Niki Bezzant: Home-grown goodness

We're probably going to loosen up on our sugar-free diets because they're just a bit hard for most people to stick to long-term. Photo / Getty Images
We're probably going to loosen up on our sugar-free diets because they're just a bit hard for most people to stick to long-term. Photo / Getty Images

It's January, so why don't I join the trend-watchers and make some predictions for the world of food and health for 2017?

At the end of the year we can look back and laugh at how wrong I was and, most likely, what I didn't see coming.

Right now, some really positive things are going on in our food culture that point to where we're heading.

One of those is an increasing interest in where our food comes from and how it was made, raised or grown.

This idea of provenance has existed in the world of high-end restaurants and serious foodies for a long time.

But I think more and more consumers are starting to really consider this when we make our food buying decisions. This can be only a good thing.

It will mean ethically produced food becoming more accessible and better priced. And it will mean larger companies taking a closer look at how they can meet this demand, and working on their practices too.

I think this interest in provenance is connected to another trend: a move towards more whole foods.

That means foods with fewer ingredients and additives, foods with recognisable ingredients that we could have put together ourselves - nutrient-dense foods.

We saw this show up in 2016 in categories like cereal and snack bars.

In the latter case there has been an explosion of raw bars made from dried fruit, nuts and coconut.

In cereals there's a growth in simple muesli-style cereals with lots of nuts and seeds and less sugar. And you'll notice the ingredient lists are shrinking.

Another interesting and positive trend, which I think will keep growing, is an interest in eating less meat.

This doesn't necessarily mean going fully vegetarian or vegan, but rather a growing number of people looking to try a few meat-free meals in their week, and to try alternative types of plant-based protein.

Kiwis on average eat reasonable amounts of meat - less than the upper limits recommended for good health - but having a goal of eating less meat should also mean we'll eat more plants and that can be only good.

There are encouraging things going on in the drinks world, which will continue in 2017.

Sugary drinks companies are developing ranges of lower-sugar and sugar-free drinks.

They're seeing growth in these categories as we all look for less sugar, so they're working on more options.

Wouldn't it be great if low and no-sugar drinks took over the shelf space currently dominated by sugary drinks? It could happen. Watch that space.

Wine is also seeing innovation, with more low-alcohol wines emerging.

Again, this is in response to consumer demand here and overseas.

We'll see more of these in 2017, and we'll see the flavours get better and better (more like real wine!).

If wine doesn't float your boat, how about a kombucha?

Fermented stuff took off in 2016, so expect to see more of it everywhere this year: kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and fermented dairy drinks.

If it's good for our guts, it's going to go mainstream.

On a less positive note, I predict a packaging trend: more confusing claims on labels.

It has been fascinating to see the confused and - I have to assume not deliberately - confusing labelling trends that popped up last year. Think "no refined sugar" and "paleo friendly".

And what about "natural" and "wholefood"?

As long as there are no rules around what these terms mean, we can expect marketers - who are just doing their job - to make the most of it and sprinkle these claims all over the fronts of their shiny new products.

My advice is to ignore them and stick to the small print: the ingredients list and the nutrition panel.

Speaking of paleo, I can't confidently predict the end of that diet trend, although it seems it may be waning slightly.

The same with the very zealous sugar-free diets. We're probably going to loosen up on these because they're just a bit hard for most people to stick to long-term.

Confusion around sugar - what is it, where is it, what's added, what's natural and which should I avoid - will continue, however.

And speaking of sugar: a wish, more than a prediction.

That we will see our legislators be brave, take bold action, and put in place policies that will make some contribution towards curbing our obesity crisis.

A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would be a great start, along with other things like proper nutrition education in schools, legislation on marketing of unhealthy food to kids, no GST on fruit and veges and improved labelling rules.

Let's make 2017 the year we get serious about this.

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide.

- NZ Herald

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