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The year 2020 brought hardships and change for many people around the globe, and our everyday habits and behaviors have dramatically shifted.

Our priorities have changed as well, with many people focusing anew on their health and well-being, including what they eat. As a result, food and health culture have changed.

With 2021 just around the corner, we’re about to see these changes come to fruition. With many industry experts expecting massive change, you may wonder what 2021 has in store.

Here are the 10 top food and nutrition trends expected in 2021.

As Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Though this statement is controversial, its essence rings true today — eat foods that nourish you both physically and mentally.

Due to the significant impact of COVID-19 on many people’s physical and mental well-being, there’s growing interest in eating foods that serve health-related purposes.

1. Immunity boosters

Foods won’t just be valued for staving off hunger pains. The future of food and drink will take cues from the supplement market, calling attention to the roles that specific ingredients play in improving overall health and well-being.

COVID-19 was a reminder that health is transient and can change at any time. For many, this led to looking for products that could support a healthy immune system to better prepare them for illness.

According to Market Research, over 50% of consumers reported taking more supplements to support their immune health in 2020.

This growing interest in immune health will continue to be a top focus of the health and wellness industry in 2021. Rather than focusing on treating conditions, many consumers will strive to prevent them via a strengthened immune system.

In response to this, the food industry will take notes from the supplement industry by creating products with added nutrients that may support immune function and overall health, such as zinc, selenium, vitamin C, and vitamin D.

What’s more, alternative remedies have and are expected to continue to increase in sales in 2021. Elderberry, echinacea, astragalus, turmeric, and ginger are some of the top selling herbal supplements claimed to help boost your immune system.

Furthermore, purpose-driven ingredients are predicted to be at the forefront of the food industry. Examples of this include adding olive oil to support heart health, vitamin C to boost the immune system, or probiotics in kombucha to promote a healthy digestive system.

Though these products will create buzz in the health and wellness industry, the research behind them is lacking. To date, there are no proven foods, nutrients, herbs, or other supplements that will prevent or cure an illness, such as COVID-19 (1, 2, 3, 4).

Given growing consumer interest in honesty and transparency, companies will need to be careful of their messaging and avoid making health claims that are not backed by science.

2. Mental health

Mental health has also become a priority for many people.

While food alone cannot treat or cure depression, anxiety, or stress, eating a mostly minimally processed diet rich in a variety of nutrients may help support your mental health.

Diets rich in antioxidants, vitamins (e.g., B vitamins), minerals (e.g., zinc, magnesium), fiber, healthy fats (e.g., omega-3s), and other bioactive compounds, such as probiotics, have been linked to better mental well-being, though higher quality studies are needed (5, 6, 7, 8).

In 2021, we’ll notice more food and beverage companies coming out with products that contain these ingredients with an emphasis on reducing stress and improving sleep, which is also linked to better mental health.

In particular, functional beverages that contain stress-reducing compounds, such as adaptogens — substances that can help your body adapt to stress — and cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant, will increase in popularity.

For example, Four Sigmatic’s Mushroom Hot Chocolate contains an adaptogen known as reishi, which may induce calmness to help you sleep better and lower occasional stress (9, 10).

While taking these products may reduce stress and support your mental well-being, a particular diet should never replace prescription medications or other treatment methods, such as therapy. Rather, your diet should be one piece of the puzzle to better mental health.

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An increasing number of consumers are looking to support local companies with a backstory and purpose rather than large corporations.

In fact, according to Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer, 52% of respondents stated they pay more attention to the origin of their products, with a focus on buying locally.

3. Localism

The pandemic shutdowns gave many people a renewed appreciation of their local community, especially the food purveyors — grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants — that kept food on our plates.

Going forward, there will be a growing interest in purchasing and consuming locally grown food. It supports the local economy, is generally fresher, and has less of an environmental impact.

Local food brands include

  • Gotham Greens
    • Gotham Greens operates sustainable greenhouses throughout the United States to allow for fresh, local produce to be available year-round and lower the environmental footprint by reducing cross-country food deliveries.
  • Kroger and Infarm
    • Kroger Seattle has paired up with a local food company known as Infarm to grow produce within the grocery store. Customers can purchase produce that grows in the branded refrigerators.
  • The Hudson Milk Company
    • A family-run business that partners with local farmers that produce minimally processed food. What’s more, they deliver the products to your front door.
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4. Backstory

Many consumers are also interested in learning a company’s backstory, such as a multigenerational family-run business.

