Kate Geagan, MS, RDN
What are the top trends nutritionists will be buzzing about for kids in 2016? I got a sneak peek when I recently attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Nashville, TN, the world’s largest meeting of food and nutrition professionals. Here are some of the most noteworthy trends that will be shaping food conversations—and families’ grocery lists—in 2016 and beyond.
Beans Just Keep Getting Better
As a powerhouse of nutrients (including protein, fiber, B vitamins, potassium, iron, and more), beans may well be the bona fide superfood of 2016. The General Assembly of the United Nations has declared 2016 to be the International Year of the Pulses (or leguminous crops) because of beans’ unparalleled win-wins of nutrition, affordability, sustainability, and food security.
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that kids enjoy ½ cup and adults 1½ cups of beans each week as part of a healthy diet, most of us eat far less than that. But beans are undergoing a tasty 2016 makeover in all parts of the grocery store, making it easier than ever to include these mighty foods in your family’s diet. Look for toasted chickpeas in the natural snack aisle and bean flours in the baking aisle (usually you can swap about ⅓ of regular flour in recipes for bean flour). You can also keep an eye out for products from startups like Better Beans (betterbeanco.com), which offers fresh, slow-cooked beans in recyclable tubs that perch easily in the fridge. Explore Asian (explore-asian.com) is another company embracing beans: It’s organic pastas are made from 100 percent bean flour and water. Kids will enjoy the array of colorful pastas (red, green, yellow, and black), while parents will love the pasta’s protein and fiber content and the fact that they’re gluten-free.
“Sprouted” and “Raw” Foods Soar in Popularity
Raw and sprouted foods have been hot trends in natural kitchens for years, but they seem to be moving mainstream in 2016. Companies big and small are featuring these ingredients as part of a mission to bring more “living” foods into the packaged food aisles. The Expo revealed some fresh takes on raw seed snacks, such as the delightfully addictive raw watermelon seeds from Go Raw ($10, goraw.com), and a bevy of new bars and cereals that feature sprouted ancient grains as a star ingredient, such as Kashi’s Organic 100% Sprouted Whole Grain flakes ($5, kashistore.com).
Although seeds and whole grains are already nutrient-dense foods, raw and sprouted foods are thought to offer additional benefits, namely enhancing nutrient availability and improving digestion. Sprouted grains germinate after moisture is added; the sprout is then harvested before it turns into a full-fledged plant. While it depends on the grain being sprouted, some studies have found sprouted grains to be lower in starch and gluten and higher in protein, folate, vitamin C, zinc, iron, and fiber than their regular grain counterparts. It’s still unclear, however, whether the trend of eating raw and sprouted seeds and grains over regular seeds and whole or ancient grains translates into real health advantages.
The Microbiome Goes Mainstream
One of the most exciting frontiers in nutrition science today is studying our “bugs”—and the microbiome may well be the mega-trend of 2016.
First, a bit of bug culture: Probiotics are “good bugs” naturally found in fermented and cultured foods such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, miso, sauerkraut, and apple cider vinegar. Consuming probiotics enhances our colony of roughly 100 trillion beneficial organisms that play a vital role in a healthy, well-functioning gut, helping to break down and digest food, synthesize certain vitamins, protect us from germs, and more.
In 2016, expect to hear a lot more about our “microbiome,” the total genetic material these bugs bring to our bodies. Genetically speaking, our human genes are outnumbered 150 to 1 by microbial DNA, and science is just beginning to unravel how this influences our health. “Microbial richness” is a hot term in nutrition right now because it’s linked to a whole spectrum of health benefits. One of the most fascinating findings is that the microbiome appears to influence body weight (in fact, a study recently found that antibiotic use in childhood is associated with weight gain). There’s also promising research on the microbiome’s potential to positively affect digestive diseases (such as IBS), mood and attention disorders, insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and more.
By age 2 or 3, a child’s microbiome approaches that of an adult in terms of complexity and richness. Our microbiomes are shaped by a host of factors, including the foods we eat, the medications we take, even how we came into the world. Going through the birth canal, for instance, colonizes a baby with the mom’s own microbiome, while babies born via cesarean have less microbial richness. Breastfeeding is another way “good bugs” are introduced to a baby’s digestive system, and some formulas have probiotics added to them.
The Expo was chock-full of probiotic-rich foods: In addition to traditional sources like kefir, on display were all-natural frozen yogurt dessert bars and newer dairy-free options such as Regular Girl’s portable probiotic powders, which you can slip into your bag and sprinkle into beverages when you’re on the go ($30, regulargirl.com). Small-batch fermented kimchi and sauerkrauts are another tasty, zesty source of “good for you” bugs, and Farmhouse Culture’s raw, organic options (farmhouseculture.com) come in a variety of bold flavors like Smoked Jalapeño and Horseradish Leek.