Snack Expo|5 Food Trends with Impressive Health Benefits to Blow up in 2024


1. Caffeine-free is the new sober.


Every wellness newsletter I subscribe to reminds me that “sleep is everything” — from better skin to enhanced memory and athletic performance to boosted immunity. For many young people who've already opted out of cocktail culture, the next frontier is a caffeine-free or low-caffeine lifestyle since caffeine, like alcohol, disrupts sleep for most people especially when consumed in the afternoon.


An estimated 39% of coffee drinkers are actively looking to decrease their caffeine consumption, according to a recent survey. While decaffeinated options for coffee and tea have existed for decades, they may not have been the most flavorful sips. Historically, decaf has been made using chemical extraction to remove the caffeine, but newer blends are soaking unroasted beans in a water solution for several hours, which opens up the bean and allows the caffeine to be extracted. The beans are then dried and roasted.


Look for more robust decaf options in the coming year, like Figgee, a brew made from organic roasted figs.


2. Alternative proteins from unexpected sources


After pea, soy, rice, hemp and algae made their way into our food supply as alternative proteins, people are searching for even more plant-based options.


The latest to make its way into the food supply is a protein called RuBisCo (known as Rubi protein), from a leafy green plant called lemna, which requires 10 times less water than soybeans, 100 times less than beef and can sequester five times more carbon per acre than a healthy forest. Plus, since lemna grows in water, it uses absolutely no land. It can also be used in baking or as a meat alternative and has all nine essential amino acids.


Mushrooms aren't an unexpected protein source, but using the root in a variety of ways is — and that's the next fungi frontier. Mushroom root is meat-free, nutritious and doesn't require the stabilizers used in many vegan products. The brand Meati sells mushroom root nuggets, steaks, cutlets and jerky, but expect to see it in applications like deli meat, pork, gnocchi and even bread in the future. A similar product is already being used as a leather alternative.


And don’t forget the seafood! Konscious sells a line of plant-based rolls, onigiri and poke bowls. Instead of tuna and salmon, the frozen meals use a combination of konjac (a starchy, high fiber root), pea hull fiber and lycopene from tomatoes (for the red color) to make convincing dishes. Whole Foods is including plant-based spicy tuna rolls in their sushi offerings, and Seed to Surf market sells tinned “snow crab” made from enoki mushrooms. 


3. Snacks to steady blood sugar


About one in three Americans, or 89 million, have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which increases risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Snacks made of ingredients with a low impact on blood sugar — such as almonds, pecans, cheese, avocado, eggs and unsweetened Greek yogurt — seem to be everywhere these days.


Good Measure makes bars and crisps that combine almonds with other low glycemic ingredients, like soy protein, pumpkin seeds and cheddar cheese that have 5 grams or less of net carbs. And Good Idea, based in Sweden, makes a drink that can lower blood glucose when consumed with a meal. A study in overweight but otherwise healthy people found that drinking this beverage with a high carbohydrate meal helped lower blood glucose by 25%.


As with any supplement, talk to your doctor before adding products like these to your routine.  


4. A better gluten-free snack


If you’re in the nearly one-third of Americans who follow a gluten-free diet, you know that many of the snack foods you find in the gluten-free aisle are low in fiber and often packed with sweeteners. But that’s about to change thanks to a tiny seed called buckwheat, which, contrary to its name, is naturally gluten-free.


Buckwheat offers numerous health benefits. For example, it has all nine essential amino acids, helps you feel fuller longer and contains magnesium, manganese, zinc and B vitamins, which all play a role in immune system function. If you’ve enjoyed slurping soba noodles, you’ve already tried buckwheat.


Buckwheat isn’t new, but it hasn’t made its way into the mainstream food system in a big way yet. But as a major food retailer has predicted, buckwheat is about to take center stage in the grocery store. In the coming year, look for buckwheat crackers, cookies, waffle mix and even a “milk” called BAM. It can be cooked the same way you make other whole grains — in a pot on the stove or in a slow cooker. Once cooked, use buckwheat in soups, grain bowls and chili and also as a breakfast cereal.


5. Nixtamalization


When you enjoy chips and guacamole, you're munching on the results of nixtamalization, or the process of cooking and steeping dried maize (corn) kernels in a solution of water and lime (calcium hydroxide). The maize is then drained and rinsed, removing the outer kernel cover, and then it's ground to produce a dough that can be used to make chips, tortillas and tamales.


Nixtamalization, long used in Mexico and Central America, changes the nutrient profile of corn-based foods, increasing vitamin B3 and iron, boosting the calcium content and raising the amount of resistant starch. But you don’t need to understand the process at all to enjoy the crisp chips and delicious tortillas being made by Siete, Tia Lupita and Vista Hermosa using this traditional technique.


Whichever trends you decide to try, Snack Expo hope your 2024 gets off to a healthy and delicious start!

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