Now appearing in your grocery store: a cart full of new products boasting all types of health benefits. Our team of experts dishes on the latest fads—and whether they're worth the hype.
1 The trend: Gluten-be-gone. With all the buzz, you'd think gluten-free foods are the hottest thing since sliced (wheat-free) bread. The craze was prompted by the growing number of people diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where the gut is unable to absorb certain nutrients including the gluten found in wheat, oats, barley and rye. Processed foods now boasting the gluten-free claim include crackers, flours, cookies, cereals, pastas, nutrition bars and frozen meals. Our take: Despite the new star status and improved quality of gluten-free options, if you have no medical reason to avoid gluten, don't cut wheat out of your diet, especially whole-grain sources.
2 The trend: Anti up! The cancer-fighting buzzword "antioxidant" is holding strong. Red wine vinegars, snack bars and juices are just some of the new products featuring added antioxidants that promise to help protect your body from cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging. Look for flavanols (antioxidants that promote healthy circulation) to hit the mainstream in cocoa drinks. Our take: Scientists have uncovered only a tiny percentage of the total number of antioxidants, so stick to natural sources, like colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts, chocolate and dried spices.
3 The trend: Good for the gut. Eating for better digestive health is a trend that continues to grow. Fiber is popping up in fruit juices, ice cream and sugary cereals. Probiotics, those beneficial bacteria that promote healthy digestion, are moving beyond yogurts and into soy beverages, fruit drinks and even sugar substitutes. Our take: Your ideal choices for fiber-rich foods should be minimally processed and provide 4g or more of fiber per serving. And check labels of probiotic products to make sure they contain live, active cultures to get the most bang for your buck.
4 The trend: Fat is back. The fat-phobic phase appears to be over. Heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, naturally found in nuts, avocados and plant-based oils are now proudly touted on product labels. Omega-3 fatty acids are appearing in all types of fortified foods like cheese, milk, juices and even baby food, promising to nourish your heart and brain. There's no doubt that these fatty acids are beneficial but the question remains, how much is too much? Our take: For now, stick to natural sources and ask your doctor or registered dietitian if you need a supplement.
5 The trend: Sugar subs, redefined. Competition in the sugar substitute market is heating up with dozens of new options on board including stevia and sucralose. These sweeteners may contribute zero calories, but the jury is still out on whether sugar substitutes help or hurt overall when it comes to weight management. Our take: Your best bet? Use all sweeteners in moderation.