The 5 Best Healthy Food Trends 2020

A look back at the healthy food trends 2020

Just 12 months ago, most of us had no idea what Covid-19 was. Nor could we have predicted the myriad ways the pandemic has changed society. From the wearing of masks to a shortage of toilet paper to the race for a Covid-19 vaccine – and, most importantly, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost. The new coronavirus has turned our world upside down.

It has also drastically changed the way we eat. As many as 85 percent of Americans report having changed their eating and shopping habits this year, according to the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2020 Food & Health Survey.

In January, we looked into the crystal ball and suspected that adaptogens, alternative flours, plant-based foods and gluten-free swaps would be among the top healthy eating trends of 2020. Many of those were true. But they steered clear of unexpected healthy food trends like sourdough bread baking stress, an increase in snacking and a booming bean industry.

So now that we’ve been there, survived that year-long rollercoaster, let’s look back at the positive changes we’ve made. Here are the top healthy food trends of 2020 that dietitians hope will continue into 2021.

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Cook at home more often

While restaurant delivery has taken a leap, indoor and even outdoor dining is restricted or required to close in many states. The same IFIC survey also showed that 60 percent of us cook at home more often. In addition, 64 percent of a pool of 2,000 Americans polled by the research firm Highland reported spending less on restaurant meals in 2020.

“From a nutritional standpoint, that probably means less added fat, sodium, and sugar than one would normally find in prepared or takeout meals,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, founder of Nutrition Starring YOU and author of The protein-rich breakfast club. “Hopefully people have learned cooking skills and tried new foods that they will continue to consume once life in America gets a little bit back to normal.”

(If you still want to order, read here how to safely enjoy takeout during the coronavirus.)

Online grocery shopping

Filling virtual carts became a national pastime as Americans tried to avoid supermarket crowds or queues due to capacity constraints. According to the 2020 Coresight Research US Online Grocery Survey, more than half of us have shopped online this year, double the number of those who did just two years ago.

That’s good news for avoiding germs. But it may not be so great in regards to the convenience of nutritional information. According to a study published in October 2020 in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, about 15 percent of foods sold online do not contain complete information about nutrition or ingredients. As a result, more leg work is needed to make informed, healthy choices.

Amazon, Walmart, and Target — the three most shopped for virtual grocers in that Coresight survey — often mention these. But if you find yourself short, you can Google the product for the brand website to find the details.

(Would you rather go to a real store? Here are the foods nutritionists buy at Costco.)

Prioritize plant-based protein

“During the pandemic, there were concerns about meat availability, encouraging people to try alternatives,” says Gabby Geerts, RD, a registered dietitian with Green Chef in Boulder, Colorado.

There were also workplace safety concerns for those working in meat processing plants forced to stay open, as well as mounting scientific evidence that replacing red meat with plant-based proteins may lower the risk of heart disease. (Here are the 15 sources of high-quality plant-based protein to try.)

“There is an increase in awareness and education about vegetable protein,” says Geerts. “Not only can it have health benefits – reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke; longer lifespan and quality of life, but it is also better for the environment and sustainability initiatives. Read labels carefully and focus on natural plant proteins, such as beans and nuts.”

In fact, people who have been dieting in the past year are more likely than the average American to report eating more protein from plant sources (41 percent versus 18 percent), Harris-Pincus says.

“Vegetable protein is a hot topic in the food world with food cost and sustainability a top priority for some, and better nutrition a goal for others. Fiber, whole grains and protein from plant sources are considered the healthiest food choices,” explains Harris-Pincus.

“This increases consumer curiosity to try all the new plant-based ‘faux meat’ products on the market, such as Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat and Incogmeato,” she adds. “From a nutritional point of view, it’s important that people focus first on whole food sources of plant proteins, such as legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. And enjoy the more processed meat substitutes in moderation.”

(Here are some plant-based food trends for 2021.)

Eat more chickpeas (no hummus)

Remember those beans we mentioned? Of course, we use garbanzos well in hummus, falafel, curries and soups. But we also devour our share of foods fortified with chickpea components. We’re talking pizza bases made with chickpea flour, ice cream with incognito chickpeas, and sandwich spreads with vegan mayonnaise stabilized by aquafaba (the liquid part of a can of chickpeas that can serve as an egg substitute).

“Chickpeas are one of those great plant-based protein sources, with half a cup containing about seven grams of protein and five grams of fiber,” says Geerts. “They are incredibly versatile and offer a gluten-free option that can mimic the texture of the carbs in bread, crusts and chips. Toast for a crunchy texture, puree into a sauce, puree into a fritter or just boil and sprinkle over a salad. (Here’s a full rundown on chickpea nutrition facts.)

(Prefer hummus? Here’s how to make your own hummus.)

Eating more fermented foods

These gut health breakthroughs have changed the way we eat this decade (see: The Probiotic-Fortified Greek Yogurt Palooza, Circa 2010). But 2020 has brought gut bacteria even more to the fore as we increase our evidence on its impact on two very hot topics: mental health and immunity.

As a result, the availability and sales of everything from kimchi to hard kombucha are rising. (By the way, if you love kombucha, you must try this tepache recipe.)

“The more we learn about fermented foods, the more we encourage consumption,” says Geerts. “They have positive effects on our gastrointestinal tract and immune system by providing beneficial probiotic bacteria that can help increase the levels of naturally protective immune cells called neutrophils that circulate in the blood.”

For a taste of what’s to come in the next 365 days, check out what our friends are up to Taste of Home think will be new in 2021 and next in the world of food.

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