A new year usually comes with New Year’s resolutions, goals and challenges and that often include improving health in one way or another (weight loss, getting fit, improving health markers or just eating healthy). Which means that, this year being no exception to the rule, nutrition is in the hot seat and under the microscope. But should we be following these trends or throwing them out?

While we discourage jumping on every trend and fad, there are a few that are here to stay (and for good reason). We will be focusing on ultra-processed foods, gut-health, plant-based diets and environmental sustainability.

Ultra-processed foods – possible changes to look out for in the next ten years?

Ultra-processed foods that are high in fats, sugar and/or salt contribute to obesity and chronic diseases such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Ultra-processed foods are formulated and packaged in such a way to make them intensely palatable, have a long shelf life and eliminate the need for cooking.

Unfortunately, ultra-processed foods are usually very cost-effective and high energy foods which means that a vast majority of the South African population still rely on it as a large part of their diets.

However, we can see that slowly but surely there is movement in the right direction, with the sugar tax that was implemented in full swing and the salt regulation stipulated in legislation one could only hope that the attention will move towards improving nutritional quality and going lighter on the processing of ultra-processed foods in the next few years as well.

Gut health – “The bacteria in our digestive system does what’?

Over the past decade, scientists have learnt a lot more about human digestion, its effects on human functioning and the uniqueness of our gut microbiomes.

Human gastrointestinal microbiota, also known as gut flora or gut microbiota, are the microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans. Your gut microbiome is a vast community of trillions of bacteria and fungi that inhabit every part of your gastrointestinal tract and influence your metabolism, body weight, inclination to illness, immune system, appetite and mood.

In the next decade, I suspect that nutrition will be moved to the front seat alongside psychologists and psychiatrists in the treatment of mental health patients. If you look at the connection between your brain (mood) and your gut (food) the correlation is astounding! The gut-brain axis provides us with a good understanding not only of our mood but also between diet and disease.

It’s estimated that 90% of our serotonin is found in the gut. Serotonin, commonly known as the “happy hormone”, is a neurotransmitter in your brain that aids with various psychological and bodily functions. Low mood, anxiety and depression are associated with altered serotonin levels.

So, what’s going on in your gut is directly going to affect your mood! It’s one of the many reasons why your gut is called your ‘second brain’. Improving your diet helps you towards not only weight loss but also clearer thinking, more energy, and calmer moods.

It is quite a complex topic and there is a lot of ongoing research in the field, but it all comes down to is eating better (more whole foods, fibre-rich and fermented sources) and cutting out processed foods. Important to note is that a varied diet is essential as no one food item can be responsible for a healthy gut!

Plant-based diets – is it worth the hype?

The last decade’s global trend of more plant-based eating brought more people more in line with accepted dietary guidelines for healthy eating. What I do love as a consequence of the shift towards more plant-based eating is that fruit, vegetables, beans and grains have moved from being supporting actors to the star of the show, and which dietitian wouldn’t love people eating more nutritious foods?

With industry increasing the plant-based products available to meet the increased need, it seems inevitable that South Africans across all cultures will in some way or another be exposed to this!

That being said, remember that plant-based eating doesn’t have to be complicated or only like the photos you see on Instagram. Go back to basics, eat locally produced vegetables (or better yet, from your vegetable garden). Adapt some of your favourite dishes to incorporate more legumes. Think creatively but also use staples that you know work.

Environmental sustainability – how consumers make a difference

The World Health Organization has declared climate change as the biggest threat to health in the 21st century. When people hear environmental sustainability/ climate change and nutrition in the same sentence, they immediately think vegan. However, there are different options and simple things we can all do to protect ourselves and our families from the impacts of climate change. These tips are great for the environment, our health and our pockets!

  • Reduce food waste by meal prepping. Don’t throw out leftovers, freeze additional portions for a later date!
  • Reduce your intake of processed foods and when buying packaged food essentials, select recyclable options and the biggest container where possible.
  • Choose tap water over bottled water where possible and reduce your consumption of sugary drinks. When selecting options other than water, select drinks in glass bottles.
  • Reduce your overall intake of meat by increasing your intake of plant-based protein. #meatfreemonday is a great way to start.
  • Shop local and seasonal produce where possible and start transitioning to using reusable drink bottles, coffee cups, straws etc.

Take home message: Don’t fall for the fads but include these healthy and worthwhile trends to reap the rewards.

 

Retha Harmse

Registered Dietician

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