At a San Francisco food show, vendors showed off their latest snack products from chocolate made with coconut sugar to teas brewed with collagen.
The food trends currently holding court in society’s collective quest to be healthy represent a wide array of eating regimens. From high-protein foods to plant-based meals, today’s consumers who want to lose weight aren’t necessarily beholden to just one specific diet and lifestyle.
As with any eating craze that captures the nation’s attention, food manufacturers quickly take notice. This was certainly the case at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco last month. The three-day event boasted more than 1,400 vendors from nearly every continent in the world.
At the annual event, sponsored by the Specialty Food Association, attendees could sample the tried and true, but also the new and different.
That included hot chocolate made from freeze-dried mushrooms, teas brewed with collagen to improve skin texture, and cookies baked with “flour” milled from soy milk byproduct.
For every kiosk that peddled prosciutto and parmesan, there were booths of snack makers hawking the health benefits of their products.
Aisle after aisle revealed makers of crackers, chips, beverages, and bars touting their products’ diet compatibility.
Icons that promoted such diets as Whole30, vegan, paleo, gluten-free, raw, and low-glycemic popped up on nearly every label.
Flackers is a sesame seed cracker that’s produced in a dedicated gluten-free space, according to its product sheet.
Made Good bars listed eight different health monikers, including kosher.
Laughing Giraffe Organics produces all-natural coconut cookies and snacks, many of which hold the raw vegan label.
Even chocolate is in on the game. The company Coracao uses only coconut sugar, which they say has a 48 percent lower glycemic score than regular sugar.
“The boxes you have to check these days is the new normal,” Cindy Poiesz told Healthline. “It’s a baseline.”
Poiesz should know.
She’s the creator of Supernola, a high-protein snack, rich in anti-inflammatory ingredients. Her concept for the snack came about five years ago.
That’s when Poiesz worked as an investment banker on Wall Street. The hours were brutal and she barely had time to eat. When she did get a moment for a meal, it usually wasn’t all that healthy.
So, Poiesz started making the granola-like clusters and bringing them to work. The snack became so popular among friends and colleagues she decided to sell it at farmers markets.
Today, Supernola, along with Gorilly Goods, a raw, vegan snack brand, are now part of Evolve, a company that Poiesz describes as “a mindful snacking platform.”
Snack trends that follow popular diet trends are nothing new.
In the early 1990s, low-fat or fat-free eating was the fountain from which many people drank. The trend was fueled by federal dietary guidelines that encouraged a low-fat diet.
Probably the best snack food that epitomizes that era is SnackWells. Nabisco developed the low-fat cookie in a variety of flavors. They were an instant hit.
But what consumers didn’t understand is that SnackWells, along with the many other low-fat products that hit the market during that era, replaced the fat with sugar.
According to a Frontline documentary, the abundance of “low-fat” foods that consumers had access to at the time played a big role toward the country’s obesity epidemic.
“The reality is that during this campaign for fat-free and reduced-fat products, actual fat consumption did go down, but Americans got much fatter during this period of time. Now, of course, lots of things were going on at the same period in time, but I think it’s highly likely this focus only on fat calories to the neglect of carbohydrate calories has contributed to this epidemic of obesity,” Dr. Walter Willett, then chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in the documentary.
It’s fair to say that much of the science fueling today’s eating trends and the snacks they inspire is far more sophisticated than diets of years past.
Consumers are also much more educated about what to eat.
“Consumers are not going to be fooled so easily, whether it’s on the snack level or another level,” Jean-Xavier Guinard, PhD, a sensory scientist and consumer researcher at the University of California Davis, told Healthline. “We are more informed, we are better informed than 50 years ago.”
Poiesz is quick to point out that the company’s mantra is to move past what people shouldn’t be eating, but rather give people choices that have what’s best for you to eat.
“We use a ton of superfoods and not just the usual standards,” she said. “It’s not just cinnamon but Ceylon cinnamon. It’s not just matcha, it’s red matcha.”
Less than 10 years ago, the regular consumer would likely not know the significance of those two ingredients.
But today, anyone who’s “in-the-know” about nutrition, knows that Ceylon cinnamon and red matcha are full of antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties, more so than regular cinnamon and green matcha.
Nutrition experts that Healthline spoke to say they don’t believe the level of food awareness and education that consumers are exposed to right now will die down any time soon.
“Everything is changing and it’s not going away,” Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, of Boston University told Healthline.
But even though consumers are more sophisticated, she still doesn’t see any of the current diet trends as the Holy Grail to losing weight.
Salge Blake, a clinical associate professor at Boston University’s Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, supports the changes in the healthy snacks food market.
But she’s also concerned that people, especially the younger generation, are replacing these types of foods for meals.
“Ninety percent of millennials have a snack instead of meal at least once a week,” she said. “I’m happy that people want to eat more healthy, but I would rather people have three meals a day.”
Guinard, who studies behavioral nutrition and sensory strategies, pointed out that many diets that are propelling the healthy snack market are rooted in eating habits that have been around for decades, even centuries, he added.
“Paleo is a good example. Mediterranean diets, they’ve been around for years,” he said. “So, some of it is reinventing the wheel.”
Poiesz agreed with the notion that many of the snack concepts borrow from older if not ancient eating habits.
What’s more, she’s betting her future on it.
“The word paleo has been turned into a fad, but it’s got the science behind it,” Poiesz said. “The concepts we’ve gotten to know have staying power. It’s going back to eating good, whole foods.”