The 11 Healthiest Food Trends of the 21st Century

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By SparkPeople Head Dietitian Becky Hand, RD, LD

Despite all the bad news out there about our collective health declining, it's easier than ever to eat right and improve your health. As 2010 draws to a close and we prepare for a healthy and happy 2011, we took a look back at the healthy eating trends that have transformed our supermarkets, our eating habits--and our lives--since the start of the 21st century. Read on to find out which 11 (in no particular order) top our list.

  1. Probiotics:

    Years ago, you would have cringed at the idea of billions of bacteria living in your intestines, but today you are probably among the millions who are looking for ways to increase these healthy guys, called probiotics. While we know that there are more than 400 different types of beneficial bacteria in the intestines, we are just beginning to uncover the various roles they play. We should definitely include foods that contain these probiotics, such as yogurt, drinkable and squeezable yogurts, fluid milk with added probiotics, fermented milk such as sweet acidophilus milk, and kefir. (You can also find probiotics in fermented vegetables such as kimchi and sauerkraut.) There is little regulation with probiotic supplements, so always talk to your doctor before using such a supplement.

  2. Farmers Markets:

    Farmers markets are popping up in communities large and small with fresh, local produce that is affordably priced available to all. Whether you are looking for a creative way to expose your family to fresh fruits and veggies, wanting to support your local farmer, searching for more organic options, or showing support for environmentally friendly and sustainable farming practices, the local farmers market has something for everyone.

  3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: After the fat-free craze of the 90s, a superstar fat took center stage. Found in flaxseed, fatty fish, soybeans, and walnuts, omega-3 fatty acids do a body good. These essential polyunsaturated fats have been shown to be beneficial in heart health, bone health, mental health, intestinal health and more!

  4. Better-for-You Yogurt:

    A few years back, yogurt hit its low point: sugary granola, cookie bits, and even chocolate candies were mixed in, and some varieties had more than two tablespoons of sugar (in addition to the natural milk sugars). Lower-sugar and plain yogurt have made resurgence on supermarket shelves, as has Greek-style yogurt, which due to the straining process is higher in protein, and usually lower in carbohydrates and calcium. Thick and tangy, it's livening up dips, replacing mayo and sour cream, and becoming a tart swap for whipped cream on health menus everywhere. Without all the sugar and additives, yogurts real health benefits can shine.

  5. The Rise of Mixed Greens (and Decline of Iceberg):

    Goodbye pale iceberg, hello leafy dark greens. Yes, the likes of spinach, romaine, collard, and kale have added color, texture and taste along with an ample additional of fiber, vitamins and mineral to our salads and cooked vegetable side dishes. From fast food joints all the way up to the finest steakhouses, you can find salads with some heft to them. Your palate and your body will thank you for choosing a more nutritious salad blend.

  6. Healthier Restaurant Food:

    You asked for it, you got it and you were in shock! That’s right, you wanted to be an informed consumer and know the nutritional breakdown of your favorite restaurant and fast food selections. Then when you saw it in print you gasped in horror at the damage you were doing to your body. Giant hamburgers and biggie fries climbed to more than 2,000 calories and an entire day's allowance of fat. Thank heavens that restaurants and fast food joints have started to help out by offering complete meal selections for fewer than 500 calories, along with baked chips, apple slices, carrot sticks, and yogurt as side options.

  7. Whole Grains for Everyone: Finally, the truth is out… carbohydrates aren’t evil, you just have to know how to select the healthier, whole-grain types in the correct portion sizes and amounts. Awareness and consumer demand has greatly increased your options, and it's easier than ever to find tasty and healthy whole-grain foods. With selections such as whole grain breads, crackers, and cereals, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta, it’s easy to stock up your pantry shelves. It is reassuring to know that you can now provide your body with the energy needed and feed your brain as well by easily selecting your whole-grain products.

