Food Trends to Consider

January 20, 2015 in Foodland Chronicles, General by Joyce Bunderson

I stumbled upon an article titled: Consumers will eat more seeds and less red meat in 2015, dietitians predict; Elizabeth Crawford wrote it. The title really caught my eye because the research supports the idea that health would be improved by eating less red meat and more seeds. So like many health enthusiasts, I immediately imagined ordering the balloons and party hats to celebrate the new healthful trends. Then I started using that single neuron still functioning as an analyst in my left-brain. I get so excited when I read about trends that are healthful that maybe I skip over very important information. For example, is a survey of 500 dietitian’s opinions really a valid resource for consumption predications? Frankly, maybe so, maybe not.

What I do know is that there are about 90,000 registered dietitians in the United States; they work in a large variety of practice (at least 28 dietetic practice groups, many are not disseminating information in their work). I do know that many dietitians work in educating individual patients and some educate groups of people and that could at least make a dent in knowledge acquisition for the public. But just because we dietitians try to encourage the consumption of certain foods and discourage certain other foods, does it follow that the entire population is swinging in a recommended direction? Having said that, I admit that, like many other dietitians, I continue to hope to help influence the public in making healthy food choices. Heaven knows, maybe we can catch the attention of one of those powerful opinion-connectors that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in Tipping Point. Many dietitians are nutrition information mavens – using Gladwell’s definition- they are nutrition information specialists. Therefore, my thought is that if some of the powerful connectors get information from a nutrition maven, maybe there’s a chance of some of the trends in Crawford’s article coming to fruition.

Aside from the headline prediction on seeds vs. meat, more detailed ‘predications’ include:

  • Green tea becoming the ‘drink of choice for its myriad health benefits.’ We mavens can only hope to get Americans to move away from sweetened soda pop.
  • Red meat made it to the title of Crawford’s article. Hope it will make it to the understanding minds of the nutrition conscious. There are many quality choices for protein sources that are kinder to our bodies, and to the environment, than red meat.
  • The predictions include one that consumers will continue to embrace the gluten- and wheat-free diets to lose weight, even though the evidence does not support the desired outcome of weight loss. Although they eschew gluten, maybe the public will still get the lesson that whole grains are a true benefit to health and benefit by choosing other whole grains.
  • Crawford’s article quotes Louise Pollock, president of Pollock Communications, a food marketing company as suggesting, that the public still needs more education about good verses bad fats. Amen to that sister!  She cites the fact that we should reduce our intake of saturated fat and replace saturated fat sources, like butter and high-fat red meat, with foods that have more unsaturated fat, like vegetable oils, soft spreads, nuts, seeds and avocados.

I will share that just a week ago I was at our health-conscious daughter’s home and discovered a jar of coconut oil sitting on the kitchen counter. The marketers fail to share that coconut oil supplies almost twice (12 grams) as much saturated fat as the same one tablespoon serving of butter (7 grams). It seems to me that many people have the general idea that we should not consume butter with wild abandon, but the marketing of coconut oil is pulling the wool over the public’s eyes. Years ago this known information about coconut oil was used to pressure the majority of fast food purveyors to stop using coconut oil, so the huge glut of coconut oil is an easy target for those who want to take a cheap commodity and sell at a huge mark up. Just wait a decade or so after an event like winning the battle against coconut oil, and start a new advertising campaign about how healthy it is.  After all, now natural is that interesting-looking tree nut? If you get a chance to educate someone about coconut oil – spread the word. I’ve already tried to inform my sister and daughter. As you probably know by now, the food processors are often a thorn in my side—their massively funded advertising campaigns represent a powerful educational force. But it is often misinformation campaign for the purpose of promoting sales of a profitable item.

  • One of the interesting predictions is that misinformation will abound in 2015. Using the example above, maybe one way to decrease the acceptance of misinformation is to try to discover who benefits. There is a huge potential for benefit for those who sell vitamins, minerals, other supplements, or other products, to disseminate biased information. You can decrease the chance of getting biased information by ‘listening’ to a real nutrition information maven – a Registered Dietitian.
  • The last of the reported survey items that I wish to address is that “convenience, taste and price trump all else when shoppers make food purchasing decisions, despite increased access and awareness about healthy food and proper nutrition.” First, I’m not convinced that healthy food needs to taste boring or even unpleasant; taste is extremely important and healthy food can taste exquisitely superb. I must concede that junky food is often very convenient – just open the wrapper and eat. It has often benefitted from food hedonics research to make sure it tastes good. And certainly, it’s not easy to match the price of mass processed super cheap foods that feature nutritionally impoverished ingredients, but be sure to consider the long-term costs of consistently eating a less than healthy diet. Will you pay now or will you pay with poor health and the high health care tab later? You may want to consider the two lastingly popular articles written in 2010 by Dr. Grandpa, C. Victor Bunderson: Full, or True Cost Accounting for Food: Part 1 and Full Food Cost Accounting: Part 2. Designing Foods for Craving.

The real proof of the pudding, is in market research data. If you can find careful studies it will inform you of trends.  You can also make some observations in your own shopping locations; not careful research, but better than relying on the food processers’ misinformation. Victor recently picked up some Dave’s Killer bread for me – great back story about Dave, and great use of whole grains and healthy seeds. He noticed that what used to be a small space on only one shelf on a large rack of bread choices at Costco is now three entire racks of about 10 shelves each. Now there’s a trend with some evidence at where we shop. When we see bread loaded with nuts, seeds and whole grains taking over so much valuable shelf space so fast it can give me hope that some healthy trends are really happening. Market research is often very good research, to point out or cross-validate trends, because it tells us what people are actually buying. Look at the shelves at a store like Costco or Walmart and see which items are losing shelf space and which are gaining it. They track their own trends. The article above does get our personal cross-validation on the seeds side, but we have not seen a reduction of cooler space devoted to red meat in the same stores. If you want to observe trends like seeds vs. meat yourself, look at the shelf space dedicated to each item you are interested in. Cross validation is not our job as consumers, but getting past the disinformation is.  Like the coconut oil example, and the gluten-free craze, and many others, it is important for each of us to realize how advertizing miss-educates us. I can only hope that we as consumers will break free of reliance on advertised misinformation as we seek our own balance of good nutrition, cost, and taste.