Over the past year, dietitians have seen some unexpected, yet significant shifts in food and nutrition and in the needs of the general public. With this in mind, here are some themes that seem to have cropped up:
- People are gaining weight: is the “COVID 15” a reality? It seems as though weight gain has been one of the biggest complaints from this past year. Changing eating and exercise patterns seem at least partially to blame. As more people have been working from home, for example, and we’ve had easier access to the pantry and the refrigerator, food consumption seems to have gone up for many. The stress of continually changing circumstances has also contributed to an increase in the consumption of comfort foods and beverages. In addition to these changing eating patterns, many of us have become more sedentary, and with access to gym spaces, and even some outdoor options, restricted, regular exercise has been more difficult. Related: Over 600 free full length workout videos
- Fresh meals and a return to the kitchen. While increased unhealthy eating habits may be true for many people, others have actually reported that they are eating better now, including making more home-cooked food. For many, the pandemic has actually brought families closer, with more time spent preparing and eating meals together. There seems to have been an uptick in trying new recipes and involving family members. This is a positive trend that hopefully will continue.
- Increase in apps and online nutrition tracking. There has been an overall trend with nutrition and fitness companies to provide online nutrition counseling, advice, and fitness programs that can be done from home. At-home workout videos, weight loss coaching and personal training has been a rising trend that may not go away.
- Anti-inflammatory food and immunity-boosting nutrition and supplements. Many people are trying to find ways to boost their immune system in simple natural ways. This may be linked to trying to control the stress of wanting to avoid getting sick. Simply from a psychological standpoint, consuming more fruits and vegetables and anti-inflammatory foods can contribute to a more positive outlook on personal health status, so this is certainly a positive trend.
- Online grocery shopping and less eating out. More and more people are starting to do their grocery shopping online or have groceries delivered. There are trade-offs with this trend, of course. Eating out less is generally a good thing nutritionally, of course, as home-cooked meals can be much healthier and the use of ingredients much more personalized. For people who find it difficult (even overwhelming) to shop in grocery stores, being forced to shop online more often has actually been a positive development. On the other hand, for many people, not being able to get to the store as easily to choose your own groceries can be frustrating and lead to greater use of processed or packaged options.
Will these trends continue through 2021?
- Supplements on the rise. This past year, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, and Vitamin D have all gotten a lot of attention because of their importance in immune system health and function. Micronutrients of all kinds are essential to the body’s immune system processes. People who are vitamin and mineral deficient tend to be at higher risk for getting sick because their immune systems may be compromised. Because of this, many people have turned to supplementation as a means for trying to stay healthy (especially if the diet being consumed does not consist of a variety of whole foods). Therefore, supplementation will most likely continue to increase this year as people work hard to avoid getting sick. Of course, it’s very important to note that dietary intake of minerals and vitamins is highly encouraged over supplementation. Food sources have nutrients that are usually more bioavailable and are packaged with other beneficial compounds like fiber and phytochemicals. Whenever possible, we should be getting our vitamins and minerals from whole foods.
- Higher consumption of plant-based foods. Even with supplementation on the rise, it seems that COVID was a wake up call for many people to start eating higher amounts of whole grains, legumes, and more fruits and vegetables in order to support a healthy immune system. Beyond that, more and more people are realizing they should be eating better to support a healthy lifestyle and to prevent other acute and chronic diseases.
- Specialty coffee has come home. As more and more people are working from home, more and more people have been replacing their starbucks run with a homemade cup of joe. Sales of special creamers, coffees, sugars and coffee-making equipment has been on the rise this year and may very well continue. As with other food and drink, the more we control the ingredients (and levels of things like sugars), the better off we are.
- Return to growing your own food and self sustainability. Another very positive trend we’ve seen is that more and more people are learning how to grow their own food and starting simple gardens. This is going hand-in-hand with people increasing consumption of whole foods in their diet and wanting to go to alternative sources of produce outside of grocery stores.
Practical considerations for staying healthy in the midst of changes globally
Trends come and go in nutrition and food; however, some of these are really positive trends, so we are sure hoping they stay. In general, it is so important to continue to incorporate a variety of whole foods in your diet and be conscious about how the food we eat impacts not only the scale, but also our immune systems and other functions in our bodies. A combination of more conscious eating and creative ways of staying physically active and managing stress is vitally important. We’ve all heard the old adage, “every cloud has a silver lining” - well, that seems pretty relevant here.
How have your food choices and health habits changed since the start of COVID-19?
What ways have you found helpful to manage stress and maintain healthy habits this past year?
Share your experience with us by leaving a comment below. Have questions or want to learn more? Ask here; we're always listening!
Written for Fitness Blender by Natalia Holguin, RDN LDN CPT
Certified Nutrition Coach
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Lempert, Phil. “Food Trends Forecast 2021: Being Healthy In A Post Covid-19 World.” Forbes, 21 Oct. 2020.
Santa Cruz, Jaime. “COVID-19 and the Role of Micronutrients - Today’s Dietitian Magazine.” Today’s Dietitian, Today’s Dietitian, Mar. 2021.
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