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Health, convenience prime concerns for consumers

Last year's hottest supermarket craze -- low-carb products -- can be found in this year's clearance aisle. In a country obsessed with dieting, we've seen low-fat, fat-free, sugar-free, low-carb, and no-carb foods come and go with little impact on our girth. In fact, as a nation, we're heavier than ever.

So what new foods can you expect to see next on your supermarket shelves? WebMD asked the experts for their predictions on the latest trends.

As with most everything else, baby boomers are affecting how the nation eats, according to the NPD Marketing group. Boomers made their mark with fast food in the '60s, fern bars in the '70s, microwaves in the '80s, take-out in the '90s, and a trend toward healthier foods today, according to Harry Balzar, NPD's vice president. As the boomers age, they are coping with health and weight concerns that drive their eating patterns.

But boomers aren't the only ones behind changes in food buying habits.

"Increasing Latin populations have had an enormous impact on our food trends," says supermarket guru Phil Lempert, editor of the Facts, Figures and the Future newsletter. "They don't drink sodas with high-fructose corn syrup, and their diets are more abundant in fruits, vegetables, and fresh foods."

Among the once-exotic fruits and vegetables Hispanic cuisine is bringing to supermarket shelves are mangoes, cherimoyas, and a host of others, says trend tracker Linda Gilbert, president of the HealthFocus market analysis firm.

Another issue that continues to exert a huge influence on food manufacturers: our ever-increasing desire for convenience.

What's In, What's Out

To address the nation's health concerns, manufacturers are scrambling to reformulate foods that taste good but are lower in fat, salt, cholesterol, and sugar. Many are designed to help reduce cholesterol, prevent type 2 diabetes, and protect the heart.

Cholesterol-lowering, plant-derived chemicals called sterols are being added to orange juice, dark chocolate, yogurt, and margarine. The FDA has determined that some products containing sterols may carry a heart-healthy claim.

Another heart-protective ingredient comes from fatty fish and vegetable oils -- omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Higher intakes of food that contain these fats are an option for the heart-healthy conscious. Flaxseeds, walnuts, and their oils are among the richest sources of these fatty acids.

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