Thought for Food Blog

Hot Food Topics: The New Year Round-Up

Post from guest blogger, Jenny Arthur BA (Hons) MSc RNutr, Nutrition and Marketing Consultant

Diets, sugar, fats, smart swaps, portion size, what your friends are eating, insects, Body Mass Index, flexatarianism, low fat food smells, omega 3, children's diets, polyphenols… You name it, it’s been in the headlines in January. (If you want to know more about these areas, take a look at my Twitter page JennyANutrition).

Sugar | IFIS Publishing

Sugar – the latest baddie

Sugar has hit the headlines recently as the next 'nicotine'. There’s been much debate about the science behind why sugar is bad for us and how much sugar we really should be eating, including from Action on Sugar, the group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. However, much of their arguments were flawed. A few of the newspapers also jumped on the sugar bandwagon and featured low sugar diets as the new craze.

At the end of January, the Fat 'v' Sugar debate appeared in the spotlight on the BBC's Horizon programme. Unsurprisingly, neither the 'no sugar' nor 'very low fat' diet proved enjoyable or achievable long term. It was a great programme which did much to enlighten consumers about the complexities of the science involved and made the point that there’s no one simple answer or ‘magic bullet’. Instead it’s all about making small changes that are sustainable and about eating a little bit of everything. It also reminded me of a great piece I read recently, that said it’s harder to go out of the house and not buy food, than it is to buy food.

Sugar is only part of the story, having the same number of calories gram for gram as protein. Ultimately it’s all about calories in and calories out, i.e. how many your body uses. In that respect it doesn’t discriminate where the calories come from, as at the end of the day they’re all broken down by the body’ s various metabolic pathways.

Nutrition scientists working with industry

Action on Sugar and the Dispatches programme on Channel 4 also criticised leading nutrition scientists working for the UK food industry. Nutrition scientists employed to work in the food industry still have to adhere to a clearly stated Code of Conduct – a code that’s outlined on the Association for Nutrition’s website.

Also, the reason food companies employ these people, is for their experience and integrity. From my own experience, it’s not an easy position to be in, but you are, first and foremost, a nutrition professional. So it’s your job is to steer companies in the right direction and to provide insight into what’s important within the nutrition field. And while people are understandably suspicious about some of the motives of the food industry, it provides much of the vital funding for research.

Consumer confusion

So, now we’re well into rain-soaked February, I’ve pulled together what I think are some of the hot topics in the health and nutrition field. Certainly, all the media attention has helped raise the profile of nutrition and got people talking more about what they’re eating. That said, I suspect consumers are probably more confused than ever about what they should be eating.

What’s hot?

  • Healthy eating as opposed to dieting – making ‘healthy eating’ mainstream
  • Natural and convenient ingredients
  • Continued growth of gluten/wheat/dairy-free products
  • Protein and ancient grains
  • New and emerging trend towards healthy indulgence – combining some of the hot trends, like gluten-free and high protein with natural ingredients like dark chocolate.

New Year’s resolutions

One of my aims for 2014 is to make healthy eating more mainstream and I‘ve already made a start. A couple of weeks ago we had friends round for dinner and I thought I‘d make a healthier dessert. With my freezer bulging with apples from the garden, I thought I’d try and make a healthier version of tarte tatin. So I cut the fat by one third and the sugar… admittedly the toffee sauce wasn’t as thick as it might have been, but I’m not convinced anyone noticed. I also served it with an apple puree rather than cream.

The small changes that make a big difference

Healthy eating is about making those small changes that go unnoticed and setting people’s expectations to ensure that the changes people make are longer term instead of just for January.

Maybe a better New Year’s resolution next year might be to eat a bit less at Christmas to avoid any extreme measures in January!

Visit Jenny Arthur's website for information on nutrition and market trends, nutrition and health strategy, product and recipe development, and consumer communications.

EBSCO offers FSTA – Food Science and Technology Abstracts on EBSCOhost and EBSCO Discovery Service™. They, along with Research Information, recently sponsored the webinar, “Seven Key Questions to Evaluate Your Food Science and Nutrition Information.” Watch free on demand.

Subscribe for the latest updates