  8. Healthier Breakfast Cereals:

    Remember those mornings when you gulped down bowl after bowl of brightly colored, sweetened shapes of highly refined grains that turned your milk pink or blue? You were fascinated by the cartoon character on the box, or the prize inside, and you didn’t realize that you were easily consuming a quarter cup of sugar along the way. This was the typical childhood breakfast for most of us, but the healthy alternatives were boring! Flash forward to today, when the grocery shelves are lined with healthier options that are now made with the whole grain and contain less sugar and more fiber and protein. No longer tasting like cardboard, these cereals can make everyone in the family happy. Top with some fruit and low-fat milk, and you do finally have a breakfast for a champion.

  9. Ready-to-Eat Vegetables and Fruits:

    Steam packs, prechopped/washed slices and stick, a wider variety in the freezer case, and individual portion packs--they're a healthy eater's dream comes true. They're washed, prepped and ready to consume--a busy parent's secret weapon. Canned portion packs of fruits are perfect for anyone’s lunch. A freezer full of vegetable blends can turn any veggie hater into a veggie-connoisseur. You might be paying a bit more, but if you'll actually eat more vegetables, then it's worth it.

  10. Fiber, Fantastic Fiber:

    It’s been a well-known fact that different types of fiber have numerous health benefits in the body. Fiber is involved in the lowering of cholesterol levels, controlling blood sugar levels, preventing certain types of cancer, and of course maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal tract. However, when fiber was shown to be involved in helping with hunger management during weight loss, it took on a life of its own. While searching for high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, you will likely come across foods that are highly fortified with fiber. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, as this "stealth fiber" is teaching us.

  11. Eating Meat, but Less of It:

    In the words of journalist Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” While meat is an excellent source of protein that is used by the body to maintain muscle mass and provide satiety during weight loss, it still needs to be viewed as a side dish, not the main entrée. That means including a 3-4 ounce cooked portion of lean meat, beef, pork, or fish that covers just 1/4 of your 9-inch plate. Be adventuresome as well, and expand your recipe repertoire to include several meatless meals each week using soy products, beans, legumes, and nuts. Join the movement for Meatless Monday.

Which of these trends have most significantly impacted the way you eat?

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MNABOY 4/21/2020
Thanks! Report
KOALA_BEAR 1/27/2020
This article is out of date. The new imitation meat especially burger trend us horrid! More chemicals in so called good. Meat has iron & B vitamins & humans do well eating it. I can see not having it at every meal & eating more vegetables but I prefer to add more fish & seafood. Never ate much cold breakfast cereal, odd bring I lived fairly close to "cereal city" but we had farm fresh eggs most days; sometimes oatmeal or farina, or french toast. I was raised eating rye or pumpernickel toast. Allergies to dairy means no yogurt Greek or otherwise except nondairy & I limit those due to the processing. If I'm having any digestive issues (which is rare) I'll try to eat some homemade sauerkraut or drink an ACV blend; otherwise I do eat green apples & a banana almost daily. These aren't trends. It's foods that have kept people healthy for years so look to our ancestors & eat raw or minimally handled food in season as soon after harvest as possible. Report
ALUKOWSKY 10/8/2019
I switched from fat-free regular yogurt to fat-free Greek yogurt. I DIDN'T like it at first (too thick), but appreciated the higher protein content. As for the rest of the foods mentioned -- those are things I've ALWAYS eaten, so they weren't new to me. (I don't eat meat, though.) Report
DGRIFFITH51 6/22/2019
Because brown rice takes so long to cook, I prepare a large batch then pack 1 or 2 cups in freezer bags. When I pack it in the bags I flatten it so it is eady to stack in the freezer and wuicker to thaw. Report
Great list but I feel soy is not good Report
Good information - thanks for the reinforcement of facts. Report
Good information. Report
Thanks! Report
It's crazy to think that we have improved diets but not enough to correct the harms. Hopefully we'll see the universal impact of putting knowledge to trial in my lifetime. In the past 5 years, my family has lost a lot of weight, eat mostly vegetarian and ditched breakfast cereals and most items with a lot of added sugars! Report
Trying to wean my Midwestern-born hubbie from the 'meat and potatoes' mentality. Will certainly try some veggie rich recipes this year. I am searching SparkPeople recipes and finding them really good! I'm a convert to Greek yougurt - love the texture and the protein. Report
Trying to wean my Midwestern-born hubbie from the 'meat and potatoes' mentality. Will certainly try some veggie rich recipes this year. I am searching SparkPeople recipes and finding them really good! I'm a convert to Greek yougurt - love the texture and the protein. Report
I love Greek yogurt! And fiber is a staple in every single one of my meals! :) Awesome entry! Thanks so much! Report
g8 article Report
I really enjoyed this article! It's nice to see the evolution of the food industry! Report
How about none of the above? I grew up with this stuff so none of it is new to be, but I'm glad companies like this website are making an effort. Trends, food guide pyramid, whatever you want to call it isn't going to work for everyone, it's as simple as that. Yogurt makes me sick, I have a dairy allergy. Omega 3s are great, but farmed salmon (instead of wild) is one of the most toxic foods you can eat. I personally need to eat more animal meat, as that's when I feel my best. I learned this the hard way being a vegetarian for a few years.

