Plant-based foods, especially vegetables, have clinched the top spot in the Foodscape Global Metatrends two years running, and are predicted to lead once again in 2018. The next evolution of this leading metatrend—the trends of the trends—involves the merging of plants with gut health and fermentation. 

Fiber and phytonutrients

No longer does plant-based mean strictly vegan, or even vegetarian. Rather, it’s about the “transitioning omnivore” seeking out a plate with relatively more fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, and less meat and dairy. And nutritionally speaking, plant-based foods are typically high in fiber and phytonutrients, both of which feed the healthy gut microbiome. 

Gut microbes impact a whole host of health outcomes from immunity and inflammation to mood and metabolism. In fact, the nutritional value of food ingested is in part determined by gut microbes, thanks to what’s called “cometabolism.” That’s where some gut microbes “digest” the remaining fiber and nutrients that make it all the way to the large intestine during digestion. 

The gut microbial mix varies from person to person and can change over time, making each human gut microbiome unique. Despite this inherent variability, it’s known that the more microbial diversity, the better. This translates to the importance of regularly consuming a wide variety of plant-based foods rich in fiber and phytonutrients, and especially fermented ones to help support a healthy gut microbiome.  

Fermented finds

Probiotics lead the way for gut health, and to date, the dairy category is front and center. Kefir is a prime example of a fermented, dairy-based product, which not only offers probiotics, but other important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. However, not every consumer wants dairy. Per capita dairy consumption has dropped 22% from 2000-2016.

“The modern consumer increasingly wants less meat, less dairy, less processing and more plant-based options. This shift drives the ongoing momentum behind plants, now linked with gut health and fermentation. Plants provide the fiber and phytonutrients, and fermentation is seen as a more natural processing method, all of which can help support a healthy gut,” says report author Dr. Rachel Cheatham. 

Among non-dairy options, kombucha is a gut-friendly consumer favorite. But that’s just the beginning. Take for example partially fermented coconut aminos, single serve kimchi cups, tempeh or even doubly fermented dark chocolate bars. And don’t forget miso, showing up in everything from drinkable soups to ice cream deserts. 

Each product has a fermented element, and fermentation is a processing step which signals history and legitimate purpose to the discerning consumer. Plus, depending on the product and production methods chosen, fermentation creates good microbes for the gut, often falling into the Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus families. 

Looking ahead, Foodscape Group sees a bold white space in 2018 for gut health products which skillfully deliver on the combination of plant-based ingredients and fermentation.

Written by Dr. Rachel Cheatham, founder and CEO, Foodscape LLC.  Learn more about the annual Foodscape Global MetaTrends findings and upcoming 2018 release at

Originally appeared in the December, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as Plants—Plus More.