The A to Z of health and fitness trends for 2016

From adaptogens and DNA fitness holidays to savoury yogurt and virtual races, Jeanette Wang predicts the foods, trends and issues likely to cause the biggest buzz in the coming year

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 January, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 January, 2016, 10:47am

Adaptogens Also known as “superherbs”, these include ginseng, moringa, maca, ashwaganda and others. “To qualify as an adaptogen, an herb must be completely safe and non-toxic, it must have broad uses for health, and it must specifically reduce stress, both mental and physical,” says medicine hunter Chris Kilham. “To put it simply: adaptogens help you adapt.”

Acai bowls Move over, smoothies and froyos, there’s a new hipster health food in town. The pulp from the acai berry, a reddish-purple fruit native to Central and South America, is said to be richer in antioxidants than other berries. Several places in Hong Kong offer this sweet and creamy snack (or meal, if you like), including Genie Juicery (, Be-Juiced ( and Nood Food ( Be warned, acai bowls can contain a lot of sugar.

Clean eating This isn’t just about removing anything artificial from one’s diet, but also consuming food from eco- and social-friendly sources. You could call it conscious dining.

DNA fitness holidays This will be a travel trend in 2016, according to UK-based luxury travel company Health and Fitness Travel. “Taking personalised fitness training to a whole new level, the emerging science of DNA fitness testing reveals an insight into your genetic make-up and the appropriate training response for your body. After pre-arrival DNA analysis, fitness holiday programmes can be tailored to your physical ability and needs,” it says in its trends report. The company recommends The Bodyholiday in St Lucia, Epic Sana in Portugal and Ibiza’s 38 Degrees North.

Excessive sleep It can be as bad for your health as smoking and drinking alcohol, according to a new University of Sydney study. Combined with sitting too much during the day and a lack of exercise, sleeping more than nine hours a night can make you four times as likely to die early, the researchers warn. They found this after looking at the health behaviour of more than 230,000 people aged 45 and above in Australia. It was found that sleeping fewer than seven hours a night also increases your risk of early death by four times, when combined with smoking and high alcohol intake.

Farm-to-home A couple of months ago internet retail giant Amazon partnered with a US start-up Fresh Nation to launch a new Farmers Market Direct service in Southern California that promises to deliver local produce to homes within 36 hours of harvest. The target market? People in urban areas who have no time to shop – not unlike many Hongkongers. For dwellers in our city, there’s OrganNet Market (, where you can select fresh produce from a range of Hong Kong organic farms and have them delivered to your doorstep.

Gut microbiome A growing body of research suggests that the make-up of this complex microbial ecosystem is closely linked with not only our immune function, but also brain health and bodyweight. We each harbour a teeming ecosystem of microbes, 10 times the number of cells in our body. The microbiome varies dramatically from one individual to the next and can change quickly over time in a single individual. The unfolding discoveries about the gut microbiome are significant because they represent a huge paradigm shift in our understanding of human health.

Heirloom ingredients Made popular by the tomato, the word “heirloom” is now a trendy name for produce that hasn’t been crossbred with any other varieties for several generations and hasn’t been genetically modified. Healthy food marketers are capitalising on the term: think Peruvian heirloom maiz chulpe corn snacks, heirloom chamomile tea or heirloom grains.

Innovative dieting: DietSensor This app and handheld sensor bundle will work out the nutritional value of your food. It uses spectrometry for chemical analysis – that is, analysing the way the unique molecules of food affect light. Hold the sensor about 1cm from your food and the information will be sent to your phone via Bluetooth, creating a food log in the DietSensor app.

Juice of tart cherries Consuming this red drink could help you feel better after a marathon. A new study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition shows it reduced post-race upper respiratory tract symptoms associated with marathon running in runners who consumed the two 236ml servings of the juice twice a day for eight straight days – five days leading up to a marathon, on the day of the race and two days afterwards. Previous research has also shown tart cherry juice to aid muscle recovery after extensive exercise.

Kelp and seaweed Dubbed a “miracle food” by The New Yorker magazine, nutrient-dense kelp is being used as a healthy salt replacement in foods. Seaweed is also being used in personal care products such as face masks and shampoos due to its beauty-enhancing bioactive substances.

