This year's Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) show, held in New Orleans last month, showcased Americans' continuing focus on health and weight.

Not only are consumers trending toward foods that are functional, they also are demanding foods that are natural or organic, vegetarian and vegan products, low-fat and low-calorie items. The rise in obesity has been accompanied by issues such as rising blood pressure, so expect to see a spike in low-sodium foods. The number of children with allergies also is increasing, prompting vigorous interest in gluten-free, dairy-free and allergy-sensitive foods.

Feeling healthy is tied into weight and energy management, and sticking to a regular exercise regimen appears difficult for too many Americans. To the rescue are ingredients such as alternative sweeteners that help reduce the number of calories in a food or beverage, fiber to help with satiety and proteins that help give energy without the sluggishness of carbohydrates.

As the role of colon and gut health becomes more apparent in boosting immunity and fighting certain cancers, ingredients such as probiotics and prebiotics are becoming more valuable to consumers. The ability of antioxidants to neutralize free radicals makes them appealing in the fight against aging as well as diseases such as cancer. These were present on the show floor in several dairy products, as well as baked goods platforms.

However, offering consumers a fiber-enhanced drink is no longer enough. They expect their foods to have several health properties. For example, the drink also may be low-calorie (a range of artificial sweeteners can help fit this bill), vitamin-enhanced (with added B complex to combat stress or vitamin A for eye health, for example) and help to balance electrolytes (with sodium and potassium, perhaps).

As many healthful properties as an item has, if it does not taste good, it is not going to sell well to consumers who are pickier than ever about what they like. Flavor technologies, which have made tremendous gains in the past several years, are becoming more important in an era where foods can be engineered for different health and weight claims and goals. Exhibitors offered several foods that tasted grilled, barbecued, seared, full-fat, buttery, cheesy, spicy, fruity or ethnic, without actually being so. A number of flavor companies showed products to “round out,” “impart,” “heighten” and “clean up” different types of flavor profiles.

A plethora of ingredients is out there to help consumers reach their lifestyle goals. Healthy eating just got easier.