Diet Trends 2017

From food allergies to veganism and low-carb diets, the world of eating is transforming right before our eyes.

Spencer
Spencer
Aug 14, 2017 · 9 min read

Take a look below at the Google search trends for some (currently) popular diets.

When you look at the graph above, what do you see? Do you see a budding diet industry waiting to be tapped? Do you see a hype cycle, driven by preachy leaders with a cult following? Or do you see a more promising, cruelty-free future for animals?

Whatever your first thoughts are, there is no doubt of the upward trend. For three out of the five there is a positive rate of change in Google searches. Veganism may be at its peak, with the recent releases of What The Health and Okja on Netflix, but could possibly still be rising. Ketogenic diets are picking up steam in the biohacking, body building, and weight loss-enthusiast communities. Paleo has all but subsided from its 2014 peak, and vegetarianism and pescetarian seem to be holding constant.

Many, if not all of these trends may be cyclical. Remember the Atkins diet? Lately it’s been reborn in the form of low carb diets — see the recent upward trend of “low carbohydrate” below. Likewise, the “ketogenic diet” is a very restrictive type of low carb diet.

Let’s take a more in depth look at these diets — where did they come from and when did they arise? Are they driven by just a few evangelists or is there a broader trend? First let’s understand the reason behind different diets and then we’ll dive into current trends and the stories behind them.

Classifying Dietary Restrictions

There are three main classes of dietary restrictions:
1. Food Allergies & Diabetes
2. Dietary Preferences
3. Religious Constraints

Food Allergies & Diabetes

Food allergies in American children increased 50% from 1997 to 2011 and there is further indication that they are increasing worldwide. While scientists don’t completely understand the cause of food allergies, there are some measures that can prevent allergy development in young children, especially peanut allergies.

CNN and other media outlets have proposed that the Western diet, high in processed sugars and unhealthy fats, is source of the problem.

“One theory is that the Western diet has made people more susceptible to developing allergies and other illnesses.” — CNN

Scientists have proposed that such a diet leads to the loss of gut bacteria that can fight off the inflammation caused by common food allergens.

For this set of people, dining out is a nightmare. Even the slightest trace of an allergen in their food will cause an anaphylactic reaction.

According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), this sort of reaction sends someone to the ER every three minutes, resulting in more than 200,000 hospital visits and nearly 200 deaths.

You might wonder then…how do people with food allergies eat out at restaurants? And the most common answer is…they don’t.

If they do happen to venture into the arena of restaurant eating it requires a tedious back and forth process between the waiter, the chef, and the customer to meticulously plan which foods they can eat.

Religious Constraints

Diets based on religious beliefs can have a profound impact on global food demand — Halal food accounted for 16.6% of global food purchases in 2012 and a growing Muslim population will continue to grow up this number.

In both Kosher diets (followed by Jews) and Halal diets (followed by Muslims), pork is prohibited and there are constraints on how an animal must be slaughtered. In general, Kosher meats are considered Halal but not the other way around (i.e. Kosher meat is a more narrow definition).

Halal law prohibits all intoxicants. Kosher law allows wine but prohibits eating meat and dairy in the same meal.

Dietary Preferences

Do you know someone that is vegan? gluten-free? paleo? keto? These are the types of diets that wax in wane in popularity over the years (even within them), since they’re not bound to a religious belief or deathly allergy.

There was the vinegar and water diet in the 1800s, then calorie restriction in the early 1900s. America went low-fat in the 90s and health concerns about eating meat arose in the 2000s. It’s safe to say that the fads are here to stay, even though what you see today may not be the same thing as yesterday.

Diet Trends

With a better understanding of what leads people to choose a specific diet, if any, we can take a critical look at recent trends. Then we can hypothesize if it is a fad or not.

Low-Carb

Nutritionist Robert Atkins forever changed the world of dieting with his 2001 book Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution where Atkins’ prescribed diet promoted weight loss while allowing an unlimited amount of protein and fat. The golden nugget was limiting carbs to less than 20g a day, which involves cutting out all breads and starchy foods.

The diet has since been disproved for long-term sustainable weight loss, with many studies showing a rebound in weight after adherence to the diet lapses. A systematic review of low-carb diets found that weight loss is associated with only the duration of the diet and the restriction of energy intake, not with carbohydrate restriction itself. It seems that the low-carb diet works for the first 6 months, but after 12 adherence drops and weight of the control and diet groups converge.

