Hot food trends and diets as we head toward spring

February 04, 2019
Coffee and oat milk
A cup of coffee and a glass of oat milk in Charleston's Gnome Cafe. Photo by Sarah Pack

The steaming cup of coffee in a downtown Charleston vegan cafe has a frothy, light-colored layer on top. It’s not cow’s milk. Or almond milk. Or even soy milk.

It’s oat milk, dubbed the new "it" milk alternative. “I haven’t seen that much of it in the Charleston area, but there’s been a lot of talk about it nationally,” says Debbie Petitpain at the Medical University of South Carolina, where she’s a dietitian with the food service company Sodexo.

“It’s essentially — if you were to soak your oats, you know how you make your oatmeal, how there is liquid creamy liquid that kind of comes off of it? That’s essentially what it is. It froths well, so it provides people a non-dairy alternative for a latte or a cappuccino.” 

The taste of oat milk has been described as neutral and close to real milk. It has less protein than cow's milk but more fiber. It’s a little thicker, too.

The rising popularity of oat milk is one of Petitpain’s food and drink trends to watch this year. So is a push toward more plant-based proteins. “This is becoming more popular as people look at sustainable nutrition. There have been a lot of improvements in making faux meat products. And there seems to be a rekindled interest in going back to the basic beans — making them more center of the plate instead of a side dish, and experimenting with some of the old varieties people have forgotten about.” 

Petitpain also predicts we’ll see more CBD-infused food and products. CBD, which stands for cannabidiol, is a chemical compound that comes from marijuana and hemp plants but won’t get you high. In Charleston, it has appeared in beer, cocktails, tea and everything from vape oil to lip balm. 

“It is associated with a lot of health benefits, especially with helping people with anxiety and pain, and I think folks who suffer from anxiety and pain are really willing to go to great lengths to try to find something that will alleviate that,” Petitpain said. “I think that’s a lot of the motivator, not to mention people are just curious.”

She calls the research on CBD promising, but she’s not ready to recommend it just yet. “We just don’t have that robust body of research that we typically use before we make recommendations.”

When it comes to how we eat, Petitpain points to a couple of areas. “What is becoming super-trendy is intermittent fasting. There’s a large body of research that’s very interesting,” she said.

Intermittent fasting can take a lot of forms, including:

  • Only eating during an 8-hour window each day.
  • Restricting yourself to 500 or so calories two days a week and eating normally the rest of the time.
  • Fasting during the day and eating a big meal at night.

“There’s emerging research that shows it can help with blood sugar control and possibly weight loss,” Petitpain said. “And it can be a little more sustainable than just putting someone on a low-calorie diet forever, which can be overwhelming.”

She likes the idea of eating three meals a day with nothing in between. “That’s really good common sense I can get behind. Intermittent fasting is something I would support. The devil’s in the details. And it depends on your medical condition. Some people should not go extended periods of time without eating.

Petitpain also likes an older approach to eating that’s trending again, the Mediterranean diet. It was recently ranked the best diet overall by U.S. News & World Report’s panel of health experts.

“I just think as folks try other fad diets and find they’re difficult to sustain, the Mediterranean-style diet is very easy to sustain. It’s really rooted in a lot of vegetables and whole grains and liquid plant oils instead of the solid stuff. Some seafood, which for our neck of the woods is a great bonus. Maybe even that little moderate alcohol consumption,” she said.

“The good news is, there’s so much science that supports the health benefits. I celebrate the fact that it’s becoming so popular.”

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