Reflecting on FNCE
By Densie Webb, PhD, RD
Biotechnology, plant-based foods, and gluten free were some of the hottest trends at this year’s expo.
For the first time, Houston hosted the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE). Roughly 7,000 food and nutrition professionals and students gathered at the George R. Brown Convention Center in late October to sample new and innovative foods, listen to presentations by international health and nutrition experts, and exchange ideas and information during the four-day meeting—and occasionally spot bright-red cowboy boots.
Cooking demos on the exhibit floor featured creative ways to use herbs and spices to help meet dietary guidelines with dishes that are lower in sodium but rich in taste; tips and techniques for cooking lactose-free foods; and ways to add fiber to appetizers and snacks to boost intake.
Poster sessions on the exhibit floor presented new research and provided a wide range of nutrition insights, from analysis on the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data to information on the influence of nutrition information on food choices in fast-food restaurants to how mushroom consumption affects nutrient intake in adults.
And the meeting was not without controversy. For instance, a session that questioned the importance and even the existence of an association between antioxidants and health created quite a stir.
Today’s Dietitian spoke with several attendees, both first timers and “frequent fliers,” to get their overall impressions of the meeting, learn of any take-away messages they gleaned from the sessions, and identify any new products that caught their eye.
Newcomers and Veterans
Newbies were impressed both by the size of the conference and the openness of the attendees. “It was bigger than I expected, but everyone has been friendly, and it wasn’t as intimidating as I expected it to be,” said Mary House, a junior at Texas A & M and a student host who was attending FNCE for the first time. House said she has a special interest in the merging of culinary arts and nutrition, and she found several food companies in the exhibit hall that were working toward that goal.
Katie Loadman, another first-time attendee and a senior at Colorado State University, was looking forward to visiting the Center for Career Opportunities since she’s nearing the end of her nutrition education. She appreciated the chance to network with those already in the field. “It was interesting to interact with dietitians and get a good picture of what life after school will look like,” she said.
Sharon Lehrman, MPH, RDN, LD, president of the Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Nutrition, Health, and Wellness in St Louis Park, Minnesota, said she appreciated the way in which sessions were presented. “The sessions followed the theme of the conference: insight into action, in which many sessions were set up with a researcher presenting the latest studies and an RD highlighting the practical aspects of the findings to apply to the public, our clients, and our patients.”
The highlight of the meeting for Toby Smithson, RDN, LDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy and the founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com, was meeting Sachiko T. St Jeor, PhD, RD, recipient of the Marjorie Hulsizer Copher Award and a leader in obesity research and education. “I was in awe to meet the woman responsible for developing an equation I use in practice every day,” she said. “The Mifflin-St Jeor equation is used to measure a person’s resting metabolic rate.”
Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD, a nutrition consultant and the owner of Mohr Results in Louisville, Kentucky, thought the educational sessions especially were worthwhile this year. “I thought the educational sessions were much more in line with some of the hot topics in nutrition compared to previous conferences,” he said.
New Products and Tools
The exhibit hall, which provided as much information as the educational sessions, was packed with food companies displaying new and familiar food products and businesses offering new nutrition tools in the form of mobile apps to facilitate nutrition counseling sessions with clients.
Smithson appreciated the opportunity the exhibits provided. “It allows us as registered dietitians to use all of our senses in learning about new products. We have the opportunity to taste, see, smell, and listen to information about products that consumers will be asking about.”
Among these products was Thrive, a specially formulated probiotic ice cream that contains more protein, fiber, potassium, vitamins, and minerals than regular ice cream. It offers an alternative solution to less appealing liquid supplements for children and older adults who aren’t getting the nutrition they need.
House was struck by the abundance of good-tasting food products that provided much-needed nutrients. “One of the most interesting products I found was an organic tube-feeding formula. It’s encouraging to see that there are options available for dietitians to create a nutrition plan to fit each individual’s circumstances, preferences, and beliefs,” she said. “There isn’t one way to do things; it’s important to research new products so you can provide the best possible advice.”
Both Smithson and Mohr noted that gluten free continues to be a growing nutrition trend. Loadman agreed, adding that “some of the older gluten-free products weren’t appetizing and lacked nutritional substance. New varieties are delicious and provide nutrient density.”
Approximately 70 companies boasted gluten-free products. Some products, such as Frito-Lay Fritos, always were gluten free but now are labeled as such. Others, such as Zing snack bars created by a group of RDs, one of whom has celiac disease, were developed as gluten free.
Mohr noticed foods that seemed to be “going back to basics. There’s a moving away from the more processed foods to whole grains, such as sorghum, and less processed fats, such as coconut oil and red palm oil. I like the idea of exposing clients to real foods and introducing them to foods they otherwise may not be familiar with that offer unique health benefits.”
Smithson saw several displays of plant-based foods and eating plans, including many varieties of beans and seeds, such as lentils and hemp seeds. And companies introduced new bean product varieties, such as spicy black bean hummus.
The American Association of Diabetes Educators introduced the Diabetes Goal Tracker, a new mobile app designed to help motivate clients with diabetes by providing educational materials, goal-setting tips, and reminders for meeting these goals, Smithson said. Another new app, called Mobile RD, which launches this month, enables dietitians to communicate daily and weekly with clients to track their progress. For a monthly licensing fee, the app offers a unique photojournaling wellness platform that allows for better monitoring of and interaction with clients and patients.
Dietitian Edition from FoodCare also made its debut at FNCE this year. This app focuses on helping those with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, improve their health with good nutrition. Clients can access the program via the Web, a smartphone, or through social media platforms such as Facebook.
Smithson also noted that there were new varieties of portion-control dishware, such as the customizable Precise Portions Nutrition Control System, for clients and patients who want to manage their weight.
Loadman was surprised to learn that the next generation of dietitians may need to meet more stringent requirements before becoming RDs. “I learned there’s a push for a master’s degree to be necessary, in addition to an internship, to become a registered dietitian. There was talk that the requirement may be implemented by 2024.”
Lehrman found the cooking demos especially enlightening. She thought the culinary demonstration “Shopping the Supermarket Periphery” was the most memorable. “I can’t wait to try some of the terrific tips in my corporate wellness presentations,” she said.
As always, there was something for everyone to learn, take home, make on their own, and apply to their businesses, counseling sessions, and education.
Next year, FNCE will head east and be held in Atlanta.
— Densie Webb, PhD, RD, is a freelance writer, editor, and industry consultant based in Austin, Texas.