has a cleaner ingredient list and half the sodium as the usual seasoned boxed rice with more protein and fiber, too.
b) Frozen meals in paper pouch (Luvo, @luvoinc)
Chef-inspired frozen meals without high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors or trans fat. Each meal is in a BPA-free, unbleached paper pouch that can go into the microwave or oven and has 500 calories or less.