I was at Food Matters Live recently which was a perfect opportunity to catch up with nutrition friends, attend a huge range of seminars and debates and of course, see what’s happening in the wonderful world of new product development. Food Matters Live is the perfect place for small brands to launch their products and it also provides a great insight into what nutrition trends will emerge in the coming year. So strap yourselves in: from the sensible to the downright bonkers, here’s what I think will be trending next year!
The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey data show that we don’t eat anywhere near enough fibre (23g a day vs a target of 30g). Ideally, we should be eating more vegetables, fruits and wholegrains but it looks like next year will see a trend for all manner of products containing added fibre, particularly inulin and oligofructose, to give consumers a boost.
Inulin and oligofructose are made up of short chains of fructose units and are not digested in the small intestine. They have a naturally sweet taste and can be used as sugar-replacers in products like cereal bars, ice cream and baked goods. They also have a prebiotic effect, being fermented in the colon by the bacteria that reside there and have been linked to increased numbers of the beneficial Bifidobacteria in the gut. This can benefit the immune and digestive systems via the properties of the fibre itself, for example, in increasing stool frequency or via the gut bacterial improvements. As they are digested only in the colon by the bacterial communities present, they only contribute 1.5kcal/g useful energy vs 4kcal/g from sugar or other carbohydrates. So they can be effectively used as sugar replacers in products to reduce not only sugar levels but also total calories.
Sugar-reduced products with added fibre are likely to be a growing trend next year and this is overall a good thing, with one caveat. For those who aren’t used to eating a lot of fibre, particularly high fibre foods with a prebiotic effect, you might want to gradually increase your intake. Some of these products may be delicious but the resulting intestinal gas may have some rather indelicate side effects! Take it slowly and try to introduce a variety of higher fibre foods into your diet via fruit, veg, wholegrains as well as some of the added fibre products.
You’d have to have been living under a rock for the last few years to avoid hearing that sugar is public enemy number one. We are certainly eating a lot more sugar than is recommended (see NDNS reference above) but the focus on free sugars is confusing to the consumer, particularly when the levels of total sugars are the only figures reported on a product’s nutrition panel. To compound the issue, you’ll see ‘no added sugar’ and ‘no added refined sugar’ used on products that may in fact contain very high levels of natural sugars.
I saw a case in point on the Sugar Wise stand at Food Matters Live. The company offers a laboratory service to manufacturers for analysing the amount of free sugars. So far so useful, as one of the drawbacks of the new sugar recommendations is that it’s very difficult to work out how much of a product is free sugars, given the complexity of the definition. However, I saw a product on the stand bearing the Sugar Wise logo that may well have been low in free sugars but on inspection, still delivered 40g TOTAL sugar per 100g because it was a pressed date bar. This is where the single nutrient focus becomes reductive. A pressed date and nut bar might be low in added or free sugars but it will still be calorie dense and very high in total sugars, with red traffic lights for potentially sugars and fat (and possibly also saturates if there’s a whiff of that ‘superfood’ coconut in there). It’s still something that should be eaten in moderation.
Free-from and friends
Gluten-free and dairy-free foods are red hot property right now. Undoubtedly, the prevalence of allergies is increasing around the world, led by the UK and other westernised countries. Food allergies in particular are increasing both in real terms but also the prevalence of self-diagnosed food allergies is increasing. This increase in self-diagnosis of allergies (or the associated diagnosis via non-clinical, private channels), along with the rising levels of true food allergy has meant an explosion of new free-from products, which is great news for people with genuine food allergies.
What’s not so great is that so many of these products are targeting the ‘clean eating’ market, as gluten and dairy are seen as somehow ‘toxic’ or ‘unclean’. To be clear, if you have no allergies or intolerances to cows’ milk protein, gluten, wheat or lactose, you can enjoy wheat and dairy and should indeed include cereals and dairy products as they contribute a range of valuable nutrients from fibre and B vitamins to calcium and iodine.
As an addendum to the free-from, clean eating trend, I saw a large number of dairy and gluten free ice creams made from coconut cream and avocado. I sampled a few of these and while they were variously tasty and curious, it’s still important to bear in mind that they will be high in fat, saturates and often sugars – still enjoy in moderation.
An emerging trend last year, insect protein is still favoured by early adopters, particularly those with concerns over the long term sustainability and environmental consequences of our global obsession with meat and dairy protein. Products fortified with cricket flour were popular again but the difficulty for this trend is getting over the ‘yuk’ factor. In our culture, eating insects is still viewed as disgusting so it will be a while yet before we see mealworm burgers in the freezer section of the supermarket. Check my blog in a few weeks for a more in-depth review of the benefits of entomophagy.
Almost every other stand was a brand of some sort of tea: cold brewed tea, dessert tea, green, black, white and every other colour of tea under the sun, flower tea, expertly brewed, heritage tea, Danish hygge, cosy tea, stress busting teas, nature-in-a-cup tea, vitamin-enriched tea, raw fruit and root tea and the old favourite, detox tea. There was a veritable nutribabble bingo hall of claims with “Melissa extracts contribute to reduced stress and increased focus” my stand out favourite. I clearly need Melissa in my life, whoever she may be!
In all seriousness, there is very little science to substantiate most of the claims on these kinds of products but, as a nation of tea drinkers, who can underestimate the psychologically restorative properties of a good cuppa? Just don’t tell them at the EFSA Health Claims department…
Protein with a twist
The protein trend is alive and well with pretty much every product under the sun having a high protein variant (protein beer, protein Mars bars, for example). Sports nutrition is mainstream and consumed by many, to some extent regardless of their need for active nutrition products. What’s different this year is a new twist on protein. I saw more savoury snacking products such as jerky, biltong and other ambient meat snacks which offer a welcome relief from the super sweet, chewy protein bars traditionally found in this category. Protein drinks have also had a makeover with the traditional heartland of dairy and non-dairy milkshakes being augmented with protein waters and egg-based drinks.
The protein trend is going nowhere thanks to a growing body of evidence supporting the use of high protein diets in appetite and weight management, as well as for strength and muscle building for athletes, both professional and recreational. Indeed, higher protein diets can also be relevant as we age, helping to prevent the progressive loss of muscle as we age and the associated frailty.
What are my predictions for what’s big in 2017? My money’s on fibre. Sugar reduction, protein and free from are already big and will only get bigger but watch out for the forgotten nutrient fibre – just because gut health and digestion isn’t sexy doesn’t mean it isn’t important.