Assessing the Top Nutrition Trends of 2023 (Part Two)

In Part One of this series, we explored three top nutrition trends from 2023: sustainability, personalized nutrition, and functional foods. Click here to read Part One. In this article, we will continue reviewing some of the top health and nutrition trends this year.

Non-Alcoholic Beverages

Although alcohol sales spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, the “sober curious” movement has since increased and is now becoming a part of the mainstream.[1] Several factors have contributed to this trend, making it an increasingly predictable and significant part of the beverage industry:

1. Health and Wellness
Although the purported benefits of very light or moderate drinking, such as having a glass of red wine with dinner, are still frequently discussed, consumers have been aware for a long time of the generally negative health consequences associated with consuming alcohol: liver damage, high blood pressure, cancer risk, weakened immune system, addiction, insomnia, and more. It is no surprise that as more people focus on adopting healthier lifestyle choices, the decision to reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption is increasingly popular.

Whereas previously, non-alcoholic beverages might have been the domain of recovering alcoholics, health-conscious consumers less concerned about dependency and addiction are now increasingly contributing to this trend. Only 17% of people drinking low- or non-alcoholic beverages abstain from all alcohol.[2] Reinforcing this trend is the growing popularity of “better-for-you” alcoholic beverages, including products with fewer calories or less sugar.[3] Whether “better-for-you” alcoholic beverages are genuinely better for you is a more nuanced question, but there is no denying the growing demand, with consumption increasing by 20% from 2021–2022.

2. Social and Cultural Shifts
In addition to choosing non-alcoholic beverages for health reasons, consumers are increasingly experimenting with decreasing their alcohol consumption for social reasons. Although there is some overlap between the two, some drinkers are choosing to skip alcohol for reasons entirely unrelated to health concerns. Maybe the best indication of this shift is the generational split in consumption: surveys show that younger Americans are more likely to drink less or not at all. Millennials are more likely than Generation X or baby boomers to participate in annual sober events like Dry January[3] and have also been driving reduced beer sales,[4] but members of Generation Z are drinking least of all—20% less than other generations did at their age.[5]

Younger individuals like these are less likely to be motivated by health concerns than their parents or grandparents; they are less likely to be dealing with those health concerns, period. So, what is driving their reduced consumption? In some cases, they might be trying to spend less, but generally, it is also more common for drinking to feature less in their social lives. One beverage industry analyst suggested that the youngest consumers no longer believe drinking is fashionable.[4]

3. New Products
Finally, the major players in the industry are seizing the opportunity to cater to changing consumer preferences. Plus, numerous non-alcoholic beverage startups are appearing in the mainstream, with products in grocery stores worldwide. Producers include Athletic Brewing Co., Surely, and Curious Elixirs.[1] The potential profit for startups like these is not insubstantial: “Total dollar sales of non-alcoholic drinks in the US stood at $395 million, showing a year-on-year growth of +20.6% [from August 2021–August 2022].”[6]

Finally, there is an increased emphasis on producing higher quality non-alcoholic drinks for a more diverse range of experiences. Mixologists are experimenting with many unique ingredients—including hemp, bark, fig extracts, and different roots—to produce craft cocktails with complex flavor profiles capable of competing with their alcoholic counterparts.[1]

The trend toward healthier and more mindful living, social changes, and the increasing availability of high-quality non-alcoholic beverages suggests that this shift in consumer preferences could continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Learn more: Alcohol: 16 Reasons to Rethink Your Drink

2023 nutrition trends

Gut Health

The rising popularity of gut health reflects a growing awareness of the importance of a healthy gut microbiome for overall well-being. The gut microbiome is a complex community of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes, both helpful and potentially harmful, that reside in the gastrointestinal tract. “These ‘bugs’ coexist peacefully,” in healthy individuals, “with the largest numbers found in the small and large intestines but also throughout the body.”[7] Research has increasingly shown that the balance and diversity of these microorganisms play a crucial role in various aspects of health, from digestion and immune function to mental well-being. Several factors contribute to the rising popularity of gut health:

1. Increased Appreciation for the Gut-Body Link
Although there remains much to learn about gut health, it seems researchers are constantly uncovering new connections between what happens in our gut and other aspects of our health. The evidence is now overwhelming—we know that our actions and environments not only affect but also radically determine the quality of our gut microbiota. This influence occurs throughout the lifetime, as you might expect, but also during birth and even in utero.[8] For better or worse, our lifestyle habits, environmental exposures, medications, stress levels, and sleep quality affect the gut microbiome. Of course, so do our diets. Fiber, in particular, is critical to maintaining a healthy balance and diversity in our microbiome because fiber is what good gut bacteria feed on. (Learn more: Fiber and the Immune System; Top Foods for Gut Health)

The connection between dysbiosis (imbalanced and deficient gut microbiota) and intestinal symptoms is easy to visualize. What is more novel and fascinating is the mounting evidence of the gut’s extraintestinal reach, including the bidirectional relationship between the brain, the gut, and the gut microbiome, often referred to as the microbiota-gut-brain axis, with researchers already determining multiple channels for communication between the components of this system.[9] In particular, researchers are exploring the link between the gut microbiome and many common disorders, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, migraine, epilepsy, and sleep disorders.[8][10][11]

This scientific validation has fueled public interest and contributed to the popularity of gut health. As researchers continue to explore these webs of interaction, the effects of nutrition on gut health are sure to take an even more prominent place in our thinking.

