How people eat and what they choose to eat is changing. Over the past 10 years, food has taken on a greater value and sense of importance. Besides being a source of fuel and enjoyment, food, research shows, may be an effective tool in taking care of one’s health and a means of beating the odds of developing certain diseases, such as heart disease or some kinds of cancer. Given this new role for food, what’s the outlook for food in the future? Here are two trends being forecast.

Functional foods will flourish-Functional foods are foods or food ingredients that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Examples of functional foods are juices fortified with calcium to help protect against osteoporosis, margarine that can lower cholesterol levels, and cereals fortified with folic acid to reduce the risk of certain birth defects. The development of these types of products is the fastest growing segment of the food industry.

Watch for an explosion of new products promising to help you fend off disease. There already are beverages brimming with antioxidants to hopefully protect against cancer or colds, healthful bacteria added to yogurt that may help strengthen the immune system, and fiber added to cereals or breads that may help lower cholesterol levels.

Surveys show that shoppers believe eating certain kinds of foods may help them reduce their need for medication and help them stay well. One-third of consumers actually select a food because it has a specific medicinal purpose. Some of the hot health issues in the future will be food products for:

  • Intestinal problems
  • Joint health (such as arthritis)
  • Vision
  • Hormonal changes (to help relieve menopausal symptoms)
  • Emotional distress (foods to replenish and relax the body)

Farm crops that pack a nutritional punch are also being developed. For example, “super carrots” are being sold in California. They contain 170 percent of the vitamin A you need in a day as well as one-fourth of the calcium. More and more of these souped-up foods will line grocery store shelves soon.

Fresh and natural foods will gain fans-These traits are selling points for consumers. With a trend toward “back to nature,” the adjectives “fresh” and “natural” on product labels are quickly becoming persuasive terms. Watch for an increasing number of foods to convey this message through their packaging, their ingredients, their appearance and their smell.

The organic food market is also expected to thrive. Add that to the “food-as-medicine” trend, plus the interest in fresh and natural foods, and the result will be a strong movement toward eating more earth-friendly, plant-based foods-fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These kinds of foods show significant promise as a way to improve health.