Top nutritionists share their food trend insights

The annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics was held last month in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the largest nutrition meetings in the world, this conference attracts thousands of nutrition experts and media for its coverage of research, trends, culinary demos, and new products. Five nutrition experts who attended the conference share their insights as to what’s hot in the nutrition world, and how this might affect what you see on store shelves in the coming months.

“Microbiome was tops for me as a buzz word this year. Studies presented at the conference showed that a healthy balance in the population of good versus bad bacteria in the gut, called the ‘microbiome,’ is related to improved immune function, a smaller waist circumference and even improved cognitive function. Increasing the intake of foods such as yogurt and kefir with live and active cultures and fermented foods including sauerkraut or kimchi helps add more good bugs to our digestive tracts. I predict we'll see more food products marketed with claims that they will improve our gut health and therefore our overall health and immune system.”

-- Carolyn O'Neil, MS, RDN, nutrition advisor for Best Food Facts. org and author of The Slim Down South Cookbook

“Big buzz words this year were plant protein, probiotics, microbiome, and gluten free. Everything is gluten free, despite the fact that only 1-2 percent of the population has celiac disease. Yogurts will continue to grow as a category as will plant proteins in new forms like flours made from legumes and powders to mix into beverages.”

-- Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, director of nutrition, WebMD

"Consumers still demand convenience but food companies are rethinking what convenience means. Consumers are busy and they need 'easy' but they will continue to demand quality, convenience, and value. I'm already seeing a wider variety of frozen vegetables in a steamer bag and unseasoned vegetable grain combinations. Like peeled and cut sweet potatoes or butternut squash ready to steam in the microwave and allow the consumer to control the flavor. I've also seen kale and quinoa salads ready to steam microwave. Now an hour-long project is 4-7 minutes. But this is not your mother's frozen food / TV dinner."

-- Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, Founder of Capitol Nutrition Group in Washington, D.C.  

"I think consumers will definitely see many more fermented foods/beverages as well as products featuring ‘exotic’ seeds. Seeds and seed blends were hot on the expo floor this year--from chia to hemp to pumpkin seeds. Fermented foods/probiotics were definitely a buzz word as more and more research is showing they are beneficial to many aspects of health, from gut health to boosting the immune system. I also saw a lot more products featuring the fact that they had non-GMO ingredients this year.”

-- Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN, author of Schedule Me Skinny: Plan to Lose Weight and Keep it Off in Just 30 Minutes a Week

“Consumers will continue to see new gluten-free products (and products that were always gluten-free with new front-of-packaging GF logos), probiotics added to foods (especially yogurts), healthier ‘kid’ foods, and cereals and snack bars with protein-rich ingredients added. With the growing interest in vegetarian and vegan diets, the overall desire among consumers to eat less meat and more plant-based proteins, and social movements like Meatless Monday, I also noticed a lot of bean-based meal and snack solutions for consumers.”

-- Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, coauthor of No Whine with Dinner and host of “Meal Makeovers” on CNN AccentHealth.