This week, I spent some quality time at Expo East, a fantastic display of more than 1,200 vendors featuring every possible trend in natural packaged foods, supplements, home and pet care, and more.
So what you can expect to find in the wonderful world of natural foods this year? Here are the top 5 trends I spotted (among 1 zillion trends):
If you love something, set it (gluten) free.
The gluten-free trend is here to stay, at least for this coming year. There were quite a few whole foods processed without gluten to serve the gluten-avoidant, like flours, nuts and the like. If you're one of the 1% of the population with Celiac's disease or the other 6 or 7% of the population who report gluten sensitivity, there is also no shortage of junk food targeted for you: There were dozens and dozens of baking mixes, muffins, cookies, bars, even whoopie pies with the gluten free designation. Does it mean that those products can be consumed by Celiacs without triggering auto-immune reactions? Yes. Does gluten free mean more nutrients or more healthful? Absolutely not. (Looking at you, gluten-free whoopie pies.)
Seeds, seeds and more seeds.
Chia seeds and hemp seeds were everywhere and in everything. Raw seeds are wonderful additions to our diets, with healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals, plus fiber. The healthy edge is dulled a bit when those seeds appear in gooey, sugary concoctions.
Put it in a bar--and add some protein to it!
Are we so busy that the best way for us to take in nutrition is in bar form? Is it so difficult to come up with a wholesome snack or quick lunch that we'd prefer to just eat food compressed into small bricks? If you are looking to Expo East vendors to answer that question, the answer is a resounding YES! Feed us nutrients in the form of a small flat block! The good, the bad and the ugly in bars were all represented:
- Good: There were a selection of bars made with whole food ingredients and little in the way of sweeteners, for example, the GoodOnYa bar, and Roobars, made with raw (and gluten free, of course) organic seeds and nuts sweetened and bound with raw dates
- Bad: Quest bars, which boasts a high protein and high fiber content, though the protein comes from byproducts of the cheese-making industry and the fiber isn't found in nature like that in nuts or whole grains--it's created by adding enzymes to starch
- Ugly: Exo bars made with cricket flour for a higher protein content. Sounds way more salacious than it is, I promise.
Get rid of the sugar.
Films like Fed Upand nutrition talking heads like Robert Lustig made it very clear to us this year that we need to cut back on sugar, but darn it if we don't still want sweetness in our foods! Here at the Expo, artificial sweeteners like Nutrasweet and Splenda are not allowed, but the natural-ish low calorie sweeteners stevia and monk fruit are very much in. They're in sugar free chocolate, baking mixes, bars and more. Does the exclusion of sugar and inclusion of stevia or monk fruit mean that a food is healthy? Absolutely not. But as far as we know today, these appear to be better option than artificial options like Splenda.
Remove the fiber and pulp and just give me that liquid sugar...aka juice.
The cold-pressed juice trend is alive and kicking. Juice can be a real treat, but when it's consumed frequently, it's also a great way to add a ton of sugar to your diet. By the way, the coconut water trend isn't going anywhere either. While initial claims about coconut water have proven to be somewhat exaggerated, it's a better option than soda or juice for those who dislike drinking plain water. if you enjoy coconut water, you're in for a much greater range of choices in the coming year!
One more bonus trend for you: The Non-GMO (that's Genetically Modified Organism) certification appears to be one of the fastest growing labels in the natural food industry. Until there's sufficient evidence that GMOs are safe to consume, you can bet this labeling is definitely going to be on the grow!