No one ever knows exactly what a new year will bring, but the interest in healthier eating that has accompanied the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t appear to be fading anytime soon, and that’s a good thing.

It may come as no surprise that plant-based foods continue to be exceedingly popular, with sales increasing almost twice as quickly as those of overall food sales, per the Good Food Institute. “I am really excited about seeing more people following a flexitarian eating plan,” says Laura M. Ali, RD, a culinary nutritionist in Pittsburgh. “It gives people who may not want to become vegetarian or veganthe ability to eat more plants but still incorporate some seafood, meat, dairy, and eggs occasionally.”

Of course, COVID has continued to affect our grocery shopping habits too. “The pandemic has caused supply chain shortages, as well as an increased awareness of food waste,” says Christina Badaracco, MPH, a registered dietitian in Washington, DC, who focuses on sustainability.

We asked nutrition experts about these and other factors that influence what we’ll be eating in the year ahead, and these are the healthy food innovations and trends they say we can expect to see in 2022.

Plants, Plants, and More Plants

The plant-based packaged-food category is more expansive than ever — and consumers are excited about this. Indeed, 65 percent of people say that they’ve eaten plant-based meat alternatives in the last year, according to a 2021 report from the International Food Information Council.

“The plant-based movement ties into a number of trending consumer priorities, including health protection, environmental stewardship, and ethically driven eating,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, a registered dietitian in private practice in Los Angeles. “My clients constantly tell me they feel better physically and feel good about how they are spending their food dollars when they eat more plant-based foods.”

“Plant-forward products will continue to be on trend — not only for their known health benefits but also because of their relationship with sustainability,” says Keri Gans, RDN, a nutritionist in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet. “More and more consumers are becoming concerned with where their food comes from and how it affects the environment. Those companies that share a positive environmental story will be sought after.”

When it comes to new finds, keep an eye out for smoothie-ready frozen dragon fruit and passion fruit from Pitaya Foods, pea pasta from ZenB, vegetable-based (think tomato, sweet potato, carrot, and butternut squash) pizza sauce from Otamot, and vegan cookies from Real Cookies. You can do your online plant-based grocery shopping at PlantX’s curated store, and  you can even get local plant-based finds — such as hummus shakes from the Hummus & Pita Co. in New York City — shipped to your doorstep via Gold Belly.

Recycled Ingredients

Up to 40 percent of America’s food supply is wasted, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and recycling leftover ingredients could help reduce that amount significantly. “Recycled food simply means new food or products created from recycled ingredients or by-products from the food manufacturing process,” explains Erin Hendrickson, RDN, a food-waste expert in Nashville. The practice, which has been gaining traction over the past few years, gained some attention during the pandemic when bare supermarket shelves made some manufacturers realize the importance of further reducing waste, she says.

These products may use words like “upcycled” or “recycled” on their labels. Some examples include 88 Acres Seed’Nola, an allergy-friendly granola that is made from leftover end pieces; Barnana Banana Bites and Otherworld pancake and waffle mixes, both made from upcycled ingredients; and Rind’s skin-on dried fruit, which use both the peel and the fruit. “Many rinds and produce skins are edible but typically get tossed,” says Hendrickson. “Rind Snacks not only limit food waste but also offer increased vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber by utilizing the rinds.”

Alcohol-Free Options

The Whole Foods Market 2022 trend report lists alcohol-free spirits as a top upcoming trend. “Post-pandemic isolation has created a growing interest in health and well-being, causing a surge in both functional beverages and alcohol-free drinks,” says Jessica DeGore, CDCES, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist with a virtual private practice based in Pittsburgh.

You’ll see everything from alcohol-free spirits, wine, and beer to fancy sparkling water that can serve as a mocktail. “Millennials and Gen Z have embraced sober-curious culture and have made sobriety more popular and normal,” adds DeGore. “Limiting alcohol has obvious health benefits, such as decreasing the incidence of many diseases, mental health problems, and driving accidents.”

And then there’s the calorie difference. “People want lower-calorie options that still feel like they’re having a little celebration,” adds Lisa Andrews, a registered dietitian based in Cincinnati.

