Each year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) holds its Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE®), drawing subject-matter experts from around the globe and across areas of discipline to discuss the biggest challenges and buzziest trends in the world of nutrition. This year, our team of registered dietitians traveled to Philadelphia to scope out the defining themes driving the future of nutrition science, food policy and the profession. Here are the big shifts we see taking hold.
Personalized Nutrition: Leveraging Technology to Develop a Diet that’s Uniquely You
The wellness space is quickly shifting from a one-size-fits-all approach to hyper personalization and precision nutrition. The next generation of nutrition tools are all about the individual consumer, from their psychosocial data to their genetic and microbial makeup.
- DNA is not destiny, but genetic testing can provide a roadmap. Nutritional genomics, or how genetic variation influences different responses to dietary intake, is gaining traction. Individual variations (often referred to as single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs) have been associated with rate of caffeine metabolism, taste perception, endocannabinoid function and increased risk for obesity. Understanding a person’s genetic makeup could give a better understanding of how they may react to certain changes in diet or supplement use.
- Demand for functional food is driving personalization. Datassential reports are mounting consumer interest in foods that provide specific functional benefits, including energy, heart health, weight management, sleep and immunity. By combining their nutrition know-how and results from genetic testing, RDs can tailor diets that will deliver against these desired targets.
- End-to-end platforms are the next generation. Data-driven technologies are evolving to give consumers and practitioners everything they need for personalized nutrition, from data collection to translation, implementation and follow-up. A session on the Food4Me study demonstrated how a combination of genetic information, algorithmic data and professional counsel can be used to customize diets while Expo newcomer Baze debuted a blood-sampling device which assesses nutrient status for personalized supplement recommendations.
Planetary Health and Global Nutrition: Food’s Impact on a Macro Level
This year’s program featured more food systems-focused sessions than ever before, underscoring the urgency to scale up solutions that prioritize the health of people and the planet.
- RDs play a critical role in navigating the intersection of human and planetary health. This year’s President’s Lecture discussed progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and stressed the importance nutrition plays in achieving a number of those goals. Francesco Branco of the World Health Organization stressed the importance of improving all elements of the food system — production, manufacturing and distribution — to make healthy diets a reality for all – all while minimizing environmental impact.
- Sustainable-food systems must encompass issues of access and adequacy in addition to environmentalism. It is not just enough to protect the planet – our food system must equitably nourish the planet’s growing population. In a world where limited food access plays a large role in malnutrition and health disparities, farm-to-facility offer one solution. Programs like Harvest of the Month put local, fresh fruits and veggies into the hands of facilities such as schools and hospitals in need, which not only promotes healthy food choices but also supports local agriculture and conserves carbon emissions via local distribution.
- The professional landscape of nutrition is officially expanding to include sustainability. The Academy unveiled their five entry points for RDs to get engaged in sustainable food systems: (1) align agriculture and nutrition goals, (2) reduce food waste, (3) align incentives along the supply chain, (4) improve food access and food security and (5) shape and deliver dietary guidance that supports physical and planetary health. Former Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy encouraged RDs to get involved in policies that impact nutrition and agriculture, particularly the Farm Bill.
The Consumer Food Journey: Driven by Purpose
While some familiar factors remain integral to consumers’ food purchasing decisions – taste, cost, convenience – the trends spotted on the FNCE® floor suggest that emerging food values may motivate people, now more than ever.
- Perceptions are shifting to prioritize wellness over weight. Intuitive eating and health at every size were hot topics on social media and in the educational sessions. With more than 90 published studies, the evidence is growing to support this approach to overall wellbeing. Food manufacturers are also shifting how they talk about products, moving away from “reduced calorie” and touting attributes like “brain-boosting” and “gut-friendly.”
- “Free from” evolves from a health driver to a lifestyle attribute. Products that were originally formulated to address and marketed as allergy-friendly have shifted to target the food values of the ingredient conscious consumer. “Free from” is a label no longer limited to common allergens but spans a variety of lifestyle choices including ketogenic, grain free, reduced sugar and plant based.
- Plants are not just for the produce aisle. Plant-based products dominated the expo floor from beverages and sauces to sweets and snacks. While many plant-based products emphasized legumes, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables are also moving center stage with cauliflower taking a prominent role in tortillas, pizzas and even breading on chicken nuggets.
Interested in learning more about these topics? FoodMinds has dedicated experts in personalized wellness, healthy and sustainable food systems and consumer food values. Connect with us at [email protected].