Fad Diet Trends

Jo Lewis, British Diatetic Association
06/06/2017 - 07:30
The casual dining sector will have seen fads come and go with great regularity, but what trends should operators be looking for to provide consistent messages on healthy eating to customers? Jo Lewis at The British Dietetic Association explains

In this article the project lead for the British Dietetic Association’s ‘BDA Work Ready Programme’ (a workplace health initiative) outlines some of the pitfalls in keeping up with these trends, and puts the spotlight on some of the more outlandish propositions cropping up on the high street.

Food trends keep eating out interesting, helping customers explore new tastes, ingredients and dishes. Dietitians have a mantra that ‘there’s no such thing as bad food, only a bad diet’, meaning that we should be aiming for overall balance across a day or week rather than overly focussing on one food type or meal occasion.

Nonetheless, a food trend shifts into what the BDA sees as a ‘fad’ diet when someone’s recommended eating plan restricts a particular food group which may then restricts a particular key nutrient. Decades of evidence from nutrition scientists and large population studies show that variety, balance and including all key food groups are what make up a healthy diet.

The BDA come across a large range of fad diets in their work, and no doubt the eating out sector is also bewildered by how to address the diversity of customer requests. The critical point is many of the fad diet claims have absolutely no basis in science or fact and add to the general sense of confusion amongst the public about what constitutes a healthy diet.

Some fads are simply strange while others can be actively harmful. This is particularly the case when claims are made about the curative properties of certain diets - people who have chronic health conditions or diseases can be especially vulnerable to the advice offered by charismatic ‘health gurus’.

Faddy language and pseudoscience are not just restricted to diet books or self-styled healthy eating  ‘experts’ on blogs and Instagram – there are a whole range of restaurants catering to those on a ‘detox’, ‘alkaline’ or ‘raw food’ diet.

We also see larger chains latching onto these same trends, with ‘superfoods’ and ‘clean eating’ particularly popular. KFC’s spoof ‘clean eating’ burger with cauliflower bun advert in March was a send up of the trend for so called ‘super’ ingredients. 
 
While it is positive that more restaurants are offering healthy options and being more open about the ingredients and nutrition content of the food they are selling, it is also important that the sector take responsibility for how they market these products, and does not make unfounded claims about the foods they are selling.

Health and wellbeing is becoming ever more ingrained into food and drink operators’ policies but it is a complex area which is important to get right. Not only do customers expect good practices from operators, they also expect to be informed and reassured over what they are being offered on menus and supporting promotional materials.

Consumers are quite sceptical of health claims made by food companies –  and over half of adults (52%) think that popular superfoods are used in products as an excuse to charge more (Mintel’s ‘Attitudes to Healthy Eating – UK’ report (February 2017). These views are diluting the value of nutritional claims as a selling point. As such, the food industry - and by extension the eating out sector - stands to benefit from raising awareness of the work done to scrutinise such claims and the communication related to them.

Dietitians and registered nutritionists can help the sector by providing expertise on the latest evidence supporting food trends, how to communicate responsibly in an engaging way and by recommending dietary analysis software to support menu coding.

To get in touch with a BDA member to help your business visit www.bda.uk.com

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