Get Used to Crickets on the Menu—Here Are 13 Radical Diet Changes You’ll See in 10 Years
Thanks to new food sources (crickets, anyone?), innovations in food production, and fresh ideas about nutrition, our diet may soon swing in new directions. Here's what could be on the menu in the next decade.
You’ve probably only seen insects eaten as part of reality show challenges, but bug cuisine could be part of our reality soon enough. Cricket farming has been done in Thailand for 20 years to produce edible insects for sale, and a recent study showed it to be a sustainable means of animal food production. “Insects, in many cases, can be comparable to meat and fish in terms of nutritional value,” lead author Afton Halloran of the University of Copenhagen told Eurekalert. “The fact that we have shown here that they can be produced more environmentally sustainably than meat means that they represent a massive potential for lowering the impact of the food production.” This might not mean chowing down on the bugs directly—instead, they may be ground into powder to be used as an ingredient. Still, Americans will have to get over the “ick” factor first in order to see edible insects as future prospects for food and feed security. Bug appétit!
With the rise of the gluten-free diet, people will be rediscovering many “ancient grains” that haven’t been modified and which provide a variety of different nutrients. (Find out the health benefits of ancient grains.) One you’ve probably heard of is quinoa, but there are others that are poised to create a shift in the way we consume whole grains. “Amaranth, a staple grain in other parts of the world like South America and India, is an example of grain that is becoming more mainstream,” says Shreela Sharma, PhD, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and associate professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health. “It is a great source of protein—it’s 14 percent protein—and has a nice peppery taste.” Buckwheat is also becoming popular, and is a bit of a misnomer as it doesn’t actually contain wheat. “It had high levels of antioxidants and a nice nutty flavor,” Dr. Sharma says. Teff is another grain that may be making a reappearance. “Traditionally it is found in Ethiopian bread and Indian foods,” she says. “It is a very rich source of iron and calcium, and has a sweet flavor.” In one study, female athletes with low iron levels were able to improve them by eating teff.
Less processed food with fewer additives
Although there is definitely a movement away from so-called processed foods, it’s not processing per se but the way foods are processed that’s the problem. (You should know these sickening secrets of processed food.) “What’s so unhealthy is when a food includes ingredients that do not occur naturally in our body—for example, trans fats—and in the process the food loses its nutritional value—we call these nutritionally empty foods,” Dr. Sharma says. “Canned foods and heat-and-serve foods such as microwave dinners can be high in sodium or sugar, making them unhealthy as well.” There is a growing public awareness that highly processed foods are not good for you, but they’re cheap, taste good, and fill you up, so in the next decade we’ll be searching for more cost-effective alternatives. “These barriers need to be addressed before any broad nutritional shifts can occur,” Dr. Sharma says. As demand grows for minimally processed foods, they may become more available; for example, General Mills removed artificial colors from its cereals due to popular demand. “We are seeing an explosion of interest in fresh foods and a dramatically increased focus by consumers on the effects of food on their health,” Campbell’s CEO Denise Morrison said at a Consumer Analyst Group conference.
More sustainable farming
Agribusiness is still huge right now, but we’re making strides in awareness of the importance of sustainability—particularly because there isn’t much more land to farm without cutting down rain forests, which would have a huge environmental impact. “We need to grow more food on the current cropland,” Paul West, the co-director and lead scientist for the Global Landscapes Initiative at the University of Minnesota, told Time. “Smart farming” will use technology to help farmers better monitor the soil and their crops to produce more, cheaper. Vertical farming, which grows crops inside without soil or natural light, will help us make more efficient use of space, as will urban farming, which looks to grow food on rooftops and other city spaces. More local farming will reduce transportation costs and the environmental impact of hauling food. Although Dr. Sharma thinks these shifts are not quite here yet, “urban farming and community gardens play an important role in educating community and creating awareness around healthy eating, nutrition, farming, and agriculture,” she says. “This is critical in moving the conversation forward on food and how we eat.”
Less concern over fat and more concern over sugar
For years, fat was the enemy when it came to food. “Low-fat” products took out the fat and replaced it with sugar—but now, we’re realizing not all fats are bad, and sugar is definitely unhealthy, according to research. (Read why smart people eat fat.) “Saturated fat used to be thought of as the bad guy and was replaced with trans fats or cut out and swapped with added sugars in various processed foods,” says New Jersey-based dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. Recently “manufactures have been working to remove trans fats from many processed foods, and the proposed new nutrition labels [from the FDA, due by 2018] will identify added sugars as opposed to naturally occurring sugars in our foods.” With heightened awareness from consumers, food production will shift away from low-fat and more toward less sugar.
Food will come to us
This trend has already begun—we can order our groceries online, and meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron are growing. (Find out the delicious ways a meal delivery service will change the ways you cook.) “We are moving more and more toward an electronic service delivery platform in all forms,” Dr. Sharma says. “We keep optimizing for convenience.” According to a recent Nielsen survey, 1 in 4 U.S. adults has purchased a meal kit, and 70 percent continue to buy them after their first purchase. The drive behind them is healthy food that’s also easy—but half of consumers would be more likely to purchase them if they were less expensive, and a third would like to buy them in stores. So, “grocery stores have an opportunity to assemble the same meal components at an affordable price to open up this expanding market,” the survey found. They could even be delivered by your local grocery store, offering the same service for cheaper.
