First let’s talk terminology. The word “diet” can carry a negative connotation through association with deprivation and being short-term or temporary, while “lifestyle” can sound more permanent and engaging. As healthy and natural ways of living become more socially acceptable and popular, the concepts are blurring. For the purpose of this article, we’re using the words interchangeably to define a way of living. It’s important to be familiar with and to understand these different lifestyle diets to better help your customers.

Consumer Motivations The growth of digestive concerns in the U.S. is motivating some consumers to change how they eat. Lola O’Rourke, MS, RDN, education supervisor, Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), Auburn, WA, says those who don’t medically require a gluten-free diet may choose that lifestyle for health reasons, to lose weight or enhance athletic performance. O’Rourke believes people tend to try gluten-free or Low FODMAP to address digestive discomfort they feel after eating certain foods. “As awareness of these issues and related dietary treatments increases, popularity of these diets likewise has increased.”

“Rather than turning to medicinal solutions, people are finding solutions for their digestive issues through food and lifestyle changes,” agrees Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer, Enjoy Life Foods, Chicago, IL. Companies are making it much easier to maintain these lifestyles with all the product options available today.
Paleo What is it? The Paleolithic diet is sometimes referred to as the hunter-gatherer diet, the caveman diet or the stone-age diet because it involves consuming foods that were eaten during the Paleolithic era (roughly 2.6 million years ago) and obtained through hunting and gathering — typically fruits, vegetables, nuts/seeds, lean meats and fish. Processed foods or those that emerged later during farming such as grains, legumes and dairy are typically avoided.

Why follow? Consumers may go Paleo if they wish to improve their overall health or shed some pounds. A main component of this diet is to return to a cleaner lifestyle and consume more natural foods. The typical modern lifestyle has become so abundant in processed and modified foods that eating more like early humans can be appealing to consumers.

Benefits and concerns: Some studies have shown that participants on this diet lose weight and have better appetite management, improved blood pressure and glucose tolerance and lowered triglycerides. However, additional studies with more participants are needed to understand the longer-term benefits. By eliminating good sources of fiber like legumes and whole grains, those following this lifestyle may be getting fewer nutrients (1).
Ketogenic What is it? This lifestyle follows a low-carb, high-fat diet in which carb intake is low, in turn putting the body in a metabolic state called ketosis. While in ketosis, there are many benefits to the body including the ability to burn fat and convert it to energy. There are multiple types of keto diets that vary percentages of fats, proteins and carbs as well as when to consume carbs. The standard ketogenic diet is usually 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs. The high-protein ketogenic diet consists of 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs. Some people do a cyclical ketogenic diet where they mix keto days and high-carb days throughout the week. Lastly there’s the targeted ketogenic diet which allows more carbs around workouts. Typically people consume low-carb vegetables, butter, eggs, meat, fish and nuts and stay away from sugar, grains, rice, candy and many fruits.

Why follow? People are attracted to the keto lifestyle partly because of the health benefits associated with consuming fewer carbs. Athletes more often choose the cyclical and targeted types. Keto has been shown to support weight loss and lowers risk factors for diseases. This lifestyle is especially good for those suffering from diabetes or prediabetes because it improves insulin function.

Benefits and concerns: The standard keto diet has been found to reduce blood sugar and insulin levels, and to shift metabolism towards fat and ketones rather than carbs. Always consult a medical professional before changing your diet. Diets most likely won’t cure a condition, but may help improve them.

While transitioning to a keto diet, people can experience something called “keto-flu,” which can cause flu-like symptoms. Slowly transitioning and taking sodium or magnesium supplements can help limit these side effects (2).
Plant-Based Upsurge Miyoko Schinner, CEO and founder of Miyoko’s Kitchen, Petaluma, CA says the explosion in information about food and nutrition has become so prevalent, it’s causing people to make more health-conscious decisions. Even on popular platforms like Netflix, health documentaries such as “What the Health?”, “Forks over Knives” and “Cowspiracy” are spreading a plant-first message. As consumers increasingly educate themselves on nutrition, Schinner says, this interest and surge in plant-based lifestyles will continue to grow.

Retailers can help consumers sort through the information to uncover what is right for them. The benefits of a plant-based diet go well beyond just improving an individual’s health; it can have an impact on the environment and animals. “This [upsurge] is happening not only with consumers but investors and the industry at large,” says Schinner. “The benefits are enormous.”

David Janow, CEO, Axiom Foods, Los Angeles, CA, believes a main factor in the upsurge is social media. Consumers are more willing to try recommended products on social platforms and from friends. Companies are amping up their social media profiles and many plant-based producers are finding success reaching customers by doing so.

Labels Aren’t Everything Adapting a healthier lifestyle is great — but doing it just for the label isn’t. Sure, someone can be vegan, but they can be a junk food vegan who primarily eats processed foods that aren’t necessarily healthy. Schinner emphasizes it’s important to eat the right foods within your lifestyle choice for optimal health. If people consume natural foods and no junk, she adds, they are likely to see an improvement in overall health and possibly a lower risk of developing conditions.

Trends this Year Consumers are really focusing on what makes them feel good and healthy as opposed to just jumping on the hottest new trends, Warady says. Whether they are eliminating dairy or processed foods or switching over to a clean diet, they are paying attention to their individual needs not what is popular.

An interesting trend Warady sees is the superfood algae.

“Companies are beginning to incorporate this superfood into their products because it’s high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and low in saturated fats,” he says. Algae adds nutritional value to products such as baking mixes, and plant-based proteins are growing as vegan/vegetarian lifestyles become more popular.

