Foods like quinoa, kale or chia no longer seem so strange. Looking after ourselves has gone beyond spending time in the gym to taking care over what we eat. Healthy eating has gone global, but as with anything that is largely Internet-based, it is constantly changing. If only a couple of years ago people seemed obsessed with recipes for green juices, for example, today we seem more interested in where we can dine out on healthy, local food. Yet this more relaxed attitude does not mean people are less concerned about what they eat.
“If the distance between producer and restaurateur diminishes, the pressure on the producer is greater,” says Josep Sucarrats, the head of Cuina magazine. Toni Massanés, the director of the Alícia Foundation, which is devoted to improving eating habits, points to the importance today of local produce. “Not so long ago kale was all the rage and now it’s cauliflower, which is something we have always grown here.”
At the same time, celebrity gurus promote foods they argue will change our lives, the so-called superfoods, which are supposed to have almost magical antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties. “It may be true that goji berries are good for you, but so is garlic. But that isn’t fashionable,” says Massanés.
One of the most recent trends is the clean label movement, in which “people want to eat food without ingredients they don’t understand, that do not appear unnatural and that clearly specify what they are, how they were produced and where they are from,” says Massanés. It is often these trends that lead to the search for superfoods. “There is no food that is better than another, the key to health is to follow a good cardiovascular diet, like the Mediterranean one,” says neurologist chef Miguel Sánchez Romera. Massanés also points to the importance of local produce because the boom in foods like chia or quinoa brings up the issue of sustainability: “Not all of us can eat everything nor have access to foods from so far away,” he says.
It is not only the effect on the planet that is important, however, but also the effects of trendy “miracle” diets on our bodies. In her books, dietician Ángela Quintas warns of drinking too many fruit juices, as far from helping us lose weight they cause our pancreas to secrete insulin, leading to “the accumulation of fat.” Meanwhile, biochemist Anthony Warner revolutionised the world of healthy eating with his book, The Angry Chef, which debunks myths about how we can detox our bodies by ingesting certain products, such as garlic or green tea. “There is no proof that this is the case,” he states.
Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow also have an influence on promoting food fads, in her case her refusal to eat carbohydrates. These trends find their way on to restaurant menus. “Not long ago I came across one place that had fermented soya with plankton and other things that did not sound very appetising,” says Sucarrats. For Massanés, celebrities and influencers are a main source for new food trends, both good and bad, while others stem from commercial interests or high profile chefs. “The healthy element has become as much a part of high gastronomy as everyday eating,” says Sucarrats.
Then there are food trends, such as the paleo diet, which mimics what our ancestors might have eaten, although Warner points out that “not even anthropologists are certain what they really ate.” Meanwhile, Massanés says that the paleo diet has never really taken off in Catalonia, although vegetarian and vegan diets are more popular, as is the new trend in flexi diets, which are mostly vegetarian diets with a little meat or fish occasionally, which “works really well in Catalonia,” according to Sucarrats.
“Gourmet popcorn is all the rage”
Among today’s top food trends are dried fruits and nuts, something “that luckily we have always eaten here,” says Massanés, who values their properties but does not consider them a superfood because “there is no food in nature that gives us all the nutrients we need, not even mother’s milk.” The expert also points to the trend in fermented food, such as yogurt, kefir or kombucha, which “have probiotics, microorganisms good for our intestines. Right now gourmet popcorn is also very trendy,” says Massanés, who adds that “because we are talking about maize, if it is made with olive oil and very little salt or sugar, it can be healthy.” As for the future, the head of the Alícia Foundation predicts that the next big thing will be pulses, which are both healthy and sustainable.