top of page

Navigating 2024's top nutrition trends with insights from Registered Dietitians

New knowledge and ongoing advances in nutrition science converge with our perennial

quest for enhanced health and well-being. At the start of every year, we see predictions

about emerging nutrition trends and projections about those that are growing strongly. While 

these trends may offer promising pathways to improved wellness for some people, it’s

important to recognise the complexity of individual nutrition needs and find out if there are

any potential risks before jumping on a bandwagon.



We take a closer look at six nutrition trends that are likely to become more dominant in 2024

with insights and tips from Registered Dietitians   spokespeople for ADSA, (Association

for Dietetics in South Africa).


Trend 1 - Demystifying Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting, which is rooted in ancient practices, has seen a resurgence in popularity

for both weight loss and general health benefits. This involves periodic fasting from 8 to 16

hours  without food or drink to prompt the body to switch from carbohydrate to fat

utilization for energy.


Registered  ietitian, Carmen Basson says, “While intermittent fasting can lead to short-term

weight loss, at just 3 to 8%, its efficacy is comparable to other diet restriction methods.

Potential benefits may include changes in appetite hormones, particularly leptin reduction,

which may aid those with overweight and obesity. There is research to show that intermittent 

fasting may be beneficial for those individuals living with Type 2 diabetes as it helps to

improve blood sugar control. However, the practice doesn't appear superior to other

methods for reducing heart disease risk factors.”


One of the pitfalls of intermittent fasting can be the tendency to binge on unhealthy foods

during the eating window and care must be taken to consume good quality, nutrient-dense

meals and snacks. Another concern is where the weight loss due to intermittent fasting

comes from. Carmen explains, “All types of intermittent fasting regimes have been shown to 

help people consume less energy which in turn creates an energy deficit. However, if the

weight loss you experience comes from a reduction in muscle mass, this may lead to a

slower metabolism which can cause a weight plateau and make further weight loss harder.


The lower muscle mass may also interfere with strength and stamina resulting in

unsatisfying gym, exercise, or sports sessions. We ideally want to be losing weight from our

fat stores instead. What tends to be important here is pairing intermittent fasting with

adequate  training programmes, to ensure that muscle mass is maintained.”


Carmen’s intermittent fasting focus for 2024:


“Be careful of jumping from one weight loss trend to the next, as this can trigger or

exacerbate a poor relationship with food and with your body. In the longer-term, severe diet

restriction regimes, such as intermittent fasting  may lead to disordered eating for some. This 

is why consulting a medical professional or  dietitian before committing to such

diets, is the safest approach. The focus should be on your health, then your weight loss

goals will follow.


A number on a scale is not the only indicator of health or happiness.”


Trend 2 – Exploring eating for mental health

In our fast-paced world, the pursuit of a balanced and fulfilling life has led many to explore

unconventional paths, including the relationship between nutrition and mental well-being.

Registered Dietitian Elske Rich sheds light on the rising trend of ‘eating for mental health’,

emphasizing the impact of diet on emotional well-being. She says, “A balanced lifestyle

should not only include regular exercise but also be rich in nutritious food that has a positive

outcome on mental health. Eating for mental health is reaching new heights as the link

between what you eat and how this    happy hormones  in the body is   

more popular. Your gut health, where most of these happy hormones are produced, is

directly linked to your mood and is affected by what you eat.”


Eating for mental health includes vitamin D-rich foods, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables

and unsaturated fats like omega 3 fatty acids as research   shown that these foods may

have a positive impact on our mood and mental health. Elske advises, “We have to think

about how we can add these foods to each meal by making practical food swops, such as

choosing wholegrains over refined ones and changing out saturated fats like coconut oil or

butter for olive or canola oil, which are unsaturated fats. Examples of vitamin D rich foods

include tanned mushrooms (achieved by exposing edible mushrooms to sunlight for 10

minutes prior to cooking) and eggs. In addition, omega 3 fatty acids can be included in your

diet by regularly consuming fish and nuts.”


Elske’s eating for mental health focus for 2024:


“Dietary changes are not a substitute for seeking mental healthcare when you need

professional support. People can be under the misapprehension that eating for mental

health can make a difference overnight. As with any new lifestyle change it takes

consistency and working at it every day. Getting your mental health and emotional well-being 

to an optimum level, will take some time and adaptations. Overall, there are  fortunately, no

downsides to this trend and over the long-term taking up eating for mental health is worth the 

commitment.”


Trend 3 - Unpacking the highly processed food debate

Last year, new studies emerged to challenge the conventional wisdom of avoiding highly and

ultra-processed foods, suggesting they might not pose significant health risks. Registered

Dietitian and ADSA Spokesperson Kgadi Moabelo acknowledges that registered dietitians

and nutritionists express diverse views with some arguing that moderation is key, while

other  emphasise ongoing avoidance of these foods.


She says, “Despite recent, conflicting studies, most experts agree that prioritizing whole

foods remains a foundation for a healthy diet. There have been widespread efforts by food

manufacturers to reduce the amounts of certain ingredients such as sugar and salt in highly

or ultra-processed foods, but these foods can still pose health risks. The inclusion of artificial 

additives, preservatives, and low-nutrient-density ingredients remains a concern. These

processed foods often lack essential nutrients and the fibre found in whole foods, potentially

contributing to issues like overconsumption, weight gain, and potential long-term health

problems.”contributing to issues like overconsumption, weight gain, and potential long-term health

problems.”


