Top Food Topics & Trends 2012

By Paula Jahn and Olivia MartinoRegistered Dietitians and Owners, Nourish Northwest

Every year there are new absurd diets, interesting new food products and controversial food policies.  Nourish Northwest’s registered dietitians, Paula and Olivia, recap some of 2012’s top stories in food.


Gluten-Free Goes Mainstream

Each year, there are new diet crazes that gain widespread popularity.  A few years ago it was Atkins, then the HCG diet and this past year it was the gluten-free diet.  But what’s different about this year’s diet?  It’s not intended for weight loss or even for overall healthier eating.  A gluten-free diet is intended for someone who has Celiac disease or a true gluten allergy or sensitivity.  That message seems to have gotten lost somewhere amongst the celebrity testimonials.

Many people truly are intolerant to gluten and see vast improvements in their health when they eliminate it.  So, why are so many more people being diagnosed with gluten intolerance? Doctors are now more aware of this problem and are testing for it more frequently.  There are much more accurate testing measures now than ever before.  There is also a belief that gluten we ingest now, as a result of food processing and genetic engineering is so structurally different than the gluten we ingested hundreds of years ago that we simply cannot tolerate this new foreign protein.

According to a Packaged Facts survey, 35% of consumers said that gluten free products are generally healthier; 27% said they purchased gluten-free products to manage weight; 21% felt these products were low-carb; 15% avoided gluten because of a household member; and only 7% bought them because they had celiac disease.

One very positive thing that has come out of this media explosion, is the creation and improvement of more gluten free products on the market.  Now people with a true gluten intolerance or Celiac disease have many more options when going to the grocery store or out to dinner.

So before eliminating all gluten just “because it’s healthier,” find out if you have a true intolerance or sensitivity.  Ask your doctor for a tissue transglutaminase IgA antibody test.  Or, under the guidance of a registered dietitian, follow an elimination diet.


Cavemen Get Trendy

The Geico cavemen are old news. This year was all about the Paleolithic people’s presumed ancient diet.

Proponents of the Caveman diet or Paleolithic diet (“Paleo” for short) say that adopting a diet similar to that of our ancestors is healthy because our biology as humans has not evolved to process the relatively recent grain-based diet of our modern agricultural society. Therefore, this diet eliminates all grains, processed sugars, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, and processed oils. The good part of this diet is that it emphasizes whole, unprocessed food. However, just like popular diets of years past, the Paleo diet eliminates major food groups—a hallmark of all fad diets. Anytime food groups are forbidden, it makes the diet difficult to follow long-term. We know that healthy diets are based on unprocessed food, but this includes legumes and whole grains. Another criticism of this diet is that the modern interpretation is far from how the Paleolithic people actually ate. It is unrealistic for most people to obtain such pure, unadulterated game meat. Plus, since we are not walking for days to find such animals, our sedentary modern lifestyle is far from how hunter and gatherers moved.

The bottom line is summed up well by Heather Mangieri, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “This diet has some great aspects, but the limitations make it another diet that people go on but can’t sustain for a number of reasons, including a lack of variety, [cost], and potential nutrient inadequacies.”


GMOs: Salmon and Prop 37

This was the year of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), also called genetically engineered (GE) food. First, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that GE salmon was safe. Then, just a few days ago, they released their draft Environmental Assessment of AquaBounty’s GE salmon, which is the final step towards becoming the first FDA-approved GE animal to enter the food supply. Many organizations, including Food & Water Watch, oppose GE salmon because of the lack of research on how this “frankenfish” will be altered nutritionally, and the uncertainty of its environmental impact if it escapes into the wild. It is also unclear if there is even market demand for such fish.

In the 2012 election, Californians has a chance to vote for Proposition 37, a measure that called for GMO foods to be labeled on all packaging. Whole foods, such as corn, salmon and fresh edamame, would have had a sign on the shelf. The proposal would have rendered alcohol, beef, eggs and dairy products exempt.

An estimated 70-80% of processed foods sold in the U.S. contain GMO products (mostly soy and corn). Proponents of the proposition cited studies that link GMO foods to allergies and organ damage and stated that the public has the right to know what they put on their plates.

