When it comes to food and nutrition, trends often dominate the conversation. Whether it’s the ultra low-fat products of the ’90s or the ketogenic craze we’re seeing today, it can be hard to distinguish pointless fads from nutritionally sound advice. To help sort out which trends are worth paying attention to, Christine Fletcher, a dietitian with Alberta Health Services, weighs in on some of this year’s emerging themes.
Cutting down on animal products, or cutting them out altogether, has become an increasingly popular lifestyle change in recent years, with many people not only eating more fruits and veggies, but also looking for substitutions for meat and dairy. Products like the vegetarian Beyond Burger and other faux meat items are not all created equally, so Fletcher suggests carefully reading each item’s packaging to get a full nutritional picture. In general, however, she says that even though many packaged plant protein alternatives do contain undesirable fats or high levels of sodium, they can be a better choice than their animal protein equivalents.
“The new Canada’s Food Guide does recommend that Canadians choose more proteins that come from plants more often,” Fletcher says. “Something like the Beyond Burger does have less saturated fat than a standard beef burger, which is good because saturated fat has been associated with increases in LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.”
The term “fat bomb” certainly doesn’t sound healthy, but these little nuggets are part of the ketogenic diet trend. The controversial low-carb diet requires users to eat a significant amount of fat to achieve ketosis, a metabolic state that is believed to result in weight loss.
Fat bombs are a category of high-fat snacks that let keto dieters increase their fat intake in just a few bites — they’re usually little balls or patties packed with ingredients like avocado, nut butters and/or coconut oil and can be sweetened with the sugar alternative stevia. Fletcher does not recommend keto diets unless taken on under the guidance of a health professional and says that fat bombs can contain more fat than a typical person needs to eat over the course of their entire day. She’d prefer to see those undergoing cancer treatment, or anyone else struggling to keep on weight, choose protein balls that contain a more even balance of carbs, fats and proteins.
“I would recommend something that has some nut butter, some oats, some fruit or even honey,” she says. “That would be more appropriate for someone who wants a balanced snack in their diet.”
Seaweed snacks — delicate sheets of roasted seaweed — are available in almost any grocery store these days, and Fletcher says they’re a trend she endorses.
While they can be high in sodium compared to the other kinds of crunchy and savoury snacks that many of us crave, seaweed-based snacks are a much healthier alternative. “They are a green vegetable and have a good nutrient profile for things like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” she says. “Also, algae or seaweed is the only vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which can be very hard to get for people who don’t eat a lot of fish.”
A better package
Compostable take-out packaging has begun to replace the old unrecyclable Styrofoam in the food delivery business. With delivery services like DoorDash and cook-at-home kits like Chefs Plate and HelloFresh becoming so popular, keeping packaging out of the landfill is more important than ever. From a dietitian’s point of view, Fletcher says she doesn’t want people to use sustainable packaging as an excuse to eat more restaurant take-out. Cooking at home is almost always a healthier option, especially for those watching their salt and fat intake. But she does like the idea of cook-at-home meal kits, which encourage eating whole, fresh foods.
“My patients are telling me that the kits give them great ideas for what they can cook at home,” Fletcher says. “They’re gaining skills in the kitchen. So for those who need ideas or can’t get out to the grocery store, I’d recommend those as a way to get into cooking.”
Recipe: Living Lettuce Salad
Fresh fruit and vegetables are definitely on trend this year, as is eating local, and combining these two trends can result in a particularly nutritious meal. Even though Alberta’s climate doesn’t have the growing power of Mexico or California, there are locally-grown vegetable options that don’t just promote sustainability and support the local economy, but can also offer a nutritional boost.
Inspired Greens grows its pesticide-free lettuces in greenhouses in Coaldale, Alta. The fresh, and local, greens are available at most major grocery stores. The lettuces are living, with the roots still attached, meaning that the plants’ nutrients are still intact, whereas non-living lettuces start to lose their nutrients as soon as they’re cut. The process also makes for a more flavourful product that can be served with little to no dressing to create a healthier salad. Play with different lettuce varieties and herbs to create salads that are packed with natural flavour.
living lettuce, washed and roughly torn (any variety will work — try combining a few different kinds of leaves)
1 cup mixed assorted fresh herbs, such as dill, tarragon, parsley, basil, mint or cilantro, roughly torn or chopped
1 yellow pepper, diced
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup red onion, diced
2 tbsp hemp seeds
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Toss together the lettuce, herbs, yellow pepper, cherry tomato, red onion and hemp seeds in a large bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil to taste and season with salt and pepper. Give it another toss and serve immediately. Serves 4.