Everyone is different. The important thing is to make the best choices within what you're choosing to eat. Like lean, grass-fed beef instead of conventional beef, wild alaskan salmon instead of farmed atlantic salmon, greek yogurt instead of dannon brand yogurt, and so on. Report
I think the kimchi comment is a little over-reactive. I Googled it, and sure, there's a lot of information about the potential correlation between kimchi and stomach cancer. But nowhere did I find a link to any double-blind studies that factor out lifestyle and environmental factors and prove causation.

We are talking about just one of many ways that someone can get more probiotics in their system. As a once-in-a-while thing, I see no problem with kimchi. As with all foods, good and bad, there is such a thing as too much. I mean, too many carrots will turn you an orange-ish color.

Okay, soapbox aside, I really enjoyed this article, especially the links to all the other articles! I'm already pretty into most of this stuff. The fact that it is really going mainstream just means it should get easier in the future to procure good and healthy food! Report
Kimchi is widely thought to cause stomach cancer. Google it and you will find many articles on the subject. A little more checking in the future might be nice. Report
The meatless trend has had a great impact on my diet over the past 6 months. Some health issues led me to investigate the links between diet and cancer and I found some of the research shocking. Since then, I've reduced my meat intake to meat once or twice a week now -- it used to be once or twice a day. Dairy and eggs are more challenging for me, but I consider it all progress. Also, reading "Food Matters" by Mark Bittman gave me some insights into the environmental impact of eating meat.

Although I love farmers markets (they have been a part of my shopping routine for about 2-3 years now) I'm hoping that CSA's (community shared agriculture) will become more popular with time. I joined my first one this past summer and loved it... Report
Soy is not necessarily a bad choice, what is not good is PROCESSED soy. Report
All of these are important in my diet.

I make my own yogurt.

I make my own cereal (muesli made of oats oven-toasted with cinnamon & an assortment of nuts/seeds.

Regarding whole grain breads: "White whole wheat" flour is now available in the bakery aisles of many stores. It's a variety of wheat that is still a whole grain but lighter in color & texture. I use it as a substitute for white/unbleached flour in many recipes, & it works beautifully.

One trend that isn't listed in this blog post: fresh herbs! They are more available than ever these days. I grow my own on my back porch--basil, chives, oregano, thyme, sage, mint, parsley. This winter I brought them in to see if they can survive the winter under a south-facing window. Report
Thanks for the article. I love knowing I get some of it right. I will try some new things, too. Thanks again. Pam Report
Great article! I liked the links to the additional articles as well. Report
I want to add more fish to my diet. I love it I just forget about it while grocery shopping. Must remember......FISH!!!!!! Report
This article made me feel MARVELOUS .... only because apparently I am now finally doing almost everything RIGHT when it comes to eating!!!! Took almost 42 years to do it .... BUT I'M THERE!!! =) Report
While much of this is good, I can't believe that you're still recommending meatless meals made with soy or soy products. Not only are the macronutrient profiles poor for soy, but the heavy processing of soy to make human food substitutes is abysmally terrible for us. Instead of soy, choose meatless meals based around vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes -- particularly lentils and adzuki beans, which are high in protein and easy for most people to digest. As a bonus, they're also high in fiber -- the real stuff. Report
Great list - happy to say I'm on board with all but the probiotics (as an additive). Report
The Greek yogurt is my favorite - it is not as bitter and the texture feels so much richer and smoother.