2. Increased Prevalence of Digestive Issues
It is no coincidence that gut health has become such a hot topic. Data from 2022 showed that almost 40% of Americans had to stop routine activities—including exercise, running errands, and socializing—in the previous year due to uncomfortable bowel symptoms.[12] The most common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms—heartburn, indigestion, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, etc.—are endemic in the US and many other countries. According to data from a nationally representative survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans are burdened by these symptoms, reporting at least one symptom in the past week.[13]

Finally, critically, seemingly mild or moderate digestive symptoms can also be the precursors of chronic digestive diseases, which collectively represent some of the most deadly and costly diseases, affecting twenty million Americans. These diseases are the third most expensive economically among all illnesses, accounting for a quarter of all surgeries, and are the number one cause of hospitalization.[14]

3. The Marketing of “Gut-Healthy” Products
The food and beverage industry has responded to this trend similarly to how it has responded to the low- or no-alcohol trend—product development and marketing have exploded. The global market size for digestive health products is forecasted to increase from 51.7 billion in 2022 to 98.4 billion by the end of the decade.[15]

The dairy industry, in particular, is leveraging the growing appetite for gut-healthy foods, as the probiotics found in fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir are thought to contribute to a healthier gut microbiome. However, according to gastroenterologist Dr. Angie Sadeghi, the purported benefits of probiotics in those products need to be balanced against dairy’s potential health risks: eczema, acne, diarrhea, gas, bloating, abdominal pain, worsening of IBS, and more. Furthermore, decades of experimental research have shown the cancer-promoting potential of dietary animal protein, specifically casein, the principal protein of cow’s milk.

Other popular digestive health products include kombucha, sauerkraut, fortified sports drinks, and digestive enzyme supplements in the form of pills, capsules, powders, or liquids. As you might expect, there is also a lot of overlap between these products and some of the other major nutrition trends discussed in this and the previous article. Witness the convergence: “It is anticipated that the use of functional ingredients, such as prebiotics and probiotics, would rise in non-alcoholic drinks, which will subsequently help the market’s expansion.”[15] Finally, “The difference in individual responsiveness [to dietary interventions] based on the gut microbiota has the potential to become an important research approach for personalized nutrition and health management.”[16]

Although the increasing interest in gut health seems to underscore a broader shift toward a more wholistic understanding of health that considers the interconnectedness of various bodily systems, as research in this field continues to evolve, it is likely the emphasis on gut health and its role in overall wellness will present in a more reductionist manner—with the increasing sale of supplements and so-called functional foods. We must approach gut health with a balanced perspective and make informed lifestyle choices based on the broader body of evidence. And remember, also, that it is more than possible to support a thriving gut without specialist products. Indeed, you can support gut health by consuming a natural diet that contains a wide range of whole plant foods.

Learn more about gut health and nutrition in our Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate.

2023 nutrition trends

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is an increasingly popular practice that encourages individuals to pay attention to the experience of eating, fostering a heightened awareness of the sensory aspects of food and the cues that guide hunger and satiety. Rooted in secular mindfulness practices that have origins in various religious and meditation traditions, eating this way can have numerous health benefits. Here are a few key aspects of mindful eating:

1. Present Awareness . . . Without Distractions
Mindful eating encourages individuals to be fully present during meals, engaging their senses to experience the colors, textures, smells, and flavors of food. This presence helps people savor the eating experience rather than consuming food automatically or distractedly. Minimizing distractions, such as watching TV or scrolling through your phone, is critical to overcoming mindless eating.

2. Listening to Hunger and Satiety Cues
The more present we are, the better we can tune in to signals of hunger and fullness, which help us to eat only when genuinely hungry, to stop when satisfied, and to pay attention to the subtle cues that indicate satiety. This mindful approach can help prevent overeating and promote a balanced relationship with food.

3. Honing the Mind-Body Connection
By slowing down and paying attention to how different foods make you feel, even just in the act of chewing, and by recognizing emotional or stress-related triggers for eating, individuals can develop a deeper appreciation for what is happening in their bodies while nourishing it.

4. Practicing Moderation and Balance
Although mindful eating does not prescribe a specific diet, its emphasis on moderation and balance harmonizes excellently with eating wholesome, diverse foods. That is not to say any diets are inherently mindful—it is possible to eat a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) meal just as mindlessly as the next person—but certain foods do lend themselves especially well to this practice. For instance, you might find it easier to engage with a nutritious salad full of fresh veggies from your garden than with a Big Mac.

