By Caroline Young, MS, RD, LD, RYT
As I researched and interviewed for this article, something struck me: the pandemic is now shaping our behaviors and intentions and guiding our attention. Several of the highest-ranked nutrition trends seem to be in response to the side effects of COVID-19.
Here’s a dive into five of the top expected nutrition trends for 2022:
1. Eating for Mental Wellness
Since the pandemic began, people have been experiencing poorer mental health, including anxiety and depression, both in the United States  and worldwide .
In my own work as an RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist), I find the link between adequate nutrition and mental health is often forgotten. While nutrition is only one piece of the puzzle of the well-being of a human, it’s a powerful one. Without regular, adequate, relatively balanced, and pleasurable food intake, anxiety and depression become more likely and harder to manage.
“I generally recommend people eat foods they enjoy and when possible, include a variety of colors and flavors in their diet,” said Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN of Bucket List Tummy and Nutrition for Running. “We also know from research that getting sufficient amounts of each macronutrient will help overall wellness, so building a plate with whole grain carbs, [good] fats and protein [like peanuts and peanut butter], plus colorful produce optional fresh, dried or frozen, is recommended, rather than skipping out on any macronutrient groups.”
To Schlichter’s point, restricting food and cutting out food groups – like carbs, which is the most demonized macronutrient lately – is a form of stress on the body and mind. She also shared her hope for people to be able to share more pleasurable meals in connection with loved ones.
“Enjoying foods with others is part of a 'normal' and healthy relationship with food.”
2. Gut Health
While the topic of gut health has been around for years, it’s still a popular one this year. And it’s for the same reason the first trend is on consumers’ radar -- stress from COVID.
"Stress itself (yes, the pandemic has been stressful!) can induce digestive symptoms, as the gut and brain are highly linked via the gut-brain axis," said digestive health expert Kate Scarlata, MPH, RDN, LDN. “Alterations in our gut flora can impact what neurotransmitters are produced, which can impact mood unfavorably.”
According to Scarlata, diet changes can change the gut microbiome.
Generally, prebiotics and probiotics are a good place to start when eating for gut health. Prebiotics, which promote growth of healthy gut bacteria, are found in foods like green veggies, berries, oats, legumes and nuts (including peanuts). Probiotics are healthy bacteria that add to the existing bacteria population in the gut, and examples are fermented foods like yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut.
But if you’re experiencing GI distress, it’s best to consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in gut health.
3. Gentle Nutrition
While extreme and fad diets are still popular, wheels are slowly turning in a different direction when it comes to how we nourish our bodies and relate to food. Intuitive Eating, a way of eating that began in the 1990s, includes 10 principles – one of which is gentle nutrition.
“As more and more people realize the harms of dieting, and as body positivity becomes more mainstream, intuitive eating and gentle nutrition will continue to rise in popularity in 2022,” said Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, intuitive eating counselor and author of Gentle Nutrition. “People are looking for more holistic ways to care for their body and mind, and intuitive eating provides tools for just that.”
Hartley describes gentle nutrition as a way of eating that focuses on well-being over weight loss. “It's flexible, individualized and focuses on the big picture of one’s eating patterns over time, rather than obsessing over every meal and snack … gentle nutrition respects that all foods fit and that eating pleasurable is an important aspect of honoring one's health.”
Adding more of our favorite fruits and sources of unsaturated fats, like peanuts, avocados, and olive oil, into meals or snack times, is one example of a gentle nutrition goal.
Hartley also emphasized that nutrition should be individualized, which is one characteristic of gentle nutrition. “People are realizing more and more that food is a personal thing, and rather than prescribing one size fits all nutrition advice, there will be more of an understanding that what's helpful for one may not be helpful for all.”
4. Plant-Based Eating
Even though plant-based eating has been popular for well over a decade now, it’s not going anywhere, according to Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, the Plant-Powered Dietitian.
“Whether it’s just eating more flexitarian or even taking a vegetarian or vegan challenge for the new year, many people are reducing their animal food intake for health and environmental benefits,” Palmer said.
One of the several reasons people go plant-based is also about pleasure because “plant-based, global eating is colorful and delicious,” Palmer said. Personally, she said she enjoys peanuts and peanut butter near daily in a variety of ways, as part of her plant-based diet, and cooking and baking routine.
“And just a good old-fashioned slather of peanut butter on whole grain bread is a go-to, nutritious [smaller] meal or easy snack.”
“Beauty from the inside, out,” according to EatingWell Magazine, is also top-of-mind this year. The health magazine reported a significant increase in consumer interest in articles on healthy aging since last year, particularly as it relates to hair, skin and nails.
With the above-mentioned increase in anxiety around the pandemic, comes an increase in cortisol – our stress hormone – which increases inflammation and can speed up aging .
So, what does this have to do with nutrition? Through eating an adequate, and relatively balanced and varied intake -- including foods rich in vitamins A, D, E and C, and unsaturated fats -- we can help to keep our skin, nails and hair healthy and vibrant.
We can help support this goal by including peanuts and peanut butter into our intake because they are nutrient-dense with plant-based protein, unsaturated fats and contain vitamin E and niacin.
Within the ongoing, worldwide pandemic, more of us are looking to food and nutrition as one way to keep ourselves well – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Caroline L. Young, MS, RD, LD, RYT, is a nutrition coach, yoga teacher and freelance journalist. Caroline is the owner and founder of Whole Self Nutrition (WSN), LLC, which provides online nutrition therapy and coaching for people struggling with disordered eating, eating disorders, or chronic dieting, and people who want to develop healthier relationships to food, body and exercise. Within WSN, Caroline provides online public and private online yoga groups, and media services including writing and webinars. WSN's mission is to help people feel at ease in their skin and empowered around food, and live in alignment with their values.
 Jia H, Guerin RJ, Barile JP, et al. National and State Trends in Anxiety and Depression Severity Scores Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, 2020–2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:1427–1432. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7040e3external icon
 COVID-19 Mental Disorders Collaborators. “Global prevalence and burden of depressive and anxiety disorders in 204 countries and territories in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Lancet (London, England) vol. 398,10312 (2021): 1700-1712. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(21)02143-7
 Lavretsky, H., & Newhouse, P. A. (2012). Stress, inflammation, and aging. The American journal of geriatric psychiatry : official journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, 20(9), 729–733. https://doi.org/10.1097/JGP.0b013e31826573cf