Low-intensity steady state workouts “After a few years of high-intensity everything, 2016 will signal a shift back towards understanding the role of low-intensity steady state training in promoting weight loss and overall fitness,” according to the American Council on Exercise’s fitness trends report. Examples include brisk walks, slow jogging or moderate swimming for 30 to 60 minutes. “High-intensity interval training works, but too much can cause overtraining and overuse injuries,” the report says.

Meal deliveries Healthy ones, of course. They’re popping up all over Hong Kong. Here are a few to try: Crave (; Eatology; Frensh (; Foodacy (; Mealthy (; Nosh (; Nutrition Kitchen (; Optmeal (; Paleo Taste (

Not-pasta pasta Pasta alternatives made from vegetables are gaining popularity thanks to the anti-carb crowd spurred by high-protein, gluten-free and/or Paleo diet trends. In the last five years, pasta sales have dropped eight per cent in Australia, 13 per cent in Europe, and 25 per cent in Italy. Now in favour are noodles made from quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, spelt, barley and chia. Simultaneously the vegetable spiraliser – for making noodle-like ribbons out of zucchini, asparagus, beets, sweet potatoes etc – is also a big seller.

Obstacle races Tough Mudder. Spartan Race. Warrior Dash. In the US, about 4.5 million people took part in such mud runs this year, surpassing that of traditional half and full marathons combined, according to statistics provided by the trade group Running USA. We don’t have such races in Hong Kong yet, but it’s about time.

Poke For those bored of the usual salad, here’s a Hawaiian alternative. Pronounced poke-ay and meaning “to section, slice or cut” in Hawaiian, this sashimi salad bowl is a growing trend on the American west coast and in Hong Kong. Local chain Pololi ( recently opened two more outlets in Wan Chai and Sheung Wan after its first store in Central opened in November 2013.

Questionable meal times Eating at times normally reserved for sleep causes a deficiency in the type of learning and memory controlled by the hippocampus area of the brain, finds a new study on mice in the journal eLife. The researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles also found that eating at the wrong time disrupted and fragmented sleep patterns.

Root-to-stem dining With vegetables increasingly taking the place on a plate previously dominated by animal protein, this is “a logical extension of the nose-to-tail movement”, according to international food and restaurant consultants Baum + Whiteman in its 2016 dining trends report. Look out for restaurants serving vegetable trimmings that would otherwise be thrown away, they say.

Savoury yogurt: labneh “With all the health benefits of yogurt, less sugar, and a rich, savoury taste, labneh is stepping into the spotlight,” according to Sterling-Rice Group’s 2016 top 10 culinary trends report. “The thick, salted Middle Eastern yogurt cheese plays well with olive oil, spices and seeds, vegetables and even fruit.”

Treadmill studios Here’s something to take the boredom out of treadmill running: put a few machines in a studio, turn on high-energy music and glowing lights, and join others in following an enthusiastic running coach. Just like an indoor cycling class, only on treadmills. Genius. There are no studios in Hong Kong yet, but judging by how they’re proliferating in the US since New York City’s Mile High Run Club opened just over a year ago, it won’t be long before we see one.

Ultrarunning Endurance running races that are longer than marathon distance (42.195km), and on trails in particular, seem to be the new norm. Once reserved for the super fit, these days the entrance lists are filled in minutes, mostly by weekend warriors. In Hong Kong alone there are at least 15 ultra trails, including seven that are 100km or longer.

Virtual racing You don’t have to be in London to run the city’s iconic marathon. On April 24, 2016 – race day – a “digital” version of the race will be held concurrently. Download the RunSocial app to your iPad or iPhone, set the Apple device on a treadmill, run the app and select the Digital London Marathon course. You’ll be able to run the full course virtually with real footage of crowds and scenery included. The vibration generated by running on the treadmill will cause the video course to speed up or slow down, depending on your stride rate. Say hello to the future of running races.

Workout wear everywhere: athleisure The trend of donning sportswear for non-sporting activities was recently recognised by Merriam-Webster, which added the portmanteau (“athletic” + “leisure” = athleisure) to its dictionary. Never have yoga pants been more accepted.

X, Y, Z: 3D-printed sports shoes Adidas, New Balance and Nike are all working on 3D-printed shoe cushioning foams that allow for super-precise designs and quick customisation. New Balance seems to be leading the tech race: it will launch a new running shoe model that incorporates a 3D-printed midsole at next April’s Boston Marathon.