Ingredients with Health Benefits

healthy plate of food

Our nutrition scientist, Nathan Pratt, PhD, RD, helps you navigate the functional food space by offering insight on the top 5 health benefits consumers seek from functional foods

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KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • Consumers increasingly view mealtimes as an opportunity to improve their health, and many are actively seeking out more nutritious food and beverage options.
  • A recent study ranked the health benefits most important to consumers, including weight loss and the desire to have more energy.
  • Our nutrition scientist discusses which ingredients can help consumers achieve their top five health goals.

KerryDigest Full Scoop:

Consumers are increasingly aware of the direct connection between food choices and health. A healthy diet has been found to contribute positively to longevity, brain function and lowering risk of some diseases. However, the range of health benefits consumers want from their foods or beverages is growing, and it can be hard to distinguish which “healthy” ingredients are actually supported by science and which have simply earned a positive perception amongst consumers.

The recent 2021 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) asked consumers to prioritize the health benefits they sought from food. We’re taking a deeper look at the top five benefits as rated by consumers, exploring each category and adding scientifically supported information on ways brands can craft nutritious products designed to help consumers meet specific health goals. Before adding on-pack claims to a product, get guidance from your regulatory department.

Health benefit: Weight loss and management

The reality is that most people with ample food supply struggle day-to-day with food choices related to weight, which helps explain why this was rated as the top concern in the IFIC survey by nearly 40% of respondents. The percentage of people who are overweight or obese in the United States and Europe are 73% and 53%, respectively. There are nuances to what causes excess weight gain, but for the most part it comes down to consuming more calories than are burned.

Weight management should not just be a focus of niche products aimed at helping people keep a healthy weight, but rather a consideration for every food or beverage produced by our industry.yogurt bowl with fruit and flax

Due to the importance of this issue, weight management should not just be a focus of niche products aimed at helping people keep a healthy weight, but it should be a consideration for every food or beverage produced by our industry.

No matter what food or beverage you produce, ask the following questions:

  • Is the fat and sugar as low as it can be while still having a well-liked product?
  • Is the serving size appropriate and intuitive for a consumer?
  • Is there a way to modify the food to help with satiety/fullness?

Taste and sensory sciences are some of the most important tools available for reducing calories while ensuring a product is well-liked. They are key to understanding our behavior as we eat, how many calories lead to fullness and how we can modify texture of foods to improve fullness when reducing calories, such as through addressing mouthfeel in reduced-sugar beverages, which is pivotal to the future of weight management.

Fibre and protein are two nutrients increasingly associated in studies with more feelings of fullness and less hunger after eating. Fortifying products with healthy and filling ingredients is