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Some trends are good. Obestiy levels in the United States have leveled off at around 35% since approximately 2008. Although that number is much higher than it was in 2000 or in the 1990's, the epidemic appears to have reached a plateau.
To gather a sense of what has changed in 5 years, when I wrote my first health and nutrition book in 2009, GMO foods and gluten were hardly "hot topics." There's been a giant movement in the natural health world that has helped to fuel this change for the good. What can we expect in 2014?
In 2014, expect to see more sugar-free options everywhere. With Tom Hanks being the latest celebrity to announce that his is "sugar-free," this is a good trend that is catching on. Also heartening is the appearance on grocery store shelves of iced tea and (ahem) chocolate bars containing more natural sweeteners like stevia and erythritol rather than the artificial sweeteners now questioned for safety (sucralose, aspartame). Even Coke has moved to a stevia-sweetened beverage!
The Demise of Agave
Nutritionists have too long used the glycemic index of sweeteners to determine whether or not they were "good." Therefore, agave nectar, extracted from the cactus plant, and a cousin of tequila, was considered a healthy option.
In truth, sweeteners have much more to examine - namely acidity, inflammation rating, and relative quantity of fructose. Because up to 55% of agave's chemical composition is fructose, which we know to damage the liver, agave now joins high fructose corn syrup on the bad-for-you list in many holistic circles. The raw and vegan Café Gratitude chain of restaurants has stopped using it in their desserts. Snacks in the health food grocery zone now shout "No Agave!" Look for this trend to continue to in 2014.
Free Range vs. Free Roaming
Documentaries released in the last 10 years, like Food Inc., King Korn, and the 2013 sequence from SAMSARA have drawn millions of viewers, raising global awareness regarding factory farming. Menus across North America promote "free range chicken" and "cage free eggs". Too good to be true?
Unfortunately, standards for labeling livestock "free range" are disappointingly vague. "Free run" conditions (in which animals are not caged but never let outside the barn) are trumped by "free range". In the U.S., a "free range" animal need only have the ability to leave the barn – it never has to, and insiders tell me most never do. In 2014 and beyond, look for consumers to begin questioning the "free range" and "cage free" labels. Because corporate trust is at an all-time low, organic foodies will likely demand better clarification of labels and claims.
Although CNN called it one of the top health trends of 2013, I've observed in my clinical practice that, unfortunately, few really know how to fast!
Only a few years ago, fasting would have been more closely associated with religious practices than with holistic nutrition. Newer nutrition theory shows that the body needs a break from food to optimize digestion and hormone function. When the body has to "store up," it actually becomes better at burning fat for energy.
This practice is usually paired with meal plans designed to keep the body full, rather than hungry again a few hours later - far better for the body than having several meals per day, which doesn't "keep your metabolism up" as once previously thought.
Being able to go several hours without food is a good thing. Let's hope in 2014 that more people know what "Intermittent Fasting" means and do it regularly.
Gluten and Dairy
Truthfully – and sadly – this won't be the answer to as many health problems as one would hope. Although a gluten-free diet will certainly be a big help for many, the replacements for gluten grains aren't significantly better; most grains are acidic and turn into sugar when consumed. People are being deceived into thinking they are practicing healthy eating by going gluten free when, in fact, many of their foods were already gluten-free. And gluten is not the only negative trigger of gut inflammation –we've probably got another year or two before casein-free and grain-free trends catch on.
What won't change: Eating & Tweeting
Although it's become a social media faux-pas, I think it will be a few years before people stop tweeting their food – or putting it on Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat. But let's face it: how would we follow food trends without smartphones?