Food, like fashion, has its trends. And when it comes to the best foods for dieting and weight loss, trends come and go — what’s cool one day is passé the next. Usually, foods come into fashion because they’re thought to be more healthful than their more mainstream counterparts (think swapping brown rice for quinoa). Here’s what you need to know about the most recent batch of trendy foods.
This sugar substitute is made from cacti, and is thought to be a healthy alternative to granulated sugar in baking. “Cup for cup, agave and table sugar are about equal in the calorie department, but because agave is about 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar, you can use less of it to reach the same sweetness,” says Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist and owner of Essential Nutrition for You, a nutrition consulting firm. Agave’s main benefit, she says, is that it scores low on the glycemic index — between 15 and 30 compared with table sugar’s 65. “This means that consumption won’t result in dangerous spikes in blood sugar that table sugar so often causes, making it a possible safe alternative for diabetics,” says Batayneh.
If you’re trying to cut calories for weight loss, agave doesn’t offer much of a benefit, Batayneh says. Instead, stick to a zero-calorie sugar substitute like stevia, or better yet, skip refined sugar foods altogether.
For the lactose-intolerant and those wanting to avoid all animal foods, rice milk, almond milk, and soy milk are becoming increasingly popular food trends for good nutrition. “More and more people are becoming sensitive to dairy products,” says Sally Kravich, MS, a natural health expert and consultant in New York City. “I recommend almond milk and rice milk to many of my clients. For those who have a sensitive digestive system, rice milk is best. For those who are vegans and need more protein and naturally occurring calcium, I recommend almond milk. I only recommend soy milk to women who need to boost their hormones or for older men with prostate issues.”
If you’re watching your sugar intake, try an unsweetened nondairy milk, as most brands have either no sugar or less sugar than naturally occurs in dairy milk. Plus, nondairy milks are often fortified with extra calcium or vitamin D.
Almond butter is another almond-based food trend that has some advantages over conventional peanut butter. “I brought up my own children on almond butter,” Kravich says. “Almond butter is preferable over peanut butter as it contains more protein and less sugar than the peanut.”
Still, it’s important to eat nut butters in moderation, as most varieties are heavy in calories and fat.
Nutrient-rich whole grains and their high levels of digestion-friendly fiber are an essential component of any balanced diet. A new choice on the whole grain market that’s become wildly popular is the South American grain quinoa. Prized for its versatility and high protein content, quinoa has fast become a restaurant and supermarket staple. “My favorite grain recommendations across the board are millet, quinoa, and brown rice,” Kravich says. “For those who need a higher protein grain, quinoa is my first choice.”
Chia Seeds and Teff
Chia and teff are two other whole-grain foods that Kravich recommends adding to your dieting arsenal. “Chia can be added to smoothies for added protein and easier bowel movements,” she says. “The Ethiopian grain teff is a good flour product for those who have digestive issues and cannot tolerate gluten.”
Coconut oil was once thought to be a fat to avoid, but recent research has found that its negative effects may have been overstated. “Coconut oil has received controversial attention due to the fact that, of its 15 grams of fat per serving, 13 of these are saturated fats,” Batayneh says. “The saturated fats found in coconuts, however, are medium-chain fatty acids, as opposed to the long-chain fatty acids found in meat, milk, eggs, and vegetable oils. Because of coconut’s unique form of saturated fat, it has been shown to raise metabolism and slow digestion, promoting fullness and decreasing feelings of hunger.” Coconut oil has other nutrition benefits, too. “Its lauric acid enhances the immune system and promotes health development in infants,” she adds. “It has also been shown to increase endurance and speed in cyclists, making it an ideal supplement for athletes.”
“I think fermented foods are the next big thing,” says Pamela Schoenfeld, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in Morristown, N.J., and executive director of the Healthy Nation Coalition. “Foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and real kosher pickles have been popular for years, but now we have kimchi, fermented beets, radishes, carrots — you name it. If these foods are not pasteurized after fermentation, they contain beneficial bacteria that promotes digestive health. These foods are not difficult to make and are a great way to preserve the bounty from the garden or farmers’ market.”