Superfoods: Fermented foods tipped as top 2018 trend by dieticians

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08 Jan 2018 --- Fermented foods – such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut – are to be the no. 1 superfood for 2018, underlining that consumers will be “going with their gut” in the coming year by seeking out foods that improve gut health and overall well-being. This is according to the Pollock Communications and Today's Dietitian's "What's Trending in Nutrition" national survey which gauges the opinions of 2,050 registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) on what consumers are thinking and eating. 

NutritionInsight spoke with Sharon Palmer, RDN, Nutrition Editor Today’s Dietitian, and Jenna A. Bell, Ph.D., RD, SVP of Pollock Communications, about the survey’s findings as well as what these spell for the future of food and beverage research and NPD opportunities.

Top 10 superfoods for 2018
For the coming year, the surveyed RDNs underscored the rise of “fermented foods” to the top spot. An increasing amount of research is pointing to fermented foods’ powerful health benefits, which range from boosting gut health to staving off inflammation, prompting their popularity among increasingly health conscious consumers. Innova Market Insights emphasized fermentation of foods back in 2015, presenting it as part of the move to processing the natural way, which was one of its Top Ten Trends for 2016. With fermentation seen as a natural and authentic process, new product development and heightened consumer awareness have combined to bring a raft of traditional products back to the fore, often extending them out of particular geographical regions and specialty markets into the mainstream on a more global basis.

According to Innova Market Insights, the key categories for fermentation outside the dairy category include sauces and seasonings, bakery and beverages, with pickles, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, sourdough bread and kombucha proving to be particularly prominent. A range of fermented soy bean products is also increasingly popular, including miso and natto from Japan and tempeh from Indonesia.

Click to EnlargeThe rest of the 2018 superfoods rankings included:
1. Fermented foods, like yogurt 
2. Avocado 
3. Seeds 
4. Nuts 
5. Green tea
6. Ancient grains 
7. Kale 
8. Exotic fruits 
9. Coconut products 
10. Salmon

Trending diets
The “clean eating” trend has remained the most important diet trend, according to the survey, followed by “plant-based diets.” Moreover, the “ketogenic diet” – a first-timer on the list – has made its way to the top as No. 3. This high-fat, generous-protein, barely-any-carb diet designed to produce ketone bodies for energy debuted with a high ranking. 

“The movement toward clean eating reflects a change in how consumers view food. Consumers are searching for nutrition information and equating diet with overall well-being,” Bells says, pointing out that the quick rise of fermented foods shows that consumers have expanded their definition of wellness to include benefits such as gut health. “It also suggests that consumers are digging deeper for information about the food they eat and in this instance, finding out why yogurt, kefir or kimchi is so good for them.”

Clean eating trend: hype over substance?
“Clean eating” has proved itself a firm fixture on the list of the top nutrition trends. But to what extent is this trend hype over substance – at the detriment of a more balanced approach to nutrition?

“As an RD myself, I see two opposing issues – on one side, there are many interpretations of what ‘clean eating’ actually is, so without a definition, it’s difficult to say whether it’s helpful or quackery. But on the other side, if ‘clean eating’ drives people to focus on more fruits and vegetables, diversifying their protein sources, eating a variety of phytonutrients, choosing foods with nutrients that we typically lack – such as potassium, iron or fiber – then clean eating is a plus. And, if that’s how it’s defined, then it is just a balanced approach to nutrition,” Bell says.

Although the survey did not ask RDNs specifically about the benefits of clean eating, Bell notes that it asked them what to list their top diet recommendations and the results showed that 60 percent said to “limit highly processed foods and fast food” – which could be an indication that these RDs see the benefits of “clean eating.”

According to Palmer, who is also author of Plant-Powered for Life, there are a number of are pros and cons with the clean eating trend. 

“The pros include an interest in eating more minimally processed whole foods, which are rich in key nutrients, such as protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals,” notes Palmer. “The cons are that people may needlessly avoid some foods they feel are not ‘clean’ enough, such as food products with long ingredient lists (even though those are healthful ingredients), prepared foods, foods with ingredients they may not understand. They also may become over obsessive with eating choices, and needlessly limit their food choices.”

NPD opportunities
Regarding areas of interest for continued research and NPD, Palmer and Bell underline digestive health, with a prominent spot for fermented foods.

“There are absolutely unexplored potential pathways and benefits for fermented foods. Over the past decade, science has begun to scrape the surface of the role of fermentation, gut bacteria and the gut microbiome in human health. I think that consumer interest in fermented foods will only drive more research and increase the availability of fermented foods,” Bell says.

Palmer agrees, saying that we need more research on fermented foods, to “understand what types of bacteria and microorganisms are in these foods, and their mechanisms of action related to potential health benefits. Also, activity of microorganisms in foods – how long do they stay alive and under what conditions.”

Likewise, the clean eating trend will continue to offer a host of avenues for innovative food and beverage NPD. “With the push for ‘clean,’ the food industry can leverage this by exploring new whole food ingredients for commonly consumed snacks and products. Think of nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils incorporated into snack chips, crackers or bars,” Bell notes.

Still, Bell warns that manufacturers’ attempts to “clean” product labels and reduce the use of preservatives that provide longer lasting products may lead to increased food safety issues, food costs and food waste could rise. 

“It’s a fine balance, and we have to lose the mindset that ‘clean’ means that we haven’t employed smart, innovative technology to expand our food supply and increase the availability of important nutrients to undernourished populations,” Bell concludes.

By Lucy Gunn

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