Top Food Trends of 2018: How They Sync With Your Health

Health Writer
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Whole Foods, known for its global buying power and focus on best choices for health in food categories, has issued a Top Food Trends Report for 2018. Plant-based foods lead the pack. From matcha to cacao, flower flavors to Middle Eastern ingredients, experienced trend-spotters have identified the food items most likely to be popular next year. Let’s take a look at the foods expected to be front-and-center and how the predictions work with your personal health.

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Flower power: part one

Edible flowers aren’t new but until now, they’ve mostly been used as a garnish. Experts predict the use of flowers for flavor infusion will be big in 2018, with recipes like lavender lattes, rose-flavored stews, and elderflower-enhanced water. You can also expect to see lavender-lemon granola, dark chocolate infused with violets, and flower-flavored lemonade. Chinese medicine has recommended using flowers to improve a range of illnesses. But what’s the science?

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Flower power: part two

Flowers contain antioxidants and phenolic compounds that support health. They also have varying levels of folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamins C and E. Rose petals may help with diabetes and heart disease; violets may improve blood vessel wall strength; and nasturtiums may help to fight cancer and improve eyesight. Still, more research is needed to identify precise amounts that will effectively impact health. In the meantime, enjoy these new takes on flowery foods, just don’t overdo it!

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Powders: part one

Protein powders have been popular for a while, but there are some new powder players in town. Matcha (green tea) powder can be added to smoothies, yogurt, lattes, soups, pancake batter, rice, sauces, and baked goods. It’s considered an energy booster. Research suggests matcha may have benefits for people with Type 2 Diabetes, helping to lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood fats. Green tea may lower the risk of age-related cognitive impairment, reduce stroke risk, and lower blood pressure. However, you should avoid it if you are pregnant or nursing.

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Powders: part two

Ground turmeric — considered to have anti-inflammatory and pain-fighting powers — is being added to teas and other beverages. It may help to reduce arthritis flare ups. Because it’s a powerful antioxidant, it may also protect your liver, especially if you take certain medications that hurt this organ after prolonged use. It may also be beneficial if you have irritable bowel syndrome. Avoid taking large amounts which can upset your stomach. Maca and cacao powders are energy boosters, too.

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Mushrooms in products

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, mushrooms like the portabella are a go-to main dish. But mushroom “power” is also being valued for functional wellness support. Expect to see varieties like reishi, chaga, codyceps, and lion’s mane across many food and personal care categories. Bottled drinks, coffees, broths, smoothies, and teas are being infiltrated with this ingredient, as well as skincare and haircare products. Dried mushrooms and mushroom powder are also readily available.

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Eating mushrooms

Eating whole, unprocessed mushrooms has been associated with helping prevent heart disease and their fiber content can curb obesity.  Consumption may modulate blood glucose levels. Consumption is also associated with a healthy complexion and hair, and increased energy. Mushrooms are high in antioxidants, selenium (which may help to limit inflammation), vitamin D, and folate. The potassium, fiber, and vitamin C support heart health. Mushrooms also offer important minerals like copper, iron, and phosphorus, which can be difficult to access if you are vegan. Wash fresh mushrooms well and refrigerate.

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The Middle Eastern influence: proteins

The hummus craze has been growing, with a range of flavors like red pepper, avocado, spinach-feta, and even chocolate versions. This chickpea-based snack is a game-changer and one of the healthiest dips or condiments — just monitor ingredients, being careful to avoid added sugar and artificial additives. Chickpeas are protein-rich and high in fiber — perfect for individuals with obesity or diabetes. Other Middle Eastern dishes like shakshuka — made from eggs and tomato sauce — make perfect swap-outs for meat-heavy dishes because they are light and diabetes-friendly.

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The Middle Eastern influence: spices

Harissa, cardamom and za’atar have hit the mainstream. These flavorful spices are great swap-outs for saturated-fat ingredients. Parsley (anti-tumor and polyarthritis), mint, tahini, and tomato jam are also gaining popularity.

Harissa (chili peppers) have capsaicin — thought to have anti-inflammatory effects — and countries where this spice is popular have lower rates of stomach, colon, and intestinal cancers. Lower mortality rates are also associated with consumption.

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Puffed and popped

Puffed and baked seaweed (source of iodine), cassava chips, jicama, and other vegetable puffs are new healthier snack options. Many of these are also gluten-free — perfect for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Despite the healthier ingredients and sometimes higher protein levels, these are still treats. They can have high levels of sodium and other processed ingredients, colorings, and flavorings. Read ingredient labels and consider these “healthier versions” of regular treats.

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“Eat the whole” fruit and vegetable

Root-to-stem cooking means you use the entire fruit or vegetable, including stems and leaves. These parts, plus the peel and seeds, often contain significant levels of nutrients. Root-to-stem salad bars, pickled watermelon rinds, broccoli-stem slaw, and whole-fruit smoothies feature these nutrient-rich ingredients. Peels in particular contain phytochemicals and insoluble fiber — great for constipation. Apple peel has pectin, a soluble fiber that can lower cholesterol and control blood sugar. We should all go whole!

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Sparkling drinks: part one

Consumers want healthier drinks. New versions of sparkling waters include maple/birch waters (Sap), sparkling cold brew (coffees), probiotic-infused, and flowery waters like elderberry sparkling mineral water. Sans sugar, artificial sweeteners, and colors, they can be tasty, helpful products for weight control, diabetes, and health management. Heavy sugar consumption is also linked to heart disease risk (central obesity and inflammation). Swapping these drinks for sodas and other calorie-heavy beverages can lower your risk.

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Sparkling waters

Sparkling waters are less likely to negatively shift gut microbe balance, implicated in chronic disease risk. Don’t let natural sweeteners like maple or protein ingredients lure you. In this food sector, it’s important to read labels carefully so that you take note of calories (they should be zero-calorie) and added ingredients like caffeine, vitamins and herbs, which can all interfere with medications or add to your daily vitamin tally. Sparkling waters with few ingredients are best.

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New food trends are fun, but…

Most of us don’t need gluten-free options despite their trendiness — they aren’t always the healthiest choices but they offer individuals with dietary restrictions, options. Trends like meatless, plant-based proteins can help you limit saturated fat while still enjoying quality protein. For you, starting a new “personal trend”  can mean to trying a new fruit or vegetable if you’re looking to lose weight, improve diet quality, increase daily fiber, or replace an unhealthy treat with a healthier, more wholesome option.