While agricultural commodities have nearly endless uses, including fuel and industrial products, their primary use is still food.

Our food choices can be a reflection of heritage, local availability, income level, social beliefs or simply a matter of taste. Food is not limited to providing nutrition to support our body and life. Today many consumers want foods that heal and prevent disease and aging. Manufacturers are responding to this trend.

Eight out of the top 10 food trends are linked to health and nutrition, according to a recent report in the food journal, New Nutrition Business. Studies suggest diet is linked to many health conditions, although the relationship is often complex and more research is needed to unravel these complexities. Regardless, these trends will impact both agriculture and the food industry.

OBESITY

Obesity is rapidly increasing throughout the world and is a major underlying factor in chronic diseases such as heart disease, some cancers and diabetes. The main cause of obesity is simply eating more calories than we burn. Functional ingredients, from proteins and fatty acids to fibers and botanicals, provide tools to help consumers manage their weight.

Researchers are looking at food’s role in satiety — the feeling of fullness after a meal — that is a rapidly advancing trend in weight management.

GLUTEN-FREE PRODUCTS

Gluten is the common name for grain proteins that are harmful to persons with celiac disease. These proteins are in all forms of wheat, including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro, and related grains including rye, barley and triticale.

Gluten-free grains such as rice, sorghum, flaxseed and quinoa are being used to develop products with exciting new textures and flavors. AURI has provided technical services to clients creating gluten-free baking mixes.

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential. They are necessary for human health, but since the body doesn’t produce them, they must be ingested through food. The U.S. National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine estimates that the average American diet is 50 percent deficient in essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 plays a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development, and may reduce the risk of heart disease. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis. They are highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be important for cognitive and

behavioral function.

Salmon, flax seeds and walnuts are excellent omega-3 food sources. Whether fish-derived or vegetarian, omega-3 has become a household term. Supplement sales continue to grow, and more and more foods are being fortified with the healthy fatty acids. But getting omega-3 foods into the mainstream remains

a challenge.

SODIUM REDUCTION

High-sodium diets are linked to an increase in blood pressure and a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Yet, sodium has many functions in food. Sodium chloride, or salt, is a preservative that inhibits the growth of food-borne pathogens, particularly in luncheon meats, fermented foods, salad dressings and cheese products. Sodium is also an essential nutrient used to modify flavor, enhance taste and serve as

a stabilizer.

But very little sodium is needed in the diet and most Americans consume more than they need. The current recommendation is 2.4 grams of sodium a day, which equals about 1 teaspoon of table salt. Major food companies are taking note and bringing reduced-sodium foods to the marketplace.

VITAMIN D FORTIFICATION

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and is available as a dietary supplement. Most of our vitamin D intake comes from sunlight exposure. It also occurs naturally in a few foods, including fish, egg yolks and fish liver oils, and in fortified dairy and grain products.

If you shun the sun, suffer from milk allergies or adhere to a strict vegan diet, you may be at risk for vitamin

D deficiency.

Vitamin D is essential for strong bones because it helps absorb calcium from the diet. Traditionally, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with rickets, a disease in which bone tissue doesn’t properly mineralize, leading to soft bones and skeletal deformities.

Together with calcium, vitamin D helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. Research is also revealing the importance of vitamin D in protecting against a host of health problems such as colon, prostate and breast cancer, depression and weight loss.

Milk and many fruit juices are already enhanced with vitamin D and more food products fortified with the vitamin are expected to hit the marketplace in the coming years.

ANTIOXIDANTS

The trend in foods enriched with antioxidants will continue to grow. Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that protect and repair cells from damage. Cell damage plays a role in chronic diseases such as hardening of the arteries, cancer and arthritis.

Antioxidants can help keep the immune system strong, enhancing the body’s ability to ward off colds, flu and other infections. They are also considered anti-aging compounds.

Besides vitamins and minerals, antioxidants are in food compounds such as carotenoids and polyphenols. Some are identified by their distinctive colors — the deep red of cherries and tomatoes, the orange of carrots, the yellow of corn, mangos and saffron, the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries and grapes. The best-known food components with antioxidant activities are vitamins A, C and E, beta carotene, selenium and lycopene.