National Nutrition Month – a look back and a look ahead

March is National Nutrition Month, so it’s a good time to look back at what been happening with the ever-expanding collection of topics we think of as “nutrition”:

  • food
  • supplements
  • specially formulated Health Halo products
  • diets
  • medical nutrition therapy for specific diseases
  • food labeling
  • calories
  • weight control
  • disease prevention and wellness
  • organic
  • hydration
  • sports performance and fitness
  • local and sustainable agriculture
  • food service management

And I’ve probably left something out.  That’s quite a long list for a  field that originally was limited to ladies (yes, ladies) in hairnets, portioning out restricted diet menus for hospital patients.  We’ve come a long way baby.

This past year, there really haven’t been any major new revelations in nutrition, certainly not the way vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids burst onto the scene a few short years ago.  No magic weight loss formulas or miracle cure vitamins.  Here are some of the significant nutrition news topics from the past 12  months:

  1. Both omega-3 and vitamin D research continues to support the view that these nutrients are key players in numerous metabolic functions.  The most significant research, in my opinion, is the growing body of evidence that omega-3 fatty acids are critically important for brain function.
  2. Gluten-free madness remains with us (NOTE: look for my interview with author Shelley Case, RD, who literally wrote the book on gluten-free eating 11 years ago, before it became a popular subject).  More and more foods are available in gluten-free form, including plenty of junk food.
  3. Food manufacturers continued to stuff random nutrients into foods and beverages, hoping the Health Halo effect will translate into $$$$$.  Egregiously dumb products like Vitamin Water and fiber-filled yoghurt still take up shelf space, so apparently lots of consumers fall for this hype.
  4. Supplements remained big business, and supplement makers are always looking for the next new thing to boost sales.  Boring old vitamins and minerals aren’t enough anymore.  Antioxidants, resveratrol, lutein, green tea, herbs, caffeine, powdered vegetables and anything else that can be stuffed into a capsule is fair game, as long as the FDA doesn’t notice.
  5. Fad weight loss diets will never, ever go away, and we had our share of diet silliness this past year.  Paleo is the next new thing, but there was increasing interest in veganism.  That they’re polar opposites on the food scale is at least interesting.  It must say something about our conflicted attitudes about food.   In some cases, these really restrictive diets are promoted like religions.

Meanwhile the worldwide obesity epidemic expands, literally.  Coincidence?

What will the next 12 months bring us?  I can’t predict breakthroughs, but I can safely predict these:

  • Calorie Counts will come to restaurant menus, because a clique Food Police bureaucrats assumed that numbers will fix the obesity epidemic.  So far it appears consumers don’t know how to use the numbers and don’t care.  The  eat-by-numbers Food Police personally obsess about calories all day everyday (a classic eating disorder behavior), and they presume everyone should act that way.   My prediction: this will turn out to be a slow moving fiasco and fix nothing.
  • We’ll have more fad diets.  Some of them will be low carb in a new disguise.  People will lose weight and gain it all back because they never learned how to change their whole lifestyle.
  • Look for more buzz about the healthful effects of certain fats.  Omega-3s and monounsaturates  have raised the profile of fats as something more than just calories.
  • The quest for Health Halo ingredients will continue.  Supplement and food manufacturers will expand product lines by adding bits of every nutrient and plant extract du jour to their formulations, and touting that on the front of the package.
  • The rush to establish the ultimate Healthy Product rating system will continue.  Bureaucrats, manufacturers, grocery stores and do-gooder non-profits are all vying to come up with the ONE perfect system.  In my opinion, it’s all a wasted effort.  People do not eat by numbers or rating systems.
  • People will continue to cook less.  Some restaurants will figure out how to offer decent, healthy food in modest portions at a reasonable price.  Other restaurants will be stuck serving up fake low fat, low sugar versions of standard menu items as “healthy”.

I hope there will be some cool news on the research front, and I predict that if there is breakthrough news, you’ll read about it here.

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