What’s Next in Nutrition for 2014

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What’s next up in 2014 for food? Here were four of the big trends that seemed to be everywhere at the most recent annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, that are poised to play out in the year ahead:

Trend: Environmental Health And Nutrition Science Collide
Sure, we know that food and water provide us with the nutrients necessary to thrive, but growing science suggests they are also potential vehicles of exposure to a variety of toxins. Dr. Oz and I recently did a segment on how to protect yourself from pesticides in produce (choosing organic foods is a good step), but the foods we eat affect how toxins may impact our biology in a variety of ways. For example, dietary fat seems to increase the absorption of BPA (a potential endocrine disrupting chemical) from foods stored in plastic food storage materials.

On the other hand, evidence shows that a diet filled with good-for-you foods may buffer a toxin’s potential impact. Fiber, for instance, appears to decrease the absorption of PCBs. And a diet rich in antioxidants (such as vitamins A, C, E and zinc) may help prevent the conversion of nitrites in processed meats such as bacon to potentially more dangerous N-nitroso compounds, which have been linked to higher rates of colon cancer. Bottom line? It’s more evidence of the protective power a diet rich in whole, minimally processed foods can have for you and your family.

Trend: Probiotics and the Microbiome
Chances are you’ve heard of probiotics – the “good” bacteria in our gut that help promote a healthy digestive tract and robust immune system. Look for a lot more mention of the microbiome in 2014. The term refers to the entire ecosystem of the gut as a whole: both probiotics and also prebiotics – the food that the “good bugs” need present in our diet in order to thrive and inhibit the growth of undesirable “bad” bacteria. Multiple lines of research are converging on these silent partners in our health showing that they may impact more than just our digestive health – they may be connected to body weight, levels of inflammation, allergies and autoimmune diseases.

One reason there’s such interest? Our highly refined and processed diets of the past decades has been traditionally low in probiotics and prebiotics – and many food and supplement companies will be scrambling in 2014 to share with you how their products can help you manage your microbiome.

Trend: Cook More, Buy Take-Out Less
Despite our national love affair with watching cooking-themed television shows and buying more cooking gadgets for the kitchen, we still aren’t really cooking. However, 2014 is poised as the year Americans will head back into the kitchen in larger numbers. Driven in part by the economy (it costs less), in part by a growing chorus of luminaries calling us back to the kitchen as a pillar of health, and in part from technology easing the way for those with trepidation. My best nutrition advice? Learn to cook. It doesn’t have to be difficult and it will transform your health. Look for all sorts of new healthy grocery shortcuts such as quick cook whole-grain side dishes, enticing fresh and frozen veggie products, and steamable frozen fish that are already seasoned to make healthy eating delicious.

Trend: Natural Energy
How can you energize naturally? With Americans still looking for quick fixes to “dump the slump” and controversy still swirling over the FDA’s recent investigations into stimulants, ingredients and labeling of some conventional energy drinks, you may notice a whole new crop of products with a natural twist. Look for raw cacao beans (brewed much like coffee), coconut water, raw whole food snacks (such as sacha inchi nuts) and all-natural teas that naturally contain caffeine and L-theanine.

What trends do you think are on board for 2014? I’d love to hear your take!