popular foods

From vilified to verified: Popular foods that most of us wouldn’t touch a few years ago

From chia to palm oil, registered dietitian nutritionist Felicia
Stoler says America’s food evolution is keeping her on her toes.

Felicia Stoler spends a lot of time in supermarkets. The popular registered dietitian nutritionist and author reads a lot of food labels, which enables her to spot many dietary trends. When she looks back at what we were eating (or refusing to eat) just a few years ago, she’s slightly amused. “People can’t seem to get enough of certain foods that they were snubbing their noses at a few years ago,” she comments. “There are several popular foods that were even demonized not too long ago. But now that we’ve learned about their overall nutritional value, demand is climbing.”

Stoler’s favorite examples include:

  • Chia: “I used to think chia was only used to make those funny-looking chia pets. I never heard of people actually eating it. Now it’s in everything. And with good reason: it’s easy to sprinkle chia onto foods to get a little more dietary fiber. Nearly all of us need more of that.”
  • Quinoa: “No one could even pronounce this a few years ago. We certainly didn’t know what it was or how it could be used in our recipes. Now it’s the new “it” grain, often replacing rice and pasta in our meals.”
  • Palm oil: “Remember the whole ‘get palm kernel oil out of our movie popcorn’ thing? Now we’ve learned that there’s a huge difference between palm kernel oil and palm fruit oil. Leave the palm kernel oil behind. Palm fruit oil isn’t just a fat. It’s one of nature’s best sources of vitamin E tocotrienols, which are being studied for everything from their cardiovascular and brain benefits to their ability to support skin health. Certainly, no one is looking at butter or other vegetable oils and getting excited about their health benefits.”
  • Dark chocolate: “We were once a milk chocolate society. Now everyone is clamoring for dark chocolate. This is a little counterintuitive because people don’t have an inherent preference for bitter foods. As with arugula (another food that wasn’t on our plates until a few years ago), bitter foods are an acquired taste. We work hard to like them because of their health benefits.”
  • Fair trade foods: “We have become a more global society, and our supermarkets are an excellent example of the impact that’s having on our everyday lives. Americans are becoming more aware of where our food – such as coffee and chocolate – is sourced. We’re concerned about the harvesting conditions and environmental impact. Palm oil may be the next on this list. I’ve been to Malaysia, where the palm oil industry is a model for sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. The palm oil industry is making it possible for small family farmers to make a good living.”
  • Kale: “This used to be the cheap greens used as garnishes at the deli counter. No one actually ate this. Now we know it’s a mighty food in terms of its nutritional value.”
  • Agave: “Up until a few years ago, the only thing most of us knew about agave is that it is used to make tequila. Now nearly every supermarket offers an array of agave sweeteners.”
  • Sugar: “And speaking of sweeteners, sugar was on many people’s most-hated list. Now they’d rather have sugar than high-fructose corn syrup. In fact, we’re seeing an increased demand for colas that advertise “real sugar” as one of their ingredients. I still don’t recommend added sugar, by the way. It has no nutritional value other than calories.”
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Reviewing her list of foods and ingredients that have gone from reviled to revered, Stoler is quick to point out that there are very few foods that are absolute no-nos. “Some foods are certainly better options for us than others,” she explains. “Those are the ones that should find their way into your grocery carts and onto your dinner table.”

Felicia Stoler is a member of Media Relations Inc.’s panel of highly respected third-party experts. She is compensated to express her own professional opinions, through the media, about certain products.

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