By Carolyn O’Neil, for the AJC
Do you find yourself leaning toward the vegetarian entrees on the menu even though you’re not a vegetarian? Are you steering away from super-salty foods? When shopping for packaged foods, do you prefer those with a short list of ingredients? Do you still order burgers every once in a while but insist on a really good one?
If your answers are “yes” to any of these questions, then it’s possible you’re being watched by researchers who forecast food trends.
Of course, there are still powerful forces driving the bus toward over-the-top indulgences such as deep-fried macaroni and cheese or mile-high chocolate cakes. That’s why so many Americans are still so overweight.
But on the other side of the scale (literally), there’s a strong list of consumer trends that indicate more people are choosing healthier foods so they can be healthier, too.
Flexitarian is the new vegetarian. Where’s the beef? Well, maybe you only eat it once a week. Some people are even calling themselves “social carnivores” — they only eat meat when they’re dining out with friends or invited to a dinner party. In 2010 we could see continued creativity in vegetable side dishes and vegetarian entrees as more diners choose to eat this way more often.
Naturally good. Even though natural can mean a lot of things and it’s not always a good thing (salmonella and snake venom are natural), consumers are getting tired of buying foods and beverages gussied up with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that nature didn’t put there. HealthFocus International found that nearly 90 percent of shoppers believe it’s more important to eat food naturally rich in nutrients instead of fortified or enriched.
That means cottage cheese (naturally rich in calcium) would be preferred over a cereal or fruit drinks fortified with calcium.
The short list. More of us are buying more packaged food products with three or fewer ingredients listed. The goal is to keep it simple in the hopes of keeping it healthier. But where does that leave a 15-bean soup mix or a whole-grain frozen pizza with two types of cheese and three kinds of vegetables on top? It’s not that simple. There’s more to consider than the number of ingredients in a recipe.
Quality over quantity. Small plates, shared plates, mini burgers (sliders) and mini-desserts are still out in front as more diners want a variety of really great tastes without eating the whole thing. Wait, isn’t this the way the slim and trim French enjoy their creamy cheeses and lovely little pastries?
Healthy people, healthy planet. The move to add more organic produce, sustainable seafood and locally produced eggs, cheeses, breads and beers should continue to ramp up in 2010.
Rather than being an add-on, these items will be front and center everyday offerings. For instance, the menu at One Midtown Kitchen in Atlanta features an entire section dedicated to organic produce.
Meals for muscles and the mind. We’re looking beyond our heart and hips for health benefits linked to good nutrition. Protein helps preserve muscle mass, especially in aging baby boomers. So make sure you’re eating protein-containing foods every day and including protein in each meal and snack. Something as simple as fresh apple slices topped with peanut butter is a good choice.
Eggs are a high-quality source of protein, too. But don’t live on egg whites. The nutrient choline in the yolk helps support the brain’s messenger service, called neurotransmitters. It’s also linked to new memory cell production. Don’t forget it!
Who left the salt out? Health authorities concerned about the link between sodium and heart disease, hypertension and strokes are calling for a big reduction in the amount of salt we consume. So this year look for more products made with less salt. But the flavor has to come from somewhere. Executive chef Clifford Pleau, director of culinary development for Seasons 52 restaurants, said, “When you cut the sodium, you need to add what I call ‘palate distractions’ such as the spice of chili flakes or acid in lemon juice.”
Hail to the chef! Good news for those who like to dine out without filling out their waistline. A survey of chefs’ resolutions for 2010 (conducted by the Culinary Institute of America) found that 38 percent of them want to “cook healthier dishes.”
Let’s give them more reasons to do so by actually ordering those dishes. Vote with your fork to drive the next healthy food trend.
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil .com.