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14 Hot Eating Trends – Which Ones Are Actually Beneficial?

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer with more than 10 years of experience as a nutritionist. Her work is featured in the Huffington Post, DAME Magazine, The Good Men Project and more. She specializes in eating disorders and loves connecting with readers and writers via her blog and social media.

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14 Hot Eating Trends – Which Ones Are Actually Beneficial?
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Like all sciences, what we know about nutrition is constantly evolving. When it comes to sorting out dietary facts from fiction, Julie Rose Swift, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian, suggests considering the source. Does the person have reputable credentials or are they just a celebrity who is promoting the product or diet? “Also, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is," she said. While the latest dietary trends aren't the miraculous fixes some proponents claim, many do provide significant benefits. Read on to learn more about these hot eating trends.

1. Chia Seeds for Omega-3s
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According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, studies show that chia seeds, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, may help lower high cholesterol and blood pressure levels. "These tiny little seeds are a great source of fiber and can add a yummy crunch to your cereal or smoothies," said Julie Rose Swift, RD. Along with flaxseeds, chia seeds are a top plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. Particularly if you're a vegetarian or if you seldom eat fish, incorporating chia seeds into your diet routinely can help you meet your needs of these essential fats. Omega-3s provide anti-inflammatory benefits and play a vital role in brain function.

Related: Study Involving Chia Seeds Published in Journal of Nutrition (Nov 2011)

2. Agave
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Agave has become a popular alternative to corn syrup, honey and sugar. The golden nectar derived from the agave plant -- similar to a cactus -- varies from other caloric sweeteners in that it has a lower glycemic index, or impact on your blood sugar. Unlike honey which is a naturally-occurring whole food, agave is a processed sugar, created from the blue agave plant by a multi-step manufacturing process. If you do choose to consume agave for its lower glycemic index (or as a vegan alternative to honey), try to choose an organic version and remember than agave should still be considered an added sweetener, not a health food.

Related: Is Agave Nectar Safe For People With Diabetes?

3. Eating ‘Clean’
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Clean eating means eating food in its most natural non-processed state. "I consider it a way of eating that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, etc.," said Julie Rose Swift, RD. A 2009 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that eating a clean diet lowers the risk of depression in middle-aged adults. Additionally, research has shown that eating fresh fruits and vegetables can aid in the prevention and control of weight gain. To gain these “clean eating” benefits, shop the perimeter of the grocery store, and choose fresh produce, natural meats, and whole grains. Avoid purchasing or consuming processed foods.

Related: What It Means to Eat Clean

4. Friendly Bacteria
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Probiotic popularity has grown steadily over the past 5 years, according to Eat Well Global, a specialized nutrition communications agency based in New York. If you're prone to indigestion, stomach ulcers or yeast infections, probiotics may help. The friendly bacteria help restore intestinal balance and support the breakdown of food into nutrients, potentially reducing inflammation, improving energy levels, minimizing gassiness and staving off disease. Available in foods such as yogurt, kombucha and kefir with live active cultures and supplements, probiotics are generally considered safe for anyone. Supplements have been known to cause adverse reactions in some people, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, so discuss taking probiotic capsules with your doctor.

Related: Oral Probiotics: An Introduction

5. Going Nuts for Coconut Water
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Coconut water sales jumped from $40-to-$60 million per year in the U.S. between 2005 and 2010, according to Jennifer Koslo, RD. Water derived from coconuts has a mildly sweet flavor and provides valuable amounts of potassium -- an electrolyte particularly important after heavy sweat and dehydration. "Coconut water is a great alternative to soda and juice, but keep in mind that it still has calories, around 50 per cup," said Julie Rose Swift, RD. However, always remember that the best option to quench your thirst is good old H20 (a.k.a. water).

Related: Coconut Water: Is It Really "Nature's Sport Drink"?

6. Gluten-Free Grains
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About 29% of Americans were aiming to go gluten-free in 2012, according to Harry Balzer, statistical expert for NPD Group. Most of these individuals – about 72% -- have no medical need for avoiding gluten (which is prevalent in wheat, barley and rye). That said, gluten-free whole grains do present benefits, according to Julie Rose Swift, RD. "Even if you don’t [medically] need to go gluten-free, it’s great to mix up your grains and try some different ones that are naturally gluten-free, such as quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat." Each grain provides a unique blend of nutrients. For a protein punch, choose quinoa (which is actually a seed, not a grain). For blood sugar benefits, try buckwheat.

Related: Gluten Goodbye: One-Third Of Americans Say They're Trying To Shun It

7. Going Local (Locavore-ism)
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Some of the best nutrition sources could truly be in your own backyard -- or at least, in your surrounding community. The movement began in San Francisco in 2005, when a group of conscientious consumers coined the term "locavore" to promote eating locally-grown foods. "Choosing foods that are local is not only beneficial to our environment, it may be more nutritious, since some of the vitamins in produce degrade during transportation," said Julie Rose Swift, RD. Shop at your local farmers market and/or consider growing your own fruits and vegetables. For convenience, Swift recommends Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes. "Many CSAs deliver the boxes right to your doorstep," she said.

