Based on research presented recently at the Institute of Food Technologists' Wellness 12 meeting held at the end of March in Rosemont, Ill., the Top 10 Functional Food Trends of 2012 indicate more consumers want to receive their vitamins and minerals from the foods they eat and beverages they drink as opposed to supplements. This research was presented by A. Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., president, Sloan Trends Inc. and contributing editor of IFT's Food Technology magazine. Her presentation included data from a number of scientific, food and consumer-research sources.

Leading trends in 2012 is a move toward "real food nutrition," which includes blending different foods for maximum health benefits, choosing foods for their inherent nutritional value (such as nuts or fruits) and integrating whole-food supplements, such as coconut milk into the diet, rather than supplementing with a vitamin.

"Consumers are preferring to get their nutrients naturally and their health benefits naturally, vs. fortified foods or vitamin and mineral supplements," Sloan said. "This has been going on for 20 years. What's new is that it's being put into action."

Movement building
From 2009 to 2011, the data showed a 6 percent increase (36 percent to 42 percent) in the number of people making an effort to serve meals that are naturally higher in vitamins and nutrition. At the same time, vitamin and supplement users report cutting back significantly on their use, citing the following three reasons:

• A belief that the quality and benefits of nutrition in foods is best
• Pervasive doubts about the bioavailability of even the highest-quality supplements
• Concerns about the long-term effects on the digestive system

Consumers believe that vitamins and minerals are more beneficial when they are consumed in food, Sloan noted. Other trends for 2012 include:

Mini-managers – Rather than making drastic dietary changes, consumers are still buying the same staples, such as bread and pasta, but they are seeking healthier versions of those products. One study Sloan cited found that 66 percent of shoppers said they have switched to whole grain bread. Another study found that for the first time, shoppers are now considering whether a product has artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup when evaluating its nutritional value.

Bioavailability – Consumers increasingly believe nutrition plays a key role in maintaining health and staving off serious diseases, and they will seek products that help them get important nutrients, she added.
According to one study, 55 percent of consumers believe calcium is very effective for bone health; 55 percent believe fiber is very effective against colon cancer; and 38 percent believe omega vitamins are very effective for heart health.

In cases where consumers take a dietary supplement, magnesium is the fastest-growing mineral (up 25 percent in 2011). In addition, supplements that promote healthy vision are surging in popularity.

The top 10 functional food trends include: real food nutrition; mini-managers; bioavailability; protein power; plant based; gourmet nutrition; the new risks (stroke, heart attack prevention); first aid (relief from sore throat, constipation, sleeplessness); kids, dads and grannies (appealing to these groups); and liquidification.

Protein facts
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recommends choosing lean meats over higher-fat options. NCBA says 29 cuts of beef meet government guidelines for lean, with less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3-oz. serving. Each lean beef cut is a nutrient powerhouse and three times more iron than the same size serving. of a skinless chicken breast; all with, on average, only one more gram of saturated fat, per average 3- oz. serving.

Research has consistently documented beef’s significant contribution to intakes of protein and many other key nutrients such as vitamins B6 and B12, zinc, iron, niacin, phosphorus and potassium by children and adolescents without providing significantly to intakes of total fat, saturated fatty acids or sodium, NCBA adds.

Regarding chicken, relays that one 3-oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast contains 27 g of protein, containing all the amino acids essential for human health. Chicken is also a good source of selenium, which has been shown to fight cancer, have a positive effect on the incidence of other degenerative diseases plus it is an antioxidant. Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, helps in the metabolic process of protein and carbohydrates. It also assists in the production of insulin, white and red blood cells, neurotransmitters, enzymes, DNA, RNA and prostaglandins. Vitamin B3, or niacin, is also found in poultry and meat. It converts carbohydrates to energy and maintains the health of the body's cells. It also has cholesterol-lowering effects.

Pork is an excellent source of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus and protein and a “good” source of zinc and potassium, the National Pork Board relays. And turkey is low in fat and high in protein. It is an inexpensive source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins, according to the Univ. of Illinois Extension.