These trends foster sound nutrition habits and make healthful eating easy.
P> As people seek fresher foods, they have begun to connect with local family farms. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs and farmers' markets give consumers direct access to produce, meats, cheeses, breads, honey, and other foods that are produced in nearby communities. In the past 10 years, the number of local farmers' markets has more than doubled—it is up from 1,755 to 3,706, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service. </P><P><B>Why it's here to stay:</B> Because they are so fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables often have a nutritional edge over produce raised on "factory" farms. The latter, which constitutes most of the produce grown in the United States, is picked about four to seven days before it arrives on supermarket shelves, and shipped for an average of 1,500 miles before it's sold, according to Local Harvest, a nonprofit agricultural research group. All that downtime takes a toll. USDA researchers have found that if it's not handled properly, produce can lose up to half its nutrients in transit. Water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C are particularly vulnerable. </P><P><B>What it means for you:</B> "Buying food from local vendors gives you input," says Gail Feenstra, R.D., food systems analyst at the University of California at Davis's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. "You can find out how things were grown. You can also request varieties of fruits and vegetables that wouldn't be available elsewhere." And then there's the most important reason of all: Because of its freshness, locally grown food tastes better than produce designed to be shipped. "Growers' priority is on taste and texture versus transportation," Feenstra says. </P><P> <B>Slow Food</B> </P><P> Launched in Italy 20 years ago by restaurateur Carlo Petrini, Slow Food was originally designed to protest the encroachment of fast food on the traditional Mediterranean lifestyle. The trend's principles—choosing locally grown and produced items, preparing them in traditional ways, and eating with friends and family—celebrate a relaxed approach to living that provides a welcome contrast to the fast-paced, eat-on-the-run lives many people lead. </P><P> <B>Why it's here to stay:</B> As with locally grown food, freshness is a key component of the Slow Food trend. "Investing the time to choose what's fresh that day will ensure that night's meal will be at its peak nutritionally," Stokes says. This principle applies whether you're making a family recipe or dining in a restaurant where the chef selects ingredients based on their seasonal availability. Family togetherness is also an important aspect of the trend. "Slow Food is all about cherishing the eating experience and getting back to what food used to be: a vehicle for drawing people together," explains Sara Firebaugh, assistant director of Slow Food USA. </P><P> <B>What it means for you:</B> Healthful whole foods are a great start, but Slow Food goes a step beyond good nutrition—and it's a difficult one to quantify. No scientific studies have conclusively proven that friends and family make better dinner companions than televisions, but the benefits are clear. "Slow Food embraces the psychological component in food choices, meal preparation, and the act of eating," Estrow says. "A healthful diet isn't just about what you eat but how you eat it." </P><P> See Functional Foods <a href="http://www.cookinglight.com/cooking/hl/nutrition/curtain/curtain_subscriber/slideshow/0,22002,-1159596-2,00.html">Next</a> </P>