Sustainable beef and dairy
The beef and dairy industries are costly both economically and financially, and in the near future we could see a shift in the way cattle and cows are raised. (Here’s how a dairy farm brought back awesome glass milk bottles.) Thirty-three percent of the earth’s land surface is used for livestock production—but a study from the University of Cambridge may have found a better way. Called “silvopastoral” farming, shrubs and trees would be planted in grazing pastures for livestock to eat, a healthier alternative for the environment and the animals. This would allow for more animals on less land—and the study showed that the cows on this system actually produced more milk. “It is clear that silvopastoral systems increase biodiversity, improve animal welfare, and provide good working conditions while enabling a profitable farming business,” study author Donald Broom said.
Alternate animal protein sources may also include meat grown in labs. (Although it probably won’t taste as good as these all-American hamburger recipes.) First investigated as a food astronauts could eat in space, lab-grown meat now being considered a more sustainable replacement for real animal products. Research from Oxford University found, not surprisingly, that test-tube meat requires 99 percent less land and 90 percent less water. How exactly is cultured meat grown? Cells from cows or chickens are grown on a special scaffold that allows the tissue to form. They don’t count as “genetically modified” because their actual DNA has not been changed—although scientists say that is a possibility in the future to reduce the fat content or improve certain nutrients. The first test-tube hamburger was served up several years ago, and just recently the first lab-grown poultry was unveiled by Memphis Meats, which aims to have the product to consumers by 2021.
A more plant-based diet
We’re increasingly discovering the benefits of eating more plants for both our health and the environment, a trend that will continue over the next decade. (Check out the perks of a plant-based diet.) “By increasing the consumption of veggies and fruits, a person usually decreases their intake of animal products,” says Shayna Komar, RD, a dietitian at Piedmont Healthcare. “By following the ‘rainbow rule,’ eating lots of colorful veggies and fruits, you fuel your body with antioxidants.” In addition, protein from plants can lower blood pressure, your risk of heart disease, and your risk of cancer, she says. A study from Harvard showed that for every three percent increase in plant protein calories, the risk of death was reduced by 10 percent.
No restrictive diets or diet food
From Paleo to Atkins to South Beach, the last decade was dominated by trendy diets that advocated eating more of one type of food, often cutting out others all together. (Here are 10 hidden reasons your diet isn’t working.) In the next 10 years, the shift will be less toward simply losing weight and more toward being healthier overall with balanced nutrition. In addition, we’ll be turning away from “diet” food as part of the shift away from all highly processed products. According to one survey, 8 in 10 Americans think diet products aren’t as healthy as they claim to be, and 3 in 5 people believe diets aren’t actually healthy. This is a good thing—according to the CDC, as fad diets limit your nutritional intake and tend to fail. The next trend will be all about a healthy lifestyle instead.
Scientists are learning how the “good” bacteria in our gut affects our overall health—this is what’s behind the current shift toward consuming probiotics, or friendly bacteria. (Try eating these probiotic-filled foods.) But Dr. Sharma says research shows the trend may actually change the foods we want to eat in the future. “The proposed mechanism for this is that our gut bacteria send signals to our brain which then send signals regarding what we want to eat—so essentially our gut bacteria may be driving the cravings for our food,” she says. “If we can alter the gut bacteria by eating healthier foods, then we will crave healthier foods and lead healthier lives. Simple as that!”
With the move toward more plant-based foods, previously overlooked veggie sources could take center stage on your plate. (Here are the reasons you should start eating seaweed ASAP.) One of these is algae, which may sound gross to eat but is being hailed by some as “the next big superfood.” Algae is nutritionally dense, rich in omega-3s (which is why fish, higher up the food chain, are rich in them as well), protein, and other vitamins. It’s easily grown because it doesn’t require soil—just a bit of water. According to researchers in the Netherlands, the cultivation of algae could be economically feasible by 2025. And it may not be as slimy and gross as you think: Seaweed is actually algae, and anyone who’s eaten sushi rolls has had it. The food has long been part of the Japanese diet, and its antioxidants may be one reason the Japanese have the highest life expectancy in the world.
Healthier, better fast food
With the demand for healthier options, fast food and fast casual chains are changing their tune and offering more nutritious offerings, as well as better labeling as to what’s in their products. (But don’t be fooled by these “healthy” fast food choices.) The FDA has already issued new regulations for the nutrition info that needs to be provided to consumers, such as posting calorie counts on menu boards, which need to be in effect by 2018. McDonald’s has recently removed artificial preservatives from some of its offerings, and Panera doesn’t use antibiotics. Panera is also making a commitment to better animal welfare practices, which it hopes to achieve by 2024. However, “because the investment required to enact these welfare practices is considerable, we will not be able to do this alone and without the support of the broader restaurant industry and market participants,” the food chain said in a statement. It does seem, though, that the industry as a whole is headed in that direction. “The changes to nutrition labels and menu labels for restaurant are all good things coming our way because they educate the consumer on making healthier choices,” Dr. Sharma says.