Related: Locavores

8. Juicing
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Juicing and/or fasting on juices for several days or more has grown particularly popular in recent years. While many juicing plans could present risks, such as diarrhea, fatigue and slowed metabolism, consuming pure juices could help you increase the vitamins and nutrients in your diet. "Sometimes people need to kick start their healthy eating with an easy-to-follow plan," said Julie Rose Swift, RD. "Instead of juicing, I recommend eating the whole fruits and vegetables." In other words, eating mostly fresh produce for a couple of days is healthier. When you drink juice, select cold-pressed organic varieties made from whole fruits and vegetables.

Related: LIVESTRONG.COM Editor Tries a Juice Cleanse

9. Hemp
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Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are effective ways for vegans and raw diet enthusiasts to meet their daily protein needs. In addition to containing all of the essential amino acids, hemp is also a valuable source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. "The most popular hemp products I see people eating are hemp protein powders, hemp milk and hemp seeds," said Julie Rose Swift, RD. "All are fine options, but if you are choosing hemp powder or milk, make sure you choose ones that don’t have added sugars." One tablespoon of hemp seed provides 1000 milligrams of omega-3 fats and 3.5 grams of protein.

Related: 17 Reasons Why You Need More Omega-3s in Your Diet

10. Saying "No" to GMOs (or at Least Having a Choice)
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GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are created through genetic engineering, which allows DNA from one species to be introduced into another. (For example, Stanford University has created a type of corn that includes jellyfish genes.) The techniques increase crop yields by making the new genetically-modified crops resistant to pesticides or diseases. More than 90 per cent of the corn, soy and canola crops grown in the U.S. are genetically-modified. Many foods now boast “Non-GMO Project Verified” labels, proclaiming that they contain zero or less than 1% genetically-modified ingredients. The safety of GMO foods in unknown. Purchasing GMO-free foods could help protect you from increased risks for asthma, allergies and types of cancer. NOTE: All organic food in the U.S. must be GMO-free.

Related: The “Non-GMO Project” Verified Seal

11. ‘Flexitarian’ Diet
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If you've been scaling back on meat and upping your fruit and veggie intake, you're one of 22.8 million Americans eating a vegetarian-inclined (also called "flexitarian") diet, according to a June 2013 Vegetarian Research Group study. Five percent of Americans surveyed reported interest in going fully vegetarian in the near future. Even going meatless one day per week could reduce your risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer, obesity and diabetes. To gain these benefits, choose plant-based protein sources, such as beans, lentils and quinoa, over meat most often. Other plants worth emphasizing include colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fat sources like nuts, and whole-grains.

Related: Vegetarian Statistics

12. ‘Mindful’ Eating
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Do you eat slowly and savor your meals? Or do you keep a cellphone in one hand and a fork in the other? Mindful eating is an age-old practice that's become both more challenging and important in modern times. "The concept of mindful eating is growing rapidly in awareness and popularity," said Dr. Michele May, physician and author of "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.". Mindful eating means eating with awareness of your body, food and emotions and with as little distraction as possible. Doing so can enhance portion control, stimulate a sense of gratitude and even help prevent chronic disease.

13. Going Organic
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Organic food accounts for the fastest growing segment in the food industry, according to the Organic Consumers Association. As the demand for organic fare increases, so does the supply. Organic farmers use techniques that conserve water and soil, reduce pollution and keep chemical pesticides out of animal products, grains and produce. To save money, buy in-season organic fare and shop at your local farmers market. If you have a green thumb, plant organic vegetables in your backyard.

Related: 20 Foods to ALWAYS Buy Organic (Even If You’re on a Budget)

14. Green Smoothies
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Green smoothies, one of the latest smoothie crazes, are touted by celebrities and health gurus alike. Like most foods, they vary in nutrient content depending on the ingredients. Green smoothies made with leafy vegetables like spinach or kale, can provide up to 4 grams of fiber, 5 protein grams and plenty of vitamins C, A, E and K. Green smoothies made with an apple base, however, are sugar-rich. Eight ounces of commercial apple juice contains over 25 grams of sugar, surpassing the sugar content of a frosted, custard-filled donut. To ditch the excess sugar, choose smoothies that list greens as the main ingredients – and watch out for juices with added sugars.

Related: Smoothies and Juices: the Good, the Bad, and the Delicious

What Do YOU Think?
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Have you tried any of these nutrition trends? Which seems to work best for you? Let us know in the comments below. And remember, before making any major dietary or lifestyle change, it's wise to seek counsel from your doctor.

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