Kgadi’s resolve on the highly processed foods debate for 2024:


“There is currently no consensus when it comes to highly and ultra processed foods. It’s

important to note that the rise of plant-based eating introduces a new dimension to the

processed food debate. Dietitians highlight that not all plant-based options are created

equal. Highly processed plant-based foods, laden with additives and lacking in nutritional

value, are still considered less healthy. Emphasizing whole, minimally processed plant foods

remains a key tenet for those pursuing plant-based diets.”


Trend 4 – Embracing plant-based eating

Carmen says, “It’s important to note that the movement towards more plant-based eating 

doesn’t imply vegetarianism or veganism. It simply means eating more foods derived from

plants. When it comes to nutrition trends, there are often pitfalls and concerns, but the plant-

based eating trend is one that  widely championed by dietitians. I mean what’s not to love?

This is a healthy, sustainable way of eating, and ensures that you are still consuming all food 

groups, if you prioritise plant-based whole foods while eating moderate quantities of other

foods.”


We’ve all heard of the importance of getting our ‘5-a-day’ when it comes to the consumption

of vegetables and fruits. Carmen notes that this can be a good place to start — but it may be 

an outdated concept as it doesn’t consider the 40 trillion microbes living in our gut, which all

need different types of plant foods to flourish. Carmen says, “I have been following Dr

Megan Rossi and her focus on dietary diversity as each type of beneficial gut bacteria

performs a different job inside of our gut, and each likes a different type of plant food. She

and her team have come up with this amazing system to rather aim for 30 plant points a

week which translates the science of plant diversity, into a plant points system. This is

essentially a fun, useful way to tally up your different plants consumed across the week to

give you a score. Each plant type counts as 1 point, while herbs and spices count as ¼

points. This helps to support gut biome diversity which in turn leads to increased immune

cells, increases resilience to infections, strengthens the gut barrier, improves mental health

and balances blood glucose.”


Carmen’s plant-based eating focus for 2024:


“Make a commitment to a simple change such as meatless Monday’s. These can be tasty

meals that include legumes such as lentils, baked beans, chickpeas or butter beans. If this

is a little extreme for you, start with dishes containing small portions of fish or even chicken

to reduce your red meat intake. You will find that mushrooms and brinjals make excellent

meat substitutes for numerous meal and sauce recipes. Make a habit to choose higher fibre

whole grains, which means looking at the food product label and choosing options with

greater than 6 grams of fibre per 100g of a product. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. This

can be achieved by making vegetables and salads the basis of each meal and include fruits

as well as nuts as snacks.”


Trend 5 - Approaching routine probiotic supplementation with caution

In 2023, the intensity of focus on gut health was amplified across social media channels.

TikTok-type ‘gut health gurus’ gained millions of followers offering dubious advice on treating 

gastrointestinal issues with everything from green juices to olive oil. For those looking for

solutions and improved gut health, routinely supplementing with convenient and accessible

probiotic products has become part of their striving for wellness. Elske says, “The claimed

benefits of probiotic use may include improved gut health, mental well-being and a boost to

the immune system response which has become important to many in the aftermath of

COVID-19. However, it is important to note that more research is needed on the

mechanisms at play in the body when it comes to consumed probiotics and intestinal

immune cells.”


Probiotic supplementation is traditionally prescribed by medical practitioners as an acute

measure to protect the vulnerable immune systems of children and the elderly or in the case

of antibiotic use which can negatively impact the gut biome. Elske points out that the current

trend to self-medicate probiotic supplements daily is unlikely to lead to overconsumption, but 

routine use may cause side effects such as uncomfortable bloating and nausea.


Elske’s probiotic supplementation focus for 2024:


“It’s important to know that probiotic supplements are not strictly regulated leading to

variations in quality and potency. Routine probiotic supplementation can be pricey, hiking up

your monthly budget when the efficacy is actually uncertain. You may get better results   

 using probiotics to balance gut health by focusing on consuming quality foods and drinks

that include identified probiotic strains. Yoghurt, buttermilk, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso,

kombucha and some cheeses contain probiotics that are part of the fermentation process,

and these can be included in a healthy eating regime.”


Trend 6 – Incorporating healthy snacking

Healthy snacking has emerged as a significant trend that is sure to gain momentum in 2024.

Registered dietitians attribute this surge to the growing awareness of the importance of

balanced, regular eating habits for sustained energy levels, improved metabolism, and

overall well-being. The trend reflects a shift away from the traditional three-meal structure

toward more frequent, smaller, and nutrient-dense snacks.


Kgadi says, “The healthy snacking trend is in line with the movement towards more mindful

eating, holding an awareness of when you are satisfied and making portion control easier. It

doesn’t necessarily help to reduce meal planning and food preparation time and effort as you 

still need to make sure you have sufficient healthy snacks on hand so that you can avoid

grabbing convenience options when you find you are hungry.”


Experts are divided as to whether multiple small snacks are better for overall health than

three square meals a day, and there’s no research yet that suggests that replacing meals

with healthy snacking aids in sustainable weight loss.


Kgadi’s tips for trying out healthy snacking in 2024:


“The healthy snacking trend may suit some with busy, on the go lifestyles but it can be

challenging to ensure that your eating is balanced, and portion controlled. It’s important that

your snacks include a variety of foods to meet your protein, healthy fat, energy and

micronutrient needs. For example, a boiled egg, carrot sticks and a small portion of nuts can

be a sufficient snack. Keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of water between your snacking. 

It can help to keep a snack food diary to keep track of your daily food consumption.”


Navigating these nutrition trends requires a balanced approach, focusing on whole foods,

and personalized dietary choices. Staying informed and making conscious decisions can

contribute to long-term health and well-being.


To find a registered dietitian in your area, visit www.adsa.org.za.


Comments


bottom of page