How Diet Trends Changed Over 40 Years: Exploring American Eating Habits

How Diet Trends Changed Over 40 Years: Exploring American Eating Habits

If there’s one thing that has been consistent about diets over the last forty years, it’s that there is always something new to try. Thankfully, as of late, there has been a bit more consistency in promoting balanced nutrition and a healthy, active lifestyle.

This year, with our nutrition company celebrating 40 years of changing people’s lives with great nutrition products, I found myself entertained by reliving the evolution of diet trends and food preferences over the last four decades.

What Was Happen’en in the 1980s

The eighties were a time of low-fat, high carb diets and trends. It was all about reducing fat from any source – even the healthy fats – and eating a lot of carbohydrates (including plenty of sugar) which are considered by many to be a huge diet “no-no” today.

The diet fads were fascinating:

The 1990s: All That and a Bag of Non-fat Chips

Low-fat, high-carb diets were still all the rage in the 90s, so plenty of “fat-free” items ­– like cookies and snack foods – started hitting the market, leading many to believe they could eat all the fat-free treats they wanted without gaining weight. But these “fat-free” foods were not “calorie-free,” and people soon realized that consuming large amounts of fat-free foods led to weight gain, so diets began moving to a more balanced approach.

The popular diets of the 90s included:

In the nineties, we also saw a healthy push towards more fiber, and vegetarianism started to become more mainstream as soy and grain-based veggie burgers started to hit the mainstream market. The USDA Food Pyramid was also introduced in 1992, and the FDA passed the DSHEA Legislation in 1994 which defined and regulated how supplements were labeled and manufactured, leading to a vitamin and supplement boom.

These Were “Poppin” in the 2000s

The new century also brought a big shift in eating, with a shift towards higher protein and lower carbs. Over time food manufacturers began to come out with more low-carb options to meet this growing trend. But, as with the low-fat craze of the 1980s, many consumers overate these low-carb (but not low-calorie!) foods and had trouble reaching their weight-loss goals.

Three admitted millennium favorites:

The raw foods movement also kicked off but stayed niche, since it appealed mostly to vegans. Over-the-counter fat-blockers became available and trans fats were demonized as information came out about how dangerous they were to heart health. “Supersize Me,” the documentary that showed the dangers of supersized fast-food meals, led McDonald’s to end its supersizing practice soon after the film debuted. The food of the decade was bacon; green tea started its heyday; smoothie stores popped up on every corner, and “organic” and “local” food items started entering the mainstream.

The 2010s Were So “Extra”

Now looking back at the last decade of food trends and habits, we find Keto and Paleo diets taking prominence over the last ten years, along with a newer eating trend known as intermittent fasting.

These four diets were quite popular in the 2010s:

During the past decade, food trucks popped up everywhere, and meatless meat became mainstream, with the newest meat alternatives providing a flavor profile similar to the actual meat and meant to satisfy veggie burger naysayers. Milk replacements – from soy, pea, nuts, or oats – appeared everywhere, worrying the dairy farming industry.

Good fats ruled while butter coffee took off as part of the ever-popular Keto diet.

Butter Coffee

New Decade, Same Trends

So here we are, entering the 2020s. What’s next?

While trends, ideas of healthy diets, and popular food items have evolved over the last forty years, it was interesting to see a pattern of those trends that will continue to stick around:

Weight Loss

Throughout these decades, we’ve seen that people are always seeking options to manage their weight. Obesity is a growing concern, with predictions that half of the US population will be obese by 2030. Herbalife Nutrition has been on the right side of this trend for forty years, promoting a healthy, active lifestyle, with nutrient-dense and low-calorie options that promote good nutrition and health.

Pre-portioned Food and Support Systems

A proven concept since the 80s, people have turned to meal replacements or pre-portioned solutions for a number of years, but often without any guidance. This demonstrates the importance and need for educating consumers about nutrition and healthy habits, which is provided by our entrepreneurial distributors.

Personalized Nutrition

We are seeing – and expect to see – more personalized approaches to eating in the 2020s. The truth is that people respond differently to different diets, so as a nutrition company, we expect customization to continue to gain momentum based on individual goals—which is why we offer an array of customizable products and nutrition plans which we believe will better help our customers reach their personal goals.

Plant-based Diets and Sustainable Ingredients

Now more than ever, people are realizing the importance of a balanced diet. In fact, the Mediterranean Diet, which first came into prominence in the early 1990s, was named Best Diet Overall for 2020 by US News and World Report. Factoring in the impact on the climate and environment, plant-based and sustainable ingredients (hello, meatless meat trend!) will continue to grow in popularity as people consider how their food choices impact themselves and the earth.

Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND –Sr.Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan BowermanM.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman earned a B.S. in biology with distinction from the University of Colorado, and received her M.S. in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a registered dietitian, holds two board certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a certified specialist in sports dietetics, and a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, and is a Fellow of the Academy.