Aside from that there wasn't anything all that 'new' to me foodwise in 2010.
Wonder what will come to light in 2011??? Report
Thanks for this blog, I like having all the foods in one place. I'm big on yogurt & berries and baby spring mix salad greens. Report
I love purple kale, stir fry with one tsp of olive oil. Delicious! Report
Iceberg has been my go-to food for the lettuce binges ... well, it's a different eating disorder than the one I used to have ... lol

Greek yogurt is very expensive, but fits in nicely within nutrition-per-calorie constraints ...

Keep it coming. I shop at a lot of Oriental health food stores. Flexitarian down from pescetarian down from healthy-eating omnivore ... Report
A keeper indeed! Report
we love the farmer's market and have really felt the impact of the ecomomy has had on our ability to visit it as frequently as we once did, we do yogurts and have added more whole grains. Report
Wonderful article! I especially appreciated all the links to additional articles to continue learning. Report
Added this one to my "favorites"! It's a keeper! Report
Enjoyed the article! Report
Great blog! full of good nutrition (mental and physical).

For me the greater availability of whole grain items and the upsurge of (real) Greek yogurt are the two biggest blessings. And, now living in the fruitful Northwest, farmers markets are ubiquitous--so I've learned the joy of knowing some of my foods' growers by name! How's that for 'neighborly'?

Happy new year. Report
Which of these trends have impacted how I eat? How about ALL OF THEM? These aren't trends, they're new knowledge that I am happy to incorporate into my lifestyle. I eat Greek yogurt every day, pile on my plate a wide range of greens, and chow down on whole grains at almost every meal. Hopefully, this year I can even step it up a notch from Farmer's Market to CSA for the bulk of my produce, eggs, and dairy.
WOW, what a GREAT article! I've saved it to favorites so I can make sure I read all the links. THANK YOU, thank you, thank you for this great list! Information is power! Report
I shop at a "Health Food Store" as I like organic food. I am very careful about any meat I buy, and I don't want ANY fish from China, after reading about the pollution they have. Report
an excellent article, great reminder and makes you feel good to know about the good things that happened to the food variety in markets all around. there is so much talk about things going bad bad bad Report
65 years ago my parents taught us almost all of these food ideas. They ate plain yogurt that was almost like sour milk, it had no added fruit, etc. They went to an old mill to buy stone ground wheat and other healthy flours. My mother raised a huge vegetable garden and we all loved our veggies. What happened to food in the interim is unbelievable! Report
Heard about Greek Yogurt but now feel more informed. Next time I go to the store think I'll check out the Greek Yogurt and give it a try. Thanks! Report
I have started eating pro biotic yogurt this year, frequenting the farmer's markets, and eating MUCH less meat! I would like to work on getting more greens in this next year though. I eat a lot of lettuce and spinach. But, I would like to add more of a variety :) Report
I love this...I, too, started eating Greek yogurt and found it so yummy! Report
Overall, I'm happy to see that people are finally going back to natural, unprocessed foods. I was guilty myself, too. I used to think that as long as a food was labeled fat-free, sugar-free, etc, etc that it was healthy, regardless of the fact that it was processed. I now try to eat as many "real" foods as possible - fresh fruits and veggies, lean meat and dairy, (unprocessed) whole grains, oils, nuts, etc. I ditched foods with "fake" added fiber, artificial sweeteners, etc. Of course, I believe everything in moderation and I sometimes do indulge in "unhealthy" foods. Overall, I try to stick to natural, unprocessed foods and feel great! Report
I've totally fallen for Greek yogurt and all its versatility. I keep a container of plain lowfat (or nonfat) Greek yogurt in the fridge all the time and use it in place of sour cream for savory dishes and dressings. I also make my own fruit-and-yogurt cups with frozen berries and good jam (see how-to here: ). Report
This is fantastic! The blog (and all the links) answered a lot of my questions and taught me about things I'd never heard of before--like "stealth" fiber. Thanks for pulling all of info together to make it easy to find. Report