5. Exercising Non-Judgmental Awareness
Practitioners of mindful eating aim to observe their thoughts and feelings about food without judgment. This type of awareness involves recognizing and accepting thoughts without attaching labels of good or bad. By adopting a non-judgmental attitude, individuals can foster a healthier relationship with food and reduce emotional or stress-related eating.

6. Showing Gratitude
Finally, mindful eating often involves cultivating gratitude for the food and acknowledging the effort required for its production and distribution. This practice encourages a positive and appreciative attitude toward nourishing the body. Adding this simple step to your meal times can profoundly impact your mental and emotional well-being.

Together, these six principles may be effective in helping to treat patients with eating disorders and obesity; research has also shown that mindful eating is associated with the types and quantity of food people eat.[17] For instance, higher levels of mindfulness have been associated with choosing fruit rather than sweets as a snack. Conversely, research has shown that distracted eating, particularly eating while watching television, leads to greater food intake.[18]

Learn more: 5 Essential Tips for Mindful Eating; Top Tips on Mindful Eating for Balance

References

  1. Knickerbocker K. 24 non-alcoholic beverage startups to quench your thirst all year long. PitchBook Blog. January 19, 2023. https://pitchbook.com/blog/top-non-alcoholic-beverage-startups
  2. Overproof. Alcohol trends 2023: key factors shaping the industry this year. November 10, 2022. https://overproof.com/2022/11/10/alcohol-trends-2023/
  3. Kelley K. Alcoholic beverage consumption statistics and trends 2023. PennState Extension. February 14, 2023. https://extension.psu.edu/alcoholic-beverage-consumption-statistics-and-trends-2023
  4. Taylor K. Millennials are dragging down beer sales—but Gen Z marks a ‘turning point’ that will cause an even bigger problem for the industry. Business Insider. Accessed December 4, 2023. https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-gen-z-drag-down-beer-sales-2018-2?r=US&IR=T
  5. Howarth J. 6 important alcohol industry trends (2023–2026). Exploding Topics Blog. September 5, 2023. https://explodingtopics.com/blog/alcohol-industry-trends
  6. Nielsen IQ. Non-alcoholic beverage trends in the US. October 28, 2022. https://nielseniq.com/global/en/insights/education/2022/non-alcoholic-beverage-trends-in-the-us/
  7. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Microbiome. Accessed December 4, 2023. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
  8. Góralczyk-Bińkowska A, Szmajda-Krygier D, Kozłowska E. The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis in Psychiatric Disorders. Int J Mol Sci. 2022;23(19):11245. Published 2022 Sep 24. doi:10.3390/ijms231911245
  9. Mayer EA, Nance K, Chen S. The Gut-Brain Axis. Annu Rev Med. 2022;73:439-453. doi:10.1146/annurev-med-042320-014032
  10. Socała K, Doboszewska U, Szopa A, et al. The role of microbiota-gut-brain axis in neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders. Pharmacol Res. 2021;172:105840. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2021.105840
  11. Wang Z, Wang Z, Lu T, et al. The microbiota-gut-brain axis in sleep disorders. Sleep Med Rev. 2022;65:101691. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2022.101691
  12. American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). New survey finds forty percent of Americans’ daily lives are disrupted by digestive troubles. September 14, 2022. https://gastro.org/press-releases/new-survey-finds-forty-percent-of-americans-daily-lives-are-disrupted-by-digestive-troubles/
  13. Almario CV, Ballal ML, Chey WD, Nordstrom C, Khanna D, Spiegel BMR. Burden of Gastrointestinal Symptoms in the United States: Results of a Nationally Representative Survey of Over 71,000 Americans. Am J Gastroenterol. 2018;113(11):1701-1710. doi:10.1038/s41395-018-0256-8
  14. GI Alliance. Digestive disease continues to rise among Americans. Gastroenterology blog. February 23, 2021. https://gialliance.com/gastroenterology-blog/digestive-disease-continues-to-rise-among-americans
  15. SkyQuest. Global Digestive Health Products Market Size, Share, Growth Analysis, By Product(Dairy Products, Bakery & Cereals), By Ingredient(Prebiotics, Probiotics) – Industry Forecast 2023-2030. January 2023; accessed December 4, 2023. https://www.skyquestt.com/report/digestive-health-products-market#:~:text=Global%20Digestive%20Health%20Products%20Market%20Insights,period%20(2023%2D2030).
  16. Song EJ, Shin JH. Personalized Diets based on the Gut Microbiome as a Target for Health Maintenance: from Current Evidence to Future Possibilities. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2022;32(12):1497-1505. doi:10.4014/jmb.2209.09050
  17. Fung TT, Long MW, Hung P, Cheung LW. An Expanded Model for Mindful Eating for Health Promotion and Sustainability: Issues and Challenges for Dietetics Practice. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(7):1081-1086. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2016.03.013
  18. Ogden J, Coop N, Cousins C, et al. Distraction, the desire to eat and food intake. Towards an expanded model of mindless eating. Appetite. 2013;62:119-126. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2012.11.023

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