Companies should focus on the meaning behind their products and give consumers a reason to purchase their products over those of their competitors.

For many, nice packaging alone no longer makes a product appealing, but rather the impact of purchasing it.

Brands with a great backstory include

  • Felicetti Pasta Products
    • A multigeneration family-run pasta business originating in Predazzo, Italy in 1908.
  • White Mustache Yogurt
    • A family-owned traditional yogurt company that uses environmentally sustainable practices and minimally processed ingredients to produce yogurt that tastes delicious and is good for you, too.
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5. Climatarian

Echoing the benefits of localism, diets are expected to shift to include more environmentally friendly, sustainable food practices.

Rather than fighting between the two extreme spectrums (i.e., vegan vs. meat-eaters), many people will mostly focus on foods that have the lowest climate impact.

For example, diets may involve a lower intake of animal products but not eliminate them. Instead, consumers may choose animal products with a lower environmental footprint, such as swapping beef for chicken or eating a few plant-based meals each week.

What’s more, consumers may choose to buy locally grown produce and animal-based products to lower carbon emissions caused by long-distance food delivery.

The goal of the climatarian diet is not an all-or-nothing approach, but rather to make small changes that collectively as a society make a large difference.

Climatarian brands include

  • Tuno by Atlantic Natural Foods
    • A plant-based tuna alternative made with the same taste and texture as real tuna but that’s more environmentally friendly.
  • Miyoko’s Creamery
    • Founded by Miyoko Shinner, a celebrity chef and vegan, Miyoko’s Creamery offers plant-based dairy alternatives that taste great and can easily replace any dairy-based ingredient.
  • Sweet Earth Foods
    • Delicious, nutritious, and environmentally friendly vegan comfort foods.
  • Just Egg
    • An environmentally focused, plant-based egg alternative made from mung beans and turmeric.
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For many people, the days of the extremes are over. In 2021, a large shift to the middle of the road is expected.

6. Flexitarianism

Trying to convince a meat-eater to go vegan is a big feat, but meeting them somewhere in the middle may be easier.

Rather than trying to convince omnivores to ditch meat and animal products entirely, there will be a growing push to reduce the intake of animal products. Interestingly, up to 60% of millennials are interested in adopting a flexitarian diet, according to Statista.

Consumers may look to swap a few meat-based meals for plant-based ones each week. Alternatively, they may decrease the portion of animal products in their recipes and add more plant-based ingredients.

Companies will continue to promote plant-based products but also develop products that contain higher amounts of plant-based ingredients and lower amounts of animal-based ones to help customers find a middle ground.

Flexitarian brands include

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7. Diet culture overhaul

Many people are getting tired of expensive diets and gimmicky supplements that promise big results but don’t deliver. In 2021, it’s likely that restrictive diets and weight loss programs will fall out of favor as people seek a more balanced approach to health instead.

Popular diets, such as keto, Whole30, paleo, and F-Factor, have been heavily criticized for their extreme restrictions that aren’t sustainable or enjoyable.

Thanks to more nutrition and health professionals growing large audiences on social media, we’re starting to see popular — albeit bogus — supplements becoming passé. Rather than taking handfuls of supplements, we’re seeing a shift toward whole, natural foods.

In addition, more people are embracing eating styles that welcome all foods in moderation, as most people don’t want to avoid chocolate for the rest of their life. Instead, people are starting to embrace other important aspects of food, such as tradition, culture, and enjoyment.

We’re seeing a trend toward happiness, strength, and vitality over attaining impossible standards of beauty à la Photoshop and FaceTune. Finally, an increasing number of people will aim to prioritize health instead of a number on the scale or their jean size.

Consumers will seek products from companies that strive for sustainable, affordable, and nonrestrictive approaches to health, such as eating a varied diet comprising whole, nutrient-dense foods.

They’ll also look for companies that are transparent with their messaging and avoid promoting unhealthy diet messages, such as quick weight loss, starvation, or vilifying certain foods.

The way we enjoy food continues to shift as the world changes.

