Food as a medicine

Kate Holland, MSc Design Innovation in Food, Bord Bia – The Irish Food Board

Consumers are increasingly looking to tailor diets to their specific needs with regard to health trends, emerging science and media attention. This reflects New Nutrition Business’s 2018 Food, Nutrition and Health trend “Personalisation and Fragmentation”. Today, food companies cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all strategy, there is no average consumer anymore according to the vice president of Conagra food company. As this trend grows it is time to consider the range of health challenges we face globally with an aging population, a growing obesity epidemic and a global rise in lifestyle diseases.

Consumers are increasingly looking at measures to manage their diet, the degree of personalisation varies per consumer.

Lifestyle Consumer: For this consumer personalisation is simply about the preference of what foods work for them based on experimentation and avoidance. Incorporating Free-From foods into their diet even in the absence of a nutrient intolerance or allergy such as gluten is a common trial of lifestyle consumers. They rely on a variety of information sources such as bloggers, social media and fitness gurus and personalise their diets based on lifestyle.

Technology Consumer: Personalisation is taken a step further for this consumer who may experiment with DNA and microbiome tests. Dietary and lifestyle changes are based on diet-related or disease prevention objectives. This small but growing group of consumers are progressively open to science-based approach. Medical motivations for managing/preventing diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and IBS are popular with this consumer.

As expressed by New Nutrition Business, “Naturally Functional” is the King of Trends and a key driver of the success of many foods now known as “Super Foods” such as blueberries, chia seeds and goji berries. This suggests consumers desire foodstuffs and ingredients which they perceive as naturally healthy and offer an intrinsic benefit. Naturally Healthy overlaps with and is influential with most other trends. Notably, trends do not exist in isolation and often the most successful brands and ingredients are those which deliver across multiple trends.

The Digestive Wellness trend has seen significant growth over the past 20 years and its growth is set to continue, fuelled by scientific developments, NPD innovation and mounting media attention. Free-from Gluten, Lactose and Dairy products have emerged from an unusual niche and concept to everyday label statements. Probiotics and their tummy friendly properties is a trend in its infancy and have given birth to the much heard of Danone Activia and Yakult fermented drinks.

More recently, “Low-FODMAPs” has been seen to make an impression amongst the Digestive Wellness trend. The Low FODMAP diet was designed in Australia for those with digestive sensitivities and IBS (affecting 10-20% of the population) who poorly absorb these short-chain carbohydrates. Innovations in “FODMAP-friendly” products and ingredients are increasing, including Fazer’s Belly Friendly Rye bread, the world’s first low-FODMAP rye bread.

New Nutrition Business’s 2018 trend “Good Carbs Bad Carbs” has grown due to consumer demand for better and fewer carbs. The trend has created large, growing niches and is fastly becoming a mainstream credit to emerging science and media attention. Arising scientific evidence suggests diets high in carbohydrate especially refined carbs may contribute to the development of CVD via inflammation and may be influential in the progression of Obesity and Diabetes. With diabetes incidence expected to double by 2030, low-carb diets are gaining ground as a treatment, supported by Diabetes UK saying it could lower blood sugar levels beneficial for those with diabetes.

New Nutrition Business’s “Inflammation” trend has seen growth with science backing its nutritional credentials. Chronic inflammation, the body’s response to diet, lifestyle, infection and environment has proven progressive of heart disease, brain diseases, cancer, IBS, obesity and arthritis. Research is indicating that diets such as the much talked of low-carb and ketogenic diets and certain anti-inflammatory foods including turmeric, ginger and flaxseed can lower inflammation. Professor D.r Frank Hu of Harvard School of Public Health expressed “Following a more anti-inflammatory style of eating may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and some cancers”. Unlike many health trends with conflicting scientific evidence, health experts, social media bloggers and scientists appear to agree on the potential positive impact of anti-inflammatory foods on a variety of diseases. Bloggers are promoting the trend with hipster lifestyle experiences such turmeric lattes and scientists at Harvard Medical School updated a 2014 bulletin this year “Foods that fight inflammation – Doctors are learning that one of the best ways to quell inflammation lies not in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator”.