Then there’s the flexitarian. According to Janow, those following this lifestyle focus less on what you can’t eat, and more of what you can add. They focus more on plant proteins and less on animal proteins but don’t completely eliminate meat. Five food groups are emphasized including “new meat” — consisting of tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts/seeds and eggs — plus fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy and sugar and spices (5).

Janow also has noticed the allergen-friendly lifestyle where people are recognizing what foods make them feel good and which ones weigh them down, and are adjusting their diets accordingly. In general consumers are becoming more health-conscious, managing portion control and embracing healthy snacking. He says plant-based lifestyles are becoming so easy and accessible, contributing to the rise of these diets. A key is the “integration of plant-based substitutes for staple products which many people would prefer not to eliminate from their diet including cheese, yogurt, ice cream, burgers, chicken, etc,” says Janow. This is making it easier than ever for consumers to maintain these lifestyles.
Mediterranean What is it? Known to be extremely healthy, this lifestyle is inspired by countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Mostly fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains are consumed and unhealthy fats are avoided. Red meat is rarely eaten. Added sugars should be completely avoided. Seafood is popular and recommended a few times a week. Water is the go-to beverage and red wine can be consumed moderately.

Why follow? People from these countries tend to have better overall health due to this diet so they have become a model for this lifestyle. Along with this healthy diet, regular exercise and sharing meals with others is a big part of the overall lifestyle.

Benefits and concerns: There are many health benefits resulting from this diet including weight loss and prevention of diseases. A U.S. News study ranks this in the top three heart-healthy diets (3). There isn’t a “right” way to follow this diet since each country varies in exactly what they eat. Overall, this diet is higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal ones (4).
Vegan What is it? Veganism is becoming an increasingly popular way of living where no animals are used for exploitation or cruelty- from food to clothing/products. There are subcategories of veganism that differentiate if someone eats partial or exclusively raw vs. cooked foods. Arguably, the lifestyle term “plant-based” could be considered a subcategory of veganism. Some believe it is a separate category on its own while others classify it as vegan. Both lifestyles avoid animal products, but the biggest distinction between the two is that those who are plant-based do not consume any processed foods.

Why follow?­­­­ There are many reasons consumers choose to eliminate animal products from their diet whether it’s for the animals, the environment, personal health reasons or all of these combined.

Benefits and concerns: Studies show a major benefit of veganism has to do with weight loss. Compared to other lifestyle diets, people who follow veganism tend to be leaner than those with other dietary habits. Another benefit is that this lifestyle can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and help prevent associated diseases. Because of these benefits and a healthy lifestyle overall, vegans generally have very good heart health. Concern over this lifestyle generally has to do with nutrient deficiencies. Since it is plant-based, it is possible for consumers (especially beginners) to have a lack of nutrients like B12 if not supplemented properly.
Other Choices Vegetarian. Most commonly, vegetarians avoid consuming meat and fish, but there are variations depending on if an individual eats fish or eggs.

Gluten-Free. This lifestyle excludes the protein gluten, which is found in some grains. Some people have an intolerance or allergy to gluten; and some have the autoimmune disorder known as Celiac Disease preventing them from consuming any gluten. Others choose this lifestyle because of the physical benefits they feel when eliminating gluten from their diet.

Low FODMAP. This diet is known for being beneficial for those suffering from digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. The acronym stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols. This means they are short-chain carbs that don’t digest well in the body. By eating a diet low in these, it can improve symptoms associated with IBS. Groups with high amounts that should be avoided include lactose, fructose, fructans and polyols found in foods such as garlic and onions.

Most commonly those with IBS or digestive issues follow this diet to eliminate symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, bloating, cramps, diarrhea and gas. Other digestive disorders like Crohn’s, which is an inflammatory disorder, can also be improved through this diet. However, many people without digestive issues try lifestyles like this or gluten-free simply to better their health or because it improves the way they feel.

Where Do Retailers Fit In? Schinner has good advice for retailers, particularly on product placement. Since all consumers differ — say a new vegan vs. long-term vegan — they may look in completely separate areas for the same product.

“Since plant based foods are outpacing conventional products in growth, it might be interesting to place products in both locations — the alternative set, and the conventional location (in with the meat or dairy) to promote to different consumers and push the category further,” Schinner says.

Ronni Alicea RDN MBA CSG, quality control manager for GIG’s Gluten-Free Certification Organization, stresses the importance of product transparency to celebrate the individuality of the consumer.

“Staff knowledgeable of new ingredient attributes along with health and wellness discoveries of existing products is important to maintain consumer loyalty,” Alicea says.

“Retail employee education is becoming more and more critical as consumers are more educated and ask more specific questions about the differences between products,” Janow adds.

There has been a tremendous shift from the traditional American diet to more healthy lifestyles. A recent study shows that clean-eating and plant-based diets will be the two most popular lifestyles in 2018. In addition, fermented foods will be the top superfood group of the year (6). Warady offers some optimistic advice, “There will come a day in the near future where ‘specialty’ products will be integrated seamlessly into the general product assortments, and retailers need to not only prepare for this day, but embrace it.” WF

  1. Mayo Clinic, “Paleo diet: What is it and why is it so popular?”
2. Mawer, Rudy, “The Ketogenic Diet 101: A Detailed Beginner's Guide,”

3. Gunnars, Kris, “FODMAP 101: A Detailed Beginner's Guide,”

4. U.S. News, “The Flexitarian Diet,”

5. Hamastra, Mark, “Fermented foods will be No. 1 ‘superfood’ in 2018: dietitians,”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine February 2018