Topic of the Month

The Future of Nutrition: Outlook 2018

Julia Bird

December 20, 2017

Last month, we looked at what happened in 2017 in the world of nutrition: the decline of the clean-eating trend, strong interest in probiotics, and a continuation of the move to vegan and vegetarian foods. This month, we are going to look at the expectations for nutrition in 2018 and beyond.

Sustainability

The vegetarian and vegan nutrition trend that has been growing for several years is related not only to health, but also interest in sustainability. In major world regions in China and Europe, concern about the environment is a key driver of consumer choices, and this also relates to nutrition (Mintel, 2017). There are different ways that nutrition can contribute to sustainability, and they relate to providing nutrients and foods in a way that is kinder to the planet.

The European Commission has a broad program to support scientific research to improve the sustainability of the food supply and particular nutrients. Several examples include:

  • The TRUE project aims to boost the supply of nutritious and sustainable legumes to the food supply in Europe
  • The FOODSECURE project, which outlines issues in ensuring food security in different countries around the world
  • The use of novel protein sources in animal feed, such as proteins from waste streams and insects
  • The SEAFOODTOMORROW project is involved in improving the sustainability of seafood production

The major nutrient at the crossroads of nutrition and sustainability is protein: with an increasing population, large amounts of protein are required to maintain health. According to a recent review paper from Henchion and colleagues, 57% of protein is from plants, 18% from meat, 10% from dairy, 6% from fish and shellfish, and 9% from other animal sources. However, animal-derived protein is mainly responsible for the negative environmental effects of protein production. Nutrition research focused on novel or underused protein sources such as insects, algae, or agricultural waste streams, will be valued in the coming years. 

Research about healthy aging

Recent decades have seen increases in longevity around the globe (see the 2017 UN World Population Report).  Global life expectancy in 1975-1980 was around 60 years, while for 2017 it was expected to be around 71 years. In many regions around the world, populations are still relatively young, yet due to this increase in life expectancy, the proportion of people aged 60 years and over is growing faster than other age groups. Nutrition can play an important role in helping people to stay healthy when they age, and therefore the coming years will see considerable research focused on this subject area.

Interest in healthy aging can be seen in recent large research grants that were issued recently and should be showing first results in the coming year. For example, the role of vitamins D and K in dementia in older people is being investigated in the vitamin K laboratory at Tufts University in Boston. Another grant allows a follow-up study to be conducted to further determine the effect of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids in age-related macular degeneration, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute on Aging. The EU is also stimulating further research into aging with projects such as the possibilities for older people to use personalized nutrition to guide their lifestyle and diets.

One area of research into aging that is receiving considerable attention is how protein intake can affect muscle mass and function in older people. Several studies that are currently recruiting subjects to study this relationship further include the effect of a protein-rich yoghurt snack during exercise on muscle function, the effect of high-protein supplements on rehabilitation of older patients in the intensive care unit, and the effect of both exercise and protein supplements on muscle protein formation in older women.

Type II diabetes research

An additional focus of nutrition research in the coming years involves reducing the adverse effects of type II diabetes. The prevalence of type II diabetes has been increasing in recent decades due to obesity, and currently the World Health Organization estimates that almost one in 10 adults have the condition. It places them at risk of kidney failure, blindness, cardiovascular disease, stroke and lower limb amputation. Research programs conducted internationally include project MEMEME from the European Research Council, which is a large trial that investigates the effect of calorie restriction on the development of type II diabetes. The three of the top five US-based grants in nutrition from the National Institutes of Health in 2016 involve diabetes research. And projects such as “The Biology Behind Perceivable Benefits” in the Netherlands detail the effectiveness of certain diets in improving metabolic health.

Keep your eye on the latest nutrition research!

There are many ways to stay up-to-date on the latest happenings in nutrition science in 2018. Clinical study registries such as www.clinicaltrials.gov and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) are searchable databases that can be used to identify hot research topics and the studies that are being conducted. National and international research bodies provide information on projects that they are supporting, such as the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. and the European Commission’s Community Research and Development Innovation Service (CORDIS). Using an RSS feed reader and following the RSS feeds of your favorite nutrition journals delivers the latest research into your browser. And don’t forget to sign up for the NUTRI-FACTS newsletter or visit our news section for recent research highlights!

References

  1. Henchion M, Hayes M, Mullen AM, Fenelon M, Tiwari B. Future Protein Supply and Demand: Strategies and Factors Influencing a Sustainable Equilibrium. Foods. 2017;6(7):53. doi:10.3390/foods6070053.
  2. Mintel. 2017. China Consumer trends 2018. http://reports.mintel.com/static/trends/documents/Chinese_Consumer_Trends.pdf
  3. Mintel. 2017. Europe Consumer trends 2018. http://reports.mintel.com/static/trends/documents/European_Consumer_Trends.pdf