May 2015 Issue

For Your Information: Top Food and Nutrition Trends
By Leesha Lentz
Today's Dietitian
Vol. 17 No. 5 P. 50

Dietitians discuss the health benefits of the most popular foods in 2015, and tips on how clients can include more of them in their diets.

As many of you know, Today's Dietitian (TD) and Pollock Communications, a food, health, and wellness public relations company, surveyed more than 500 dietitians to find out what's trending in nutrition and healthful eating for 2015. And the results went viral.

In this article, TD highlights some of the top healthful food trends featured in the survey to inform dietitians about their health benefits, product offerings, and strategies to help clients incorporate more of these foods into their diets.

Popular Foods
• Nuts and seeds. Fifty-four percent of survey participants predicted these foods to be the top two healthful choices for this year. These foods are portable, which makes them a viable option for on-the-go snacking, says Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDN, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy). These foods are high in protein, which helps consumers feel fuller longer. In addition, nuts and seeds are high in both vitamin E and fiber, which are nutrients most Americans don't get enough of in their diets, Salge Blake says.

"Nuts and seeds would make a good addition on top of yogurt, with cheese, or in smoothies, and on top of a salad," says Alissa Rumsey, RD, CDN, CNSC, CSCS, a dietitian, personal trainer, and spokesperson for the Academy. "With chia seeds, you can also make chia seed pudding, which is good for dessert or for breakfast, topped with fruit."

While nuts and seeds are healthful, Salge Blake cautions against eating too much of them. "The kicker with this is portion control," she says. "We don't want to be eating a whole bag of cashews. What we want to do is make sure [portions] become snack-sized and that clients have them only as a snack. One way to do that is to separate them in snack bags or containers. The Almond Board of California has a container where you can put in 1 oz of almonds. There also are some packaged nuts that come in individually sized portions at 100 kcal."

• Kale. Dietitians predicted kale would still be a popular food among consumers. This green, leafy vegetable is high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as a good source of fiber, Rumsey says. But she adds that all leafy greens are great, and therefore it's important to recommend a variety of them, such as spinach, mustard greens, and rainbow chard.

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the author of the Smart Bytes blog, says it's important to stress a variety of vegetables and not focus on one trend. "We want clients and patients to expand the total number of their vegetables and the variety. We don't want them to eat more kale and less broccoli."

If clients and patients are looking to include more kale into their diet, it can be added raw to smoothies or pasta dishes. Rumsey also recommends massaging the kale before consumption, because the leaves are tough, but will soften given time.

• Greek yogurt. This dairy food trend is still on the rise, mostly due to its versatility. Salge Blake says Greek yogurt can be a snack or meal item. It's also portable and served in individual containers, which is great for consumers on the go. Since Greek yogurt has more protein than traditional yogurt, it's a good postrecovery workout snack. With the high-protein content, Salge Blake sees this item increasingly being marketed to men, especially those with active lifestyles.

Clients and patients who want to add more Greek yogurt to their diet can pair it with fruit and whole grain cereal for a healthful, nutritious breakfast.

• Green tea. In the survey, 35% of dietitians chose green tea as the top beverage for its myriad health benefits. Rumsey says green tea has one of the highest concentrations of polyphenols, which may help reduce inflammation. While Salge Blake doesn't foresee this beverage replacing coffee, she believes people likely will consume it later in the day as an afternoon or evening drink.
Rumsey offers a tip for clients and patients when preparing green tea: "If you add lemon to it, [the lemon] can make it easier for your body to absorb [the polyphenols]; dairy would make it harder to absorb."

• Avocados. As a source of healthful fat, avocados boast many health benefits, which may be one reason why they're still a top food trend. "They also are a good source of fiber and potassium, one of those shortfall nutrients that many Americans are missing out on," Collins says. According to a study published online in the January 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association, participants given a whole avocado per day in a diet low in saturated fat achieved the greatest reduction in LDL cholesterol, which is most associated with cardiovascular disease."

Rumsey encourages her clients and patients to use avocados to replace some of the carbohydrates in their diet. For example, instead of eating two pieces of toast, she suggests her clients eat one slice topped with one-half of an avocado. Mashed avocado can be used in place of mayonnaise when preparing tuna or chicken salad. In addition, avocados' buttery richness lends itself well to sweet items, such as fruit salads, smoothies, and milkshakes.

• Ancient grains. While amaranth, quinoa, and freekeh were once grains that most Americans were unfamiliar with, they're now growing in popularity, according to the survey. Salge Blake says this trend is due to consumers wanting to "go back to Mother Nature and the way we ate years ago." She believes consumers are branching out and looking toward ancient grains to deliver different flavors and crunch—all with the added nutritional punch. Moreover, these foods may provide a healthful way to replace white pastas and rice.

"Ancient [whole] grains are linked to a number of health benefits because of how much fiber they contain," Rumsey says. "So they can reduce your risk of stroke, diabetes, and heart disease; decrease inflammation and certain types of cancer; and aid in weight control. They've also shown some beneficial effects on blood pressure, too."

• Good vs bad fats. With less focus on total fat and more on what types of fats people should consume, 84% of dietitians agreed that consumers should replace saturated fats, which raise cholesterol, with mono- and polyunsaturated fats. This may explain why foods that are high in these healthful fats, such as nuts, seeds, and avocados, were predicted to be among the top food trends this year.

This is also in line with the American Heart Association, which recommends people eat at least two servings of fish per week. Fish can be a good source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, which are healthful fats that benefit heart health. Rumsey also recommends clients and patients use olive or canola oil instead of butter when preparing eggs, veggies, or fish.

• Coconut products. While dietitians predicted the trend in coconut products to remain strong, clients and patients should be cautious. "You have to be careful with coconut products, because coconut oils are very high in saturated fat," Salge Blake says. "They do have medium-chain triglycerides, but the majority are saturated fat." Salge Blake suggests olive, canola, or safflower oils instead of coconut oil when cooking.

The same holds true with coconut milk. Rumsey says that while this may be used as a dairy substitute, it doesn't contain calcium or protein, although some milks may be fortified with calcium. Therefore, clients and patients should make sure they're supplementing their diets and receiving those nutrients through other sources.

The RD's Role
All in all, while these trends do point consumers in a healthful direction, the experts say it's most important to eat a varied diet. As Collins says, RDs should work with clients and patients to help navigate food trends and find other nutritious foods they may enjoy. For example, while not listed in the survey, Salge Blake says cauliflower is on the rise this year, as it's a good source of both vitamin K and fiber.

For a closer look at the benefits of some of these foods, as well as others that clients and patients may want to incorporate into their diets, Collins suggests the AICR's webpage on foods that fight cancer, which can be found at

— Leesha Lentz is a freelance writer based in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.