By Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD
In late 2012, Pollock Communications tapped their extensive network of registered dietitians (RDs) and asked them to weigh in on the top diet and nutrition trends for upcoming year. While low-carbohydrate diets and foregoing fat is passé, RDs report that natural and simple remains hot among the list of consumer trends. Last year, nearly half of the respondents said that this would be trendy in 2012 and in 2013, they predict it will remain the same – 51% said to watch for natural and simple with few ingredients.
But Does Fewer Mean Better?
The trend is to look at the number of ingredients may stem from the desire to find foods that are less processed. Because many foods that are “processed” are snacks packed with sodium, sugar and saturated fat, or void of valuable nutrients like vitamins and minerals, minimizing the number of ingredients on a nutrition label can be a healthy consideration. But as a rule, the trend for fewer ingredients can be flawed. For one, fewer ingredients does not guarantee that the food is healthier. Take the example of butter versus a vegetable oil based soft spread made without trans fat. Butter has few ingredients – Sweet Cream, Salt, Milk – it also has 7 grams of saturated fat per serving and 30 mg of cholesterol – both known to have detrimental heart health effects. And, it’s low in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat – the “good” fats that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends we choose in place of saturated fats. A vegetable oil based soft spread, on the other hand, has 1.0-2.5 grams of saturated fat, no cholesterol and is made up of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated-rich vegetable oils. The soft spread frequently contains preservatives and emulsifiers that help keep it more solid at room temperature and, add ingredients. The take home message – the number of ingredients won’t always tell you what’s better for your heart.
What Does this Mean for the Food Industry?
From an RD’s perspective, this means that consumers are watching and they care about what is in the food they consume. It means that unnecessary additives and ingredients may need to be reevaluated and a slimmer ingredient list may be less cost effective, but preferred by shoppers. That said, the food industry should not compromise health for a short ingredient list. Body weight and heart health remains paramount, even if it’s not topping the trends list for 2013.