Though convenience food has been around for a long time, the quality and healthfulness of these foods are becoming more important, and companies are expected to be more transparent about their ingredients and practices.

8. Meal kits

The year 2020 taught many of us that cooking from home can be a fun and enjoyable experience. Still, with life starting to speed up again, we’ll see a growing trend toward premade meal kits and health-food boxes that save time but still allow you to eat healthy from home.

Meal kit delivery services have grown exponentially in the past year thanks to their healthfulness, convenience, and affordability. In fact, the meal kit delivery market is projected to become a $20 billion industry by 2027, according to Grand View Research.

Many people love meal kit delivery services because most of the prep work like grocery shopping, measuring, and cutting is already done. For a busy person who usually eats takeout during the week, this makes eating healthy much easier and convenient.

Plus, many of these companies focus on local food, sustainable practices and cater to a variety of food preferences and diets. As such, meal kit companies are expected to grow in popularity.

Popular meal kit companies include

  • Daily Harvest
    • Daily Harvest mostly offers convenient breakfasts and snack options, such as smoothies, oat bowls, and harvest bowls, made from whole, unprocessed ingredients.
  • HelloFresh
    • HelloFresh provides weekly meal kit boxes with premeasured local, unprocessed ingredients and recipe cards with nutritious and delicious recipes. The company caters to a variety of diets and dietary needs.
  • Purple Carrot
    • Purple Carrot is a vegan meal delivery service that provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner options made from plant-based ingredients.
  • The Good Kitchen
    • The Good Kitchen promises delicious and nutritious meals made from the highest quality ingredients. The company works closely with farms to ensure ethical and sustainable practices while supporting local food communities.
  • Freshly
    • Freshly is ideal for people looking for single-serving meals that can easily be heated up. The company’s products require no prep time, which makes it easy for busy people who need quick and healthy meals.

For more meal delivery services, check out this article.

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9. Transparency

Many people are tired of misleading, false, or obscure information.

In the past, food and supplement companies have been very private about their ingredients and practices. Moreover, many make health claims that have little to no scientific proof to back them up.

With consumers more interested in the nutritional quality of the food products they consume, there will be a growing expectation that companies are clear, transparent, and honest about their products.

They’re expected to utilize this trend by providing ingredient lists that are short and understandable and avoiding the use of controversial ingredients, such as artificial colors, flavors, and dyes.

What’s more, many consumers will look to support companies with philanthropic practices, such as giving part of their proceeds to an honorable cause, supporting educational opportunities for employees, or protecting the environment.

Many adults are not only interested in fine-tuning their own diet but also finding healthier food and supplement options for the entire family.

10. Kids nutrition

With more kids attending virtual schooling and staying home, parents are now tasked with making lunches instead of relying on the school cafeteria.

To better their family’s health, many parents will be looking for products that are enjoyable for their kids but still nutritious. Furthermore, given growing concerns about sugar and artificial ingredients in the diet, they’ll be looking for foods made with more natural ingredients.

In addition, supplements for children may be used as added protection to support their immune system and prevent nutritional deficiencies, especially for children who are considered to be picky eaters.

Finally, expect a rise in plant-based options for children to support health and well-being. Many parents hope this will teach their children sustainable and healthy food habits they can use throughout their lives.

Kids nutrition brands include

  • Wundernuggets
    • Plant-based nuggets with simple ingredients that the entire family can enjoy. What’s more, they’re delivered to your door.
  • Little Spoon
    • A wellness food company that offers food, meal kits, and vitamins made from organic, fresh ingredients. The company provides options for children of all age groups.
  • L’il Critters and Zarbee’s
    • Multivitamin companies that strive to make kid-friendly vitamins without added dyes, sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and other unnecessary ingredients.
  • Lil Mixins
    • Lil Mixins strives to prevent food allergies by introducing common food allergens to babies early, which has been shown to reduce the incidence of food allergies in children. Their powders can be added to most recipes.
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In 2021 you can look forward to a huge shift in the food industry.

Gone are the days of extreme diets, unnecessary ingredients, and false promises. As we move forward into the new year, we’ll see more people looking to eat food that has a purpose, story, and serves society and health.

From a dietitian’s point of view, these changes appear to be a step in the right direction by focusing on things that truly matter. As such, I look to 2021 with excitement — and I hope you do, too.