While Prop 37 did not pass, it has started a conversation and perhaps paved the way for more awareness about how our food system affects us all.


Pink Slime

In early 2012, a ground meat additive known as “pink slime” was exposed to the public for the first time. Euphemistically known in the food industry as “lean finely textured beef trimmings,” this product is made from connective tissue and fat, and is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill salmonella and E. coli. First came the revelation that ~70% of non-organic ground beef, including that served to children in school cafeterias, contains this slimy meat byproduct. In addition, current regulations don’t require disclosure of the use of this ingredient on meat labels. A public uproar ensued. What will public demand get labeled first, GMO foods or pink slime?


Food Porn

The woman at the table next to you seems to be more interested in snapping a photo of her meal, rather than eating it.  Within seconds, she has posted it to Instagram, facebook and Pinterest.  Just minutes after that, it has been re-posted hundreds of times.  Home cooks across the country decide to replicate the recipe for dinner the next evening.

Food porn, the term used to describe the act of glamourizing and photographing one’s food, is an odd phenomenon that has swept the online nation recently.  I’m as guilty of it as the next person, but am also the first to admit that it is kind of strange behavior.  Just why do we feel the need to show everyone what we ate for lunch, dinner and our midafternoon snack?  Does anybody really care?


Meet the New Meat

Recent reports have shown that overall consumption of meat has started to decline.  But it appears that a shift in quality of meat has simultaneously occurred and in some food scenes, meat is actually growing in popularity.  Portland restaurants, such as Ox and Beast, highlight local meat and emphasize using all parts of the animal.  Small butcher shops are gaining popularity over chain grocery store delis. As a country that has been known for consuming far more animal protein than recommended, and not typically from the best quality source (i.e. McDonald’s), both of these trends show promise in improving the health of the nation.


Soda Ban 

America’s obesity problem has recently garnered more attention in the media.  As citizens, doctors, politicians and insurance companies are realizing the harsh reality of the situation and the economic, health and social impact it is having, a call to action has been warranted.  Mayor Bloomberg of New York City stepped up to the plate and proposed a ban on the sale of sweetened drinks in containers of 16 ounces or larger in some establishments.  While this measure spurred much controversy, it was approved by the health panel in September of 2012 and will be taken into effect in March 2013.  Will this solve obesity? No. Is this a step in the right direction? Perhaps. And in the very least, it has started an important conversation and is plowing the way for the development of more policies to help fight obesity.

Coconut Craze

Five years ago, you would get many blank stares if you said you drank coconut water as a sports drink, coconut yogurt was unheard of, and coconut milk was the canned, viscous, creamy variety, found only in the international food aisle. Now, coconut products join the likes of soy, almond, rice, and hemp as non-dairy substitutes…and they are everywhere!  Coconut milk is now vitamin-fortified, packaged in a carton and on the shelf with other non-dairy milks. . Its creamy texture and rich flavor make it an ideal substitute for those who are intolerant to dairy. There’s also coconut sugar, yogurt, cream, oil, ice cream and flour. The downside to the coconut epidemic is that for us in the Northwest, coconut products are not even close to local, making them a less sustainable choice.


Paula Deen’s Diabetes

Television personality, Paula Deen, revealed her diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in February and endured a public backlash that she wasn’t quite prepared for. The woman who built her career on butter and sugar allegedly hid her diagnosis for 3 years, all the while promoting such culinary atrocities as the doughnut burger.  She has been criticized for exploiting her diabetes, disclosing her diagnosis only after she was signed on for a lucrative deal with a diabetes drug company. She has responded by losing 40 pounds and advocating “moderation” of her favorite fried, sugary foods.



A state of pandamonium swept the aisles of gas stations and Walmarts across the nation when news broke that Hostess would be going out of business due to labor disputes.  Thousands of panicked Americans stockpiled Ding-Dongs, Twinkies and Ho-Hos.  A single Twinkie was being sold on ebay for $500,000.  It felt as though the apocalypse was coming. But no need to whip out your credit card just yet. There has been talk of labor disputes resolving and companies taking over Hostess to carry on the name brands.  But if neither of these things do occur, we will have to put the age old question to the test: How long can a Twinkie really last?



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