Top (Healthy) Food Trends of 2012

Every year, the National Restaurant Association interviews professional chefs and members of the American Culinary Federation to get their two cents on the upcoming food trends for the year. These chefs ranked 223 items – from pies and heirloom apples to Nordic/Scandinavian cuisine and foam/froth/air in terms of their “hotness.” While nutrition itself is a hot theme – “children’s nutrition” and “health/nutrition” rank #6 and #16, respectively – others pay no homage to it (duck fat ranks at #171, lollipops at #191, and energy drinks at #192). But you can still enjoy 2012’s top trends – and boost your nutrition at the same time.

#1 Locally sourced meats and seafood
Dining on local meat and seafood is not only eco-friendly, more humane, and minimizes your carbon footprint; it’s also better for your waistline. Factory farming, which accounts for more than 99% of the meat Americans eat, is the practice of raising livestock in confined, high-density quarters. Animals are fattened with growth hormones, force-fed corn and grain, and supplemented with artificial vitamins. Ultimately, this results in a less healthy cut of meat: corn- and grain-fed beef has less omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (a nutrient that may fight cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, inflammation, insulin resistance, and weight gain), antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.

#2 Locally grown produce
Local produce is, of course, also eco-friendly: fossil fuel emissions are cut down greatly when planes, boats, and trucks don’t have to ship barrels of produce halfway across the world. From the moment a fruit or vegetable is picked, its nutrients start to degrade – so when produce travels thousands of miles to end up in your grocery store, its nutritional value has already significantly decreased. A study from Penn State, for example, found that spinach that had been harvest eight days previously lost half of its nutrient content. Produce can lose even more nutrients if it is shipped in a warm environment, and in terms of taste and appearance, produce from afar is often bruised, wilted, and less fresh-tasting.

#3 Healthful kids’ meals
Today, 20% of American children are overweight, and that percentage continues to climb. Childhood obesity obviously puts a child at risk for being overweight in adolescence and adulthood, but it also leaves them at risk for developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and a number of other health problems. But diet can also affect school performance and behavior: a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that school-age children who ate a diet of nutrient-rich food scored better on IQ tests later in life. Another study found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation played an important role in healthy neurodevelopment. In 2011, Congress declared pizza sauce was a suitable vegetable serving, and in recent years, school lunches have been far too high in calories, fat, and refined flours and too skimpy in nutrients from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. After new federal guidelines go into effect on July 1, chicken tenders and french fries will be baked, overall sodium will be reduced, and processed foods will be limited. Some districts are incorporating programs like the Decatur Farm to School Initiative, which brings students local, nutritious food – including kale and broccoli. And even McDonald’s is jumping on the bandwagon: their Happy Meals now feature apples slices in place of half of the french fries.

#15 Artisan/house-made ice cream
L.A. Creamery carries Olive Oil ice cream; Redondo Beach’s Delicieuse has Geranium Flower sorbet; and Turin-based Grom imports its pistachios from Syria, coffee from Guatemala, and chocolate from Columbia. While the term “artisan” isn’t FDA-regulated, it usually refers to ice cream, gelato, and sorbets that are made on-site with real, fresh ingredients (i.e. fresh strawberries as opposed to Red #40 and strawberry syrup) – and often offer novel and sometimes savory flavors. Unlike commercialized brands, which contain artificial flavorings and stabilizers, artisan ice cream contains little more than cream, milk, sugar, possibly egg, and add-ins like chocolate, nuts, and fruit. And unlike those brands, as well as the diet versions – Breyer’s No-Sugar Added, the low calorie Skinny Cow products – artisan ice cream is satisfying. While one serving may have more calories and fat, you might end of eating several servings of the diet stuff to satisfy your sweet tooth, ultimately eating more. As Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, said, “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

#19 “Mini meals” (e.g. smaller versions of menu items)
The Caesar salad at The Cheesecake Factory could feed a family of four, and Olive Garden’s pasta dishes have 3.5 cups of pasta or more – compared to the 1-cup serving size. Super-sized and hypercaloric dishes have long plagued American menus. The introduction of “mini-meals” will finally give diners the chance to taste restaurant creations for a fraction of the calories. Most nutritionists and dietitians allow “everything in moderation,” so instead of torturing yourself trying to stop at half a cheeseburger, you can safely enjoy a mini slider. Similar to tapas or appetizers, mini-meals also allow chefs to experiment with new ingredients, giving the diner novel flavors and tastes. Mini-desserts are also catching on (in fact, they’re #36 on the list). This is great news for Americans, as most of us are unable to resist huge slabs of cake and brownie a la mode (which can add more than 1,000 calories to your dinner). Starbucks Petites contain less than 200 calories each and satisfy any post-dinner sweet tooth.

#20 Culinary cocktails
Culinary cocktails, which replace fake, sugary syrups and flavorings with fresh herbs, fruit purees, and savory ingredients (think root vegetables, pickles, and Serrano peppers), are making moves on the mixology front. Even liquors are spiked with antioxidants: PAMA Pomegranate Liquor is made with 100% pomegranate juice, and VeeV Açai Spirit is packed with the superfruit açai berry. And even though you’re still susceptible to a hangover and the detrimental effects of binge drinking, pairing alcohol with fruit and herbs may actually be beneficial: a study led by researchers at Thailand’s Kasetsart University and the USDA found that alcohol enhanced the antioxidant capacity of berries. For a trendy take on America’s most popular cocktail, the margarita, try the Mad Milagro Margarita from Fleming’s Steakhouse: muddle four slices of cucumber, two jalapeno slices, and a pinch of cilantro leaves; add 2 oz Milagro Silver Tequila and 2 oz fresh lime juice. Shake and pour into rocks glass with fresh salt.

#30 Ancient grains (e.g. khorasan wheat, spelt, amaranth)
While wheat is still America’s most popular grain, ancient grains like quinoa, spelt, farro, and millet are gaining popularity in the kitchen. Grains that you’ve probably never heard of – like pink amaranth, freekah, and kañiwa, are expected to boom this year as well, and for good reason: in addition to having more protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals than modern grains, they also have more distinct and tasty flavor profiles. Kañiwa is crunchy and earthy; pink amaranth is malty and mildly sweet; and freekeh has a roasted, nutty flavor. Ancient grains are easier on the environment, as they promote biological diversity; they also cater to the gluten-free trend (incidentally, #7 on the Top Food Trends list).

To see the full list of the Top Food Trends of 2012, click here.


One response to “Top (Healthy) Food Trends of 2012

  1. This is a wonderful post!

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