When it comes to nutrition I'm a data junkie. I spend about an hour a day reviewing the latest research to keep up on what's on the cutting edge, and as a nutritionist I love exploring new products and observing emerging trends. As we start a new year there have been many predictions about which foods will generate big buzz in 2012. Here are five gaining momentum and why they're hot:

Craft Beer
Americans are drinking less imported beer and gravitating toward craft brews, which in a nutshell are beers made by small, independent microbreweries, often using unique recipes and ingredients, from hemp seeds and chocolate to raisins, coffee, lemongrass and coriander. Beer has a reputation as being fattening and not the beverage of choice for health conscious consumers, but that's changing - check out my previous post about the health benefits of beer And if you want to support your local brewery or maybe even take a tour visit this cool brewery locator.

RELATED: If you just want to grab a bottled brew, try one of these 15 bikni-friendly beers to keep calories and carbs in check.

Local Seasonal Superfoods
Finally we've embraced the notion that buying watermelon in the middle of winter just doesn't seem right. Today most fruits and veggies travel about 1,500 miles from where they're grown, so they're often picked before they peak, and the minute they're harvested they begin to lose nutrients. But produce that has been grown and sold locally can be harvested at its peak, which means it will be chock full of vitamins and antioxidants, which are partly responsible for taste, color, aroma, firmness, mouth feel, and even sound (e.g., the snapping of a string bean or cracking when biting into a crisp apple). That's why local in-season fruits and veggies are not only better for you nutritionally speaking, but they're also a feast for your senses. To seek out the superfoods in your neck of the woods right now visit localharest.org. You may find something that is brand new to you, like celery root or kumquats, but your best resource for learning about how to enjoy it will be right across the table—the farmer who grew it.

Sorghum
Whole grains are white hot, and as options like quinoa and black rice becomes mainstream consumers will be looking to expand their whole grain repertoire. By all indications sorghum is primed to move into the spotlight. This gluten-free whole grain, which requires less water to grow than corn, has long been a staple in Asia and Africa. Published studies have found that sorghum's antioxidants and other natural properties may fight cancer and lower cholesterol, and its incredibly versatile. It can be substituted for wheat flour in baking, made into a porridge, and in one of my recent "Healthy Food Finds" posts I wrote about popped sorghum snacks, called popghum. For more emerging superfoods including teff, an African whole grain, check out this previous post.

RELATED: Still can't get enough protein-packed quinoa? Try these 10 creative recipes using the healthy whole grain.

Plant-Based "Dairy"
Dairy products are generally made from the milk of mammals like cows or sheep, but "milk" can also be made by pressing a variety of plant-based foods, from grains like brown rice and oats to a variety of nuts and seeds. As the movement toward plant-based diets builds we"ll surely be seeing a crop of new products. For example, many stores now carry almond milk yogurt and sunflower seed milk. For more info check out my Today Show segment on milk alternatives, including coconut, soy, rice, hemp and almond milks and this post about pea protein powder.

Exotic Herbs and Spices
In cooking, baking and even mixology we'regoing gaga over exotic and ethnic spices like sumac (Mediterranean), charnushka (also called black cumin used in North India, Iran, and Egypt), hyssop (a Biblical herb used to make bitters), and ajowan (a relative of dill and caraway used in Indian cooking). In my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches I devoted an entire chapter to herbs and spices, due to their health and metabolism-boosting benefits, and ability to boost satiety. Experimenting with natural seasonings is a great way to fall in love with eating healthfully. In other words you don't have to choke down plain, steamed veggies or flavorless meals. Right now I'm personally obsessed with kaffir lime leaves, which add a deliciously unique flavor to soups and stir fry dishes, and I love adding cardamom (a spice from the seeds of a ginger like plant) to smoothies. For more info check out my previous post: 10 Delicious Ways to Eat More Spices.

What's your take on these trends, and what are your superfood predictions for 2012? Please share them here or tweet to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

Comments
comments powered by Disqus