While technological knowledge seems to grow by leaps and bounds, pervading the cultural mind in what feels like a matter of weeks, sadly, the same can’t be said for Nutritional knowledge. For those following along in the world of nutrition and holistic health, sometimes it feels as though any positive change in the general culture’s awareness about the foods they eat and the state of health in this country, are slow to come by.
There’s so much finger pointing when it comes to the effects of our food choices: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, but what to actually DO about it is a squabbling match, and the conventional wisdom that’s pervaded general knowledge for the past 50 years seems to retain its choke-hold on us.
We’re obsessed with our high-fact diets but rarely feel informed about what it means to be truly nourished as an eater. We have all the documentation and studies at our fingertips, but understandably have a hard time grounding it into our everyday experience.
But then — suddenly and miraculously – the tides turn. When change comes, it sometimes feels like it comes all at once (even if we collectively roll our our eyes and think to ourselves: finally), it’s so empowering and encouraging to see some sound nutritional knowledge beginning to sweep through the culture.
Here are 5 nutrition trends to keep your eye on in 2014:
Sugar-free foods have been with us since the 60s. Unfortunately, they came in the form of zero-calorie hopes and dreams, and thus gave us the chemical wonders of sugar substitutes that are aspartame (NutraSweet®), maltodextrin, and now sucralose or Splenda®. And now we have high fructose corn syrup to contend with as well. These days, the studies on sugar keep pouring in, and we’re begin to have some consensus about how our negligent food choices have been getting us into trouble. While some believe that any form of sugar is just plain harmful, the real issue seems to be its pervasive and superfluous nature. It’s simply everywhere, and it sometimes hides in the strangest of places. We’re simply eating too much of it and often without even realizing it. As more and more science continue to surface revealing how damaging excessive sugars (especially processed sugars, or free-form fructose – again, think corn syrup, and agave) are to a number of digestive and neurological activities, we need to become more diligent in response. And some folks are transforming our choices by providing healthier alternatives. For example, there seems to be a wave of stevia-sweetened beverages and even chocolate presenting themselves to the marketplace and to our collective taste buds. And there’s even a little excitement about rediscovering richer more natural flavors in our foods without the need for the sweet stuff, including how to cook and bake nourishing treats without the sugar. It’s a good invitation to try and make our Life more sugary instead!
There’s a ripple pulsing through the front of the Genetically Modified Organism battalion. The work of folks like Vandana Shiva, Jeffrey Smith, and Robyn O’Brien, has been incredibly useful in educating the general populace about what is actually at stake when it comes to both our environment, and the health of our bodies and genetics.
In the summer of 2013, it was discovered that a wheat field in Oregon state had been contaminated with GMO wheat since 2001 (a seed crop that Monsanto et. al. denied was even in the works), which led to a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto… and the whole world took notice. Regular importers of American wheat, like Korea and Japan, passed on the crop. Suddenly people began to wonder more anxiously about what they were really eating. Since then, whole countries are kicking GMO to the proverbial curb: Bhutan is aiming to be the world’s first 100% organic country. India is labeling all Monsanto seeds with a warning that they’ve been treated with poison. Mexico banned GMO corn and burned their fields. Hawaii is banning GMO foods from their state. And even food chains like Chipotle are working on nixing them from their lineup entirely, and voluntarily labeling those that aren’t in the meantime.
When the populace takes the power of their fork in hand, and want to have the choice between something real and something modified, smart companies know they can only benefit from making the switch. This movement is bringing more and more awareness into the mainstream about the industrial food complex, and thankfully opens the door a little wider to discuss alternatives that do not rely on genetically altered food-stuffs. The demand for affordable organics foods increases – and in general, folks are looking to be more eco-conscious with their eats. Here are 5 more ways to transform the way the world eats.
3. Gluten + Embracing Ancient Grains
I think it’s safe to say that the awareness around gluten and celiac disease is getting ready to peak in certain parts of the country. It was even a key topic in our Online 2014 Future of Nutrition Conference. From books like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly becoming popular, more and more notice is being taken when it comes to how such a seemingly innocent food is wreaking havoc on (some say) anywhere between 25-30% of the population: that’s 90 million people! It’s estimated that 83% of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. While the numbers seem extraordinarily high, especially when celiac disease is thought to affect approximately 1 in 200, the numbers do begin to stretch as gluten sensitivity is also taken into account. While not everyone is interested in jumping on the grain free bandwagon, the anti-wheat and anti-gluten camp is growing. Folks truly interested in healing their gut know better than to overindulge in many of the “gluten free” foods that sit on the supermarket shelves (as many are highly processed, and low in nutrients); they’re on the lookout for a more wholesome experience. Quinoa has been the rage for more than five years now, but even more ancient grains are beginning to get a little limelight in cookbooks and this has supported the general population’s willingness to experiment with new, ancient flavors. So if you haven’t tried amaranth or teff, millet and buckwheat, now’s the time. These foods have long traditions in cultures all over the world for good reason.
4. Simpler Pleasures
In the same vein of returning to some ancient foods for better health, there’s also a trend building when it comes to how we go about cooking, eating, and gathering. As we grow more interested in making health conscious choices, whether it be avoiding GMOs, or avoiding gluten cross-contamination when dining out, cooking at home is become popular once again. Everything “old” is becoming “new” once more – and this extends to a return to food crafts like: homemade wild cultured sourdough breads, homemade cheese, or kefir and kombucha, likewise, home based pickling and canning are all very hip. Several states (like Maine and California) are beginning to legalize home-craft foods for sale to the general public. People are having gatherings in their homes again, having potlucks and picnics: they’re learning to slow down and enjoy the pleasure that comes when eating with mindfulness and the joy to be had in good company. It’s good to consider what’s most important when it comes to how we choose to eat.
5. Probiotics + Your Microbiome
We all know the saying that history repeats itself, and in the case of understanding the importance of gut health, it’s unfortunate it’s taken so long for modern western nutritional science to catch up to itself. Truth is, we spent way too long in the anti-bacterial corner of the health paradigm, and “antibacterial everything” really has done us in. See, despite how it may seem when we look in the mirror, we’re only about 10% human. That’s right – 90 percent of the cells in our bodies are actually bacterial. That’s 100 trillion microbes living in your tummy, in your nose and all over your skin. At least, one would hope. These aren’t “bad bugs” that get you sick, these are the naturally symbiotic fellas that keep as well and thriving.
There’s a famous quote by Hippocrates that says: “all disease begins in the gut,” and he was certainly on to something. One of the keys to avoiding disease is maintaining a healthy gut, and a balanced bacterial flora is largely responsible for this reality. Thankfully, there’s been a large increase of research and studies and books coming out that discuss this very thing: the wonder of the human microbiome and the reality of the brain in the belly. Recent studies out of UCLA involving women ingesting probiotics twice daily for a month were surprised to find positive sensory and neurological effects. This connection was also well known to Ayurvedic sages beginning 5000 years ago, and is foundational to their system of medicine. So it’s easy to say that this knowledge is nothing new. With a resurgence in this field of medicine, great strides are being taken to help support the internal human habitat. So don’t be surprised to see even more items containing belly happy foods like aloe vera, and sauerkraut, and kefirs coming into light as the best new things for your belly (even though the traditions of eating foods for gut health are ancient)!
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