March 18, 2022

Too good to be true? Food trends explained

Too good to be true? Food trends explained

March is Nutrition Month

Fermented tea, milk alternatives, “impossible” meat – the grocery aisle has changed significantly over the past few years. But how do these trends stack up, nutrition-wise? We talked to a registered dietitian to learn more.

Kombucha

Kombucha tea is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. A traditional drink in China, kombucha has exploded in popularity in recent years in North America. According to industry research, kombucha is expected to become an $8 billion USD industry by 2026 – an increase from $1.3 billion USD in 2019.

Kombucha is widely seen as a health drink, with benefits including improved digestion, reduced risk of cancer and the ability to slow the aging process.

But is it too good to be true?

“More evidence-based research needs to be done on kombucha,” says Dina Daniello-Santiago, a registered dietitian with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program. “There’s really no harm in drinking it, but just be aware that there is a lack of evidence to support these health claims.”

While kombucha is seen as a great source of probiotics, Daniello-Santiago would not suggest adding it to your diet specifically to increase your intake: “Instead, I would refer my clients to other sources like yogurts, kefir and fermented vegetables like kimchi,” she says. “There’s more research on those foods, and they are often more cost effective.”

While home brewing kombucha is becoming more popular – with starter kits available on Amazon – Daniello-Santiago recommends brewing with caution. “You can run the risk of having bacteria and mold growing in the bowl if you leave it too long,” she says.

While kombucha is safe to drink for most people, those with compromised immune systems, children, pregnant women and elderly people should avoid it, says Daniello-Santiago. While it’s not considered an alcoholic beverage, the small amount of alcohol formed during fermentation, along with its caffeine content, may pose a risk for some.

Milk alternatives

Milk alternatives like oat milk and almond milk have become a hot topic recently, especially for consumers looking to move away from the environmental impact of cow’s milk. According to Agriculture Canada, sales of milk alternatives are expected to reach $469.8 million USD in 2025 – an increase from $336 million USD in 2020.

But how do milk alternatives stack up, nutrition-wise?

“The nutrient profile of cow's milk has a reputation of being the gold standard beverage, with eight grams of protein per eight-ounce cup,” says Daniello-Santiago. “In addition, it's hard to beat the quality of cow's milk proteins – 20 per cent whey and 80 per cent casein—both of which contain all nine essential amino acids.”

If you’re looking for milk alternatives, make sure they’re labelled as “fortified” or “enriched,” which means vitamins and minerals have been added. “If it’s not fortified, it is not as nutritious as cow’s milk,” Daniello-Santiago says. “It will be mostly water, starch and sugar.”

Meat alternatives

There’s no question that meat alternatives are getting closer to tasting like the real thing – just look at the popularity of Beyond Meat and Impossible Meat burgers in chains like A&W, Burger King and Tim Hortons.

As more people incorporate meat alternatives in their diet – whether due to health, environmental or animal welfare concerns – these new replacements seem to be a good fit. But how healthy are they?

Daniello-Santiago says “Choosing plant-based meats over animal meats may seem like a more healthful option, but that’s not necessarily true.” She further explains that “while it is true fake meats are plant-based, many are not made from whole ingredients. Those designed to closely imitate meat are made with food isolates and extracts rather than whole foods, such as chopped mushrooms or black beans. The more processed options often include refined ingredients and can be high in sodium, and since they are often made with coconut or palm oil, they can be high in saturated fat.”

For instance, while A&W’s Beyond Meat burger has 14 times less cholesterol than the equivalent Teen Burger, it’s higher in fat and sodium.

In general, once all the other complements (white bun with condiments, fries and soda) are added, plant-based meat alternatives are about the same as meat, nutrition-wise, she says.

Daniello-Santiago believes “Plant-based meats can fit into a healthful diet, but they’re not necessarily a health food. Whole food (unprocessed food without added salt and sugar) is always better.”

One perk of plant-based meats is introducing alternatives that can then be incorporated into daily dishes, like beans, lentils and tofu. She notes that while burgers are fun, they should be enjoyed in moderation regardless of what makes up the patty.

Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross

If you’re looking to improve your nutrition with a registered dietitian, we can help. Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get nutrition counselling support. Begin the process here.

Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.

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