Low carb diets have many names: Atkins, South Beach, ketogenic amongst others. Keep an eye out for the recycling and repackaging of this one.

Trend: Rebounding lately.

Fad? If past performance is any indicator of the future, then yes.

Paleo

The paleo diet reached its zenith at the end of 2013, when it was the most searched-diet term on Google. Consisting of “what our ancestors ate”, it is mirrors a low-carb, high-protein diet. Unfortunately we don’t have accurate records of what our Stone Age ancestors ate, and the health claims lack scientific backing.

Trend: Decreasing after its 2014 peak

Fad? Yes. The diet seems to have gained popularity starting in 2010 and peaking in 2014. This popularity most likely stemmed from stories of influencers adopting the diet and having the results blown up by media. The decline of interest regarding the diet suggests that the diet does not in fact provide the health benefits once promised.

Vegan

Veganism is centered around being cruelty-free towards animals, but has become more mainstream in recent years because of a collective shift in awareness on issues like the health benefits of plant-based diets and concerns over the impact of the meat and dairy industries on the environment.

Trend: Increasing quickly.

Fad? Most likely not. Veganism is a values-based lifestyle, and so most likely those who pick it up are more likely to stay with it long term.

Vegetarian

Vegetarianism is nothing new. “Pythagorean” was actually the term used to qualify people in Europe who abstained from animal flesh up until at least the 6th century, as Pythagoras himself was vegetarian.

Vegetarianism practically disappeared from everywhere except India until re-emerging during the Renaissance and gaining widespread popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries when the first Vegetarian Society was founded in the UK in 1847.

There is likely to be some osmosis from the vegan communities to vegetarianism since some of the environmental and health benefits can be achieved on the less strict vegetarian diet.

Trend: Constant

Fad? No.

Gluten-free

There is a notable rise in the prevalence of a gluten-free diet, spurred on by more public awareness of gluten-sensitivity, an (unfounded) perception that eating gluten-free is healthier for the general population, and the availability of gluten-free products. Some argue that the wheat and grains we’re eating today are different enough from ancestral grains to cause problems digesting them.

About 18 million people in the US are estimated to be gluten-intolerant, or non-celiac gluten sensitive (NCGS), with symptoms identified under irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — bloating, abdominal pain, irregular bowel movements. Testing for NCGS can be expensive so many parents have been testing gluten-free diets on their children instead of waiting for a diagnosis, contributing to the upward trend.

On the other hand, FODMAPs (“Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols”), a group of poorly digested carbs, can also lead to IBS symptoms. A low-FODMAP diet has been successful in distinguishing the cause of these symptoms.

Trend: Increasing until 2014, constant until present

Fad? Only for those without Celiacs or NCGS. Maybe an increased awareness to gluten-sensitivity has driven those without NCGS to try a gluten-free diet, or maybe there is just an increase in undiscovered diagnoses.

Kosher

Trend: Decreasing/Constant

Fad? Definitely not. Keeping kosher is a religious constraint. The slight decrease in Kosher queries is more likely due to the fact that religion is becoming less important to millennials.

Halal

What could be the cause for the increase in Halal queries? Well, the world’s Muslim population is increasing, a wave of xenophobia has washed over the West, or maybe millennials just think the food tastes better.

Trend: Increasing

Fad: No. The world’s share of Muslims is increasing disproportionate to population growth rates, and diets based on religion are more stable over time than those based on health.

Food Allergies

Although we have seen an increase in food allergies in children over the last decade, parents have likely always been concerned about their children’s health, and so the search trend is constant.

Trend: Constant

Fad? No.

Conclusion

We have more choices for our food than ever before. And Americans, as author Michael Pollan puts it, “have never had a single, strong stable culinary tradition to guide us.”

“Americans have never had a single, strong, stable culinary tradition to guide us” ~ Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

So the problem is that as a society we sway from one fad diet to another, addicted to the thought of losing weight, optimizing health, or just trying something new.

Diets based on moral values or religious beliefs stand up to the earthquake of changing popular opinion. Veganism is gaining popularity because of public exposure to animals’ living conditions and the detrimental effect of eating meat on the environment. Halal trends upwards because of an increase in Muslims throughout the world. Like other health based fad diets, low carb was gone yesterday, here today, and will be gone tomorrow.

Thanks for reading, if you liked this longer form let me know with 🙌 below! I’m a content producer for The Edible Project, a technology company that is helping people discover food for their lifestyle.

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