Want to toast with an alcohol-free choice? Sip a booze-free Curious Elixirs, or make your own mocktail with Ritual Zero Proof Tequila, Damrak Virgin Gin, or Ceder’s Distilled Non-Alcoholic Gin. Or choose alcohol-free Gruvi Dry Secco; nonalcoholic craft beer from Athletic Brewing; or Suntory All-Free, a sparkling malt and hops drink with zero calories and zero alcohol.

Beverages With Benefits

Along with alcohol-free drinks, beverages that claim to do more than just quench your thirst are on the rise, per the Whole Foods report. These so-called “functional beverages” claim to help with everything from stress relief to gut health to immunity. The category isn’t new, but it’s expected to grow as “increasing awareness of health is anticipated to propel the demand,” according to a May 2021 report by The Business Research Company.

“I started seeing more functional beverages pop up at food shows and expos several years ago — but at the time, I didn’t think they would take off,” says Kelly Jones, RD, a sports dietitian and owner of Student Athlete Nutrition in Newtown, Pennsylvania. “Now, many plant-based functional beverages are widely available, everywhere from Whole Foods to Walmart, showing that it’s something consumers really want and are enjoying.”

You’ll find Koia, Poppi, and Olipop with prebiotic ingredients for microbiome support, Elements and Remedy Organics with adaptogenic ingredients such as ashwagandha and maca root, probiotic juice shots from So Good So You, and functional sparkling water meant to harness your energy from Good Idea.

Seeded Foods

While foods made with sunflower seeds are a top 2022 trend, per the Whole Foods report, all seeds are trending. One reason for the major popularity uptick? Seeds are a nutritionally similar replacement for nuts, an increasingly common food allergen. A study published in April 2021 in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice shows that the annual incidence of peanut allergies increased from 1.7 to 5.2 percent between 2001 and 2017.

“Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in products that use seeds as a key ingredient, and I’m excited to see this trend continue to rise in the coming year,” says Nicole Stefanow, RDN, a culinary dietitian nutritionist in Ramsey, New Jersey. “Seeds may be tiny, but they deliver big on nutrition.” Indeed, all seeds boast a trio of fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fats.

Sunflower seeds in particular may have heart-health benefits, suggests a study published in July 2021 in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. The study of 60 men with high cholesterol found that those who regularly ate bread made with sunflower seed flour had a significant reduction in their body mass index (a measure of weight per height), LDL “bad” cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.

TV Dinners 2.0

“With the working-from-home switch that the pandemic brought, more families and individuals are looking for convenience,” says Karla Giboyeaux, RDN, a clinical dietitian in New York City. “For people who have a hard time meal planning and cooking at home, gourmet ready-made meals are convenient.”

Found in the supermarket’s refrigerated or frozen section, these prepared meals are tastier and more nutritious than those of the past as well (although sodium levels can vary, so if you are watching your intake, checking nutrition labels is a good idea). Capitalizing on another trend, many are plant-based, like Freshly’s Purely Plant meals and those from Factor 75. Frozen straight-to-your-door picks include Mosaic Foods and Daily Harvest.

“Many of my clients want to reduce waste and limit their trips to the grocery store to save time,” says Christa Brown, RDN, a private-practice dietitian in Woodbridge, New Jersey. “They also want gourmet food and the ability to diversify their meals without the hassle of finding a recipe and learning how to cook it properly and shopping for all the ingredients.”

Plant-Based Omega-3s

For years, the omega-3s conversation has been all about EPA and DHA, the omega-3s fatty acids you’ll find in fatty fish like salmon. But we can’t dismiss their plant-based sister, ALA. While you need a plentiful amount of ALA omega-3s for your body to convert them into EPA and DHA, we’re hearing more and more about the nutrient’s benefits — and food sources that score high in ALA. Research published in 2016 in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that people with a high risk of a heart attack who supplemented a high-fish diet with ALA omega-3s — in particular, from walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts — had a significantly reduced risk of death. In fact, walnuts are the only nut that provides an excellent amount of ALA, according to research published in October 2019 in Nutrients.

“Plant-based omega-3 fatty acids are going to be a food trend of interest,” says Andrew Akhaphong, RD, a registered dietitian at Mackenthun’s Fine Foods in Minneapolis. “Since the pandemic hit our nation, many consumers have sought ways to make their budget last longer, as the costs of certain products have increased due to supply chain disruptions. Many people have decided to change their dietary habits toward sustainable food options, such as plant-based foods.”