Lifestyle

Food trends to keep: small, simple, fresh and healthy | Gustafson

Healthy foods have nutrients that can prevent heart disease, diabetes and cancer, boost your immune system, make your skin look younger, and more. - Courtesy
Healthy foods have nutrients that can prevent heart disease, diabetes and cancer, boost your immune system, make your skin look younger, and more.
— image credit: Courtesy

Much has been reported on changing food and nutrition trends in recent years and 2012 was no exception.

Analysts agree: Americans want to eat more healthily. That includes healthier choices as well as smaller portion sizes. At the same time, convenience and efficiency are as important as ever, which calls for simple recipes and easy cooking techniques.

Also, rising prices have made consumers more conscious of the value of quality food and they pay attention to what they're buying and try to be less wasteful.

Recent developments are already becoming mainstream

People want to eat "smaller" – not necessarily smaller as in less but smaller as in locally grown and as in fresh, as opposed to shipped in from far away, in big bulk and highly processed, explains Sharon Olson, executive director of Culinary Visions, a consumer research group. "Consumers want the food they buy demystified," she said in an interview with USA Today. "They want to be able to pronounce the names of all the product ingredients. And they want to know where it comes from – ideally, locally. Nothing sells like pure and simple."

Studies by the NPD Group, a consumer and market research enterprise, show that healthy eating is becoming a top priority, especially among aging baby boomers. Faced with multiple age- and lifestyle-related health threats, the boomers will continue their search for the fountain of youth, or at least will do whatever it takes to slow their decline.

By 2015, this generation will be responsible for half of all the money spent on groceries in this country, and much of that will be on health food, the NPD Group predicts.

Transparency where our food comes from and what goes in it is very much part of that same equation, says Danielle Gould, founder of Food +Tech Connect, a research company that analyzes market trends. "Consumers read labels and select their foods more holistically based on all the food factors, including taste, ingredients, source and nutritional composition, as well as who is making their food," she says.

Sustainability is also a growing concern. Too much food is being wasted, she warns. According to the National Resource Defense Council, about 40 percent of all the food available in the United States goes uneaten and has to be discarded. More Americans feel uncomfortable with that situation and want to see changes in the ways we deal with the overflowing supply, especially when millions of our fellow-citizen, including children, go hungry.

Smaller not better for some

For food manufacturers and restaurant operators the demand for local fare, smaller servings and greater nutritional value may bring some serious challenges, and old business models, where more has always been considered better, will have to be realigned with the changing times. But they will eventually come around upon consumers' insistence. As is so often the case, seemingly revolutionary ideas will become the new normal, and we will hardly remember why it took us so long to get there.

Timi Gustafson RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book "The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun," which is available on her blog, "Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.", and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter (http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD) and on Facebook.

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