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My Take On ​Forty Years Of Diet Trends As A Nutrition Expert


If there's one thing that has been consistent about diets over the last forty years, it's that there is always something new to try.

Thankfully, as of late, there has been a bit more consistency in promoting balanced nutrition and a healthy, active lifestyle. This year, with our nutrition company celebrating 40 years of changing people's lives with great nutrition products, I found myself entertained by re-living the evolution of diet trends and food preferences over the last four decades.

What was 'Happen'en' in the 1980s

The eighties were a time of low-fat, high carb diets and trends. It was all about reducing fat from any source — even the healthy fats — and eating a lot of carbohydrates (including plenty of sugar) which are considered by many to be a huge diet "no-no" today.

The diet fads were fascinating:

  • The Cabbage Soup Diet basically consisted of water and cabbage. Is it any surprise people lost weight? They of course also missed out on plenty of vitamins, minerals and protein, too.
  • The Beverly Hills Diet focused on food combining, guiding people to avoid eating carbs and protein at the same time. This also led to weight loss, but not because of any magical effect of food combining. Since proteins and carbs couldn't be eaten at the same time, meals were just naturally a lot smaller.
  • Diet centers became popular, many of which promoted and sold frozen meals. But the true key to their success was the support and coaching they offered – an approach that still has legs today!
  • Nutrient-rich meal replacements also took hold, primarily through formal, medically supervised weight-loss programs. Then companies (like Herbalife Nutrition) came along with a supportive business model for successful weight loss through improved nutrition via meal replacement shakes, enhanced personal care, coaching and support, and the added business opportunity.

The 1990s: All That and a Bag of Non-fat Chips

Low-fat, high carb diets were still all the rage, so plenty of "fat free" items - like cookies and snack foods - started hitting the market, leading many to believe they could eat all the fat-free treats they wanted without gaining weight. But these "fat free" foods were not "calorie free," and people soon realized that consuming large amounts of fat-free foods led to weight gain — so diets began moving to a more balanced approach.

Popular diets of this decade included:

  • The Zone Diet recommended that each meal should consist of 40% of calories from carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from fat, marking a decided shift from the very low-fat diets of the 1980s.
  • The Blood Type diet made different nutrient recommendations based on an individual's blood type. While this trend has been debunked, it sparked the interest, or maybe even demonstrated foresight, into a trend towards "personalized nutrition," which is currently a hot topic.
  • The Subway Diet was a riff on the meal replacement idea, using a meal of a sandwich, baked chips and diet soda to replace two meals a day.
  • Interest in the Mediterranean Diet also started to surge, as studies began to support the health benefits of this eating pattern which places emphasis on whole plant foods, healthy fats form nuts and olive oil, and minimal intake of refined carbohydrates, including sugar.

In the nineties, we also saw a healthy push towards more fiber, and vegetarianism started to become more mainstream as soy and grain-based veggie burgers started to hit the mainstream market. The no-calorie fat substitute, Olestra, became a popular ingredient for a number of fried snack food items, but was quickly abandoned since it was not absorbed in the body and caused plenty of digestive distress.

The USDA Food Pyramid was also introduced in 1992, and the FDA passed the DSHEA Legislation in 1994 which defined and regulated how supplements were labeled and manufactured, leading to a vitamin and supplement boom.

These Were 'Poppin' in the 2000s

The new century also brought a big shift in eating, with a shift towards higher protein and lower carbs. Over time food manufacturers began to come out with more low-carb options to meet this growing trend. But, as with the low-fat craze of the 1980's, many consumers overate these low-carb (but not low-calorie!) foods and had trouble reaching their weight-loss goals.

Three admitted millennium favorites:

  • The Atkins Diet started to take hold — again. Essentially a very low carb diet, Atkins was originally popularized in the 1960's, and revised over and over.
  • Master Cleanse — a celebrity favorite — consisted of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, a bit of honey and water, and was the Cabbage Soup Diet of the new millennium.
  • The Special K diet became the new version of The Subway Diet, touting cereal and milk as a twice-daily meal replacement and, therefore, a way to manage portion and calorie control.

The raw foods movement also kicked off but stayed niche, since it appealed mostly to vegans. Over-the-counter fat-blockers became available and trans fats were demonized as information came out about how dangerous they were to heart health. "Supersize Me," the documentary that showed the dangers of supersized fast food meals, led McDonalds to end its supersizing practice soon after the film debuted. The food of the decade was bacon; green tea started its heyday; smoothie stores popped up on every corner, and "organic" and "local" food items started entering the mainstream.

The 2010s Were So 'Extra'

Now looking back at the last decade of food trends and habits, we find keto and paleo diets taking prominence over the last ten years, along with a newer eating trend known as intermittent fasting.

These four diets were everything:

  • The Baby Food Diet was driven around the portion-control theme, with adults eating jars of baby food instead of regular meals, but it just wasn't something most people could sustain. It also obviously made restaurant dining impossible.
  • Gluten-Free Diets became really popular as a weight loss strategy since they naturally eliminated wheat-containing foods from the diet in the form of bread, pasta and cereals. But once food manufacturers figured out how to remove the gluten (and keep the calories!), weight loss efforts were, again, stifled.
  • The Paleo Diet was designed to mimic the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, which many believe is more aligned with our genetic makeup. This eating pattern includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, while eliminating dairy, grains and beans.
  • Intermittent Fasting has several variations, but currently the most popular form is one in which all your food for the day is consumed within an 8-hour window while you fast for the remaining 16 hours. While this may be a natural way to cut back on calories – since for most people it means eliminating at least one meal - it can impact nutrient intake if careful choices aren't made.

During the past decade, food trucks popped up everywhere, and meatless meat became mainstream, with the newest meat alternatives providing a flavor profile similar to actual meat and meant to satisfy veggie burger naysayers. Milk replacements — from soy, pea, nuts or oats — appeared everywhere, worrying the dairy farming industry. Good fats ruled, while butter coffee took off as part of the ever-popular Keto diet.

New Decade, Same Trends

So here we are, entering the 2020s, and our fifth decade as a Company. What's next? While trends, ideas of healthy diets and popular food items have definitely evolved over the last forty years, it was definitely interesting to see a pattern of those trends that will continue to stick around:

  • Weight Loss —Through these decades, we've seen that people are always seeking options to manage their weight. Obesity is a growing concern, with predictions that half of the US population will be obese by 2030. Our Company has been on the right side of this trend for forty years, promoting a healthy, active lifestyle, with nutrient-dense and low-calorie options that promote good nutrition and health.
  • Pre-portioned Food and Support Systems — A proven concept since the 80's, people have turned to meal replacements or pre-portioned solutions for a number of years, but often without any guidance. This demonstrates the importance and need for educating consumers about nutrition and healthy habits, which is provided by our entrepreneurial distributors.
  • Personalized Nutrition — We are seeing - and expect to see - more personalized approaches to eating in the 2020's. The truth is that people respond differently to different diets, so as a nutrition company, we expect customization to continue to gain momentum based on individual goals—which is why we offer an array of customizable products and nutrition plans which we believe will better help our customers reach their personal goals.
  • Plant-based Diets and Sustainable Ingredients — Now more than ever, people are realizing the importance of a balanced diet. In fact, the Mediterranean Diet, which first came into prominence in the early 1990's, was named Best Diet Overall for 2020 by US News and World Report. Factoring in the impact on the climate and environment, plant-based and sustainable ingredients (hello meatless meat trend!) will continue to grow in popularity as people consider how their food choices impact themselves and the earth.

Cheers to a healthy 2020 and beyond!

3 Min Read

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.