Chickpeas and low-FODMAP foods are among the healthy eating trends to keep an eye on in 2019, according to Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports consulted trend analysts and its own in-house nutrition experts to see what health benefits these food trends may provide to consumers. Some are relatively new, and others are just getting a fresh burst of interest.
The top trends, with notes from Consumer Reports, include:
They’ve been around for decades, but non-dairy milks are no longer a niche product—plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk now command 13 percent of the overall milk retail market in the U.S. Though almond and soy milks have been the mainstays for several years, oat milk was the runaway hit in 2018. In fact, consumer demand was so high at times that Oatly, the biggest manufacturer of oat milk, announced periodic shortages throughout the year.
Never fear, oat milk fans. Kara Nielsen, culinary trends analyst at the food and beverage innovation firm CCD Innovation, says that other brands are getting into the game—hopefully preventing similar shortages this year. Additionally, expect to see other alternatives like cashew, pea, and even banana milk popping up in more stores and restaurants. “Everybody wants to find the next oat milk,” Nielsen says.
How do these dairy substitutes match up with cow’s milk, nutritionally? It’s a mixed bag. On one hand, you’ll get more protein in cow’s milk, and it’s less likely to have added sugars than some plant-based alternatives (that’s why it’s good to choose “unsweetened” plant milks). Also, unless you get a fortified plant milk, it will not provide the valuable calcium of cow’s milk. “It’s worth comparing nutritional labels and added ingredients of different kinds of milks,” says Amy Keating, R.D., a nutritionist at Consumer Reports.
Before you dismiss mindful eating as another heavily marketed wellness trend, consider the last time you ate a meal without glancing at your phone, or a TV screen, or any of the thousands of other distractions vying for your attention. Mindful eating is a dietary approach wherein eaters focus on the food at hand. It’s not a “diet,” per se, though it can help some people lose weight—and keep the pounds off.
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) provide a solid dose of fiber and protein, not to mention B vitamins, calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and zinc. Many people get their chickpea intake primarily through hummus—though this could change very soon, according to Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at the marketing research firm Mintel. She says chickpeas are showing up in a variety of new products.
“Chickpea flour is really popular right now, especially for consumers who are looking for gluten-free flour alternatives,” she says. “We’re also seeing traditional foods like socca (an Italian chickpea-based flatbread) getting more exposure in the United States." Chickpea pasta, which used to be the domain of small brands, is now becoming part of mainstream supermarket pasta lines, such as Barilla. (Legume pastas may not go so well with red sauce; try these recipes from CR’s test kitchens.)
“Chickpeas have the advantage of a somewhat neutral flavor, paired with a lot of nutritional value,” Dornblaser says.
This green, flavorful squash has been a staple in Mexican cuisine for centuries, but in 2018 Google searches for chayote skyrocketed. It’s turning up in Mexican-style processed foods, such as Frontera Grill’s frozen meals. “In recent years, U.S. consumers have shown a high capacity to experiment with unfamiliar new fruits and vegetables,” says Dornblaser. “When they’re introduced to something tasty and versatile like chayote, it provides new opportunities for experimentation.”
Chayote is high in potassium, vitamin C, and beneficial antioxidants, although it doesn’t have the carotenoids that are found in acorn, butternut, or other more familiar squashes. “Vary the types of squash you eat, to ensure you’re getting the broadest range of nutrients,” Keating says.
More omnivores have been looking to decrease their meat intake in recent years, for reasons that can include health, sustainability, and animal welfare—which is probably why there’s been a significant uptick of realistic faux-meat alternatives, such as the Beyond Burger. “These products are not targeted towards vegans, who have been avoiding burgers for years and don’t necessarily crave a realistic fake meat,” Nielsen says.
Some manufacturers have also been adding mushrooms to ground meat products, a small, cost-saving means of reducing meat consumption. And in addition to burgers, Nielsen also has seen a range of other unexpected faux-meat products, such as vegan jerky (often made with soy, seitan, and/or mushrooms) and “meat crumbles,” which are pecan-based meat alternatives that can be used as taco filling.
Foods for Sensitive Stomachs
If you haven’t yet seen the acronym “FODMAP” in the grocery store, you probably will soon. It stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These carbohydrates—found in apples, dairy, beans, wheat, garlic, and onions—can cause gas, bloating, and other digestive issues in some eaters. They may be particularly problematic for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—roughly 12 percent of Americans.
“Low-FODMAP foods are big in Australia, but we’re starting to see them advertised here too,” Nielsen says. Processed food manufacturers whose products were always low-FODMAP are seeing the advantage of touting that fact on their labels, she says, or even formulating products just for people on low-FODMAP diets.
Take, for example, Prego’s new “Sensitive Recipe” tomato sauce (no garlic and onions) or products from FODY Foods (an entire line of low-FODMAP products). But similar to gluten-free and other labels, low-FODMAP doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is low in calories or free of sugars, sodium, refined grains, or other ingredients you should limit. For instance, the Prego sauce has 460 mg of sodium per ½-cup serving, and FODY’s Caesar Dressing has 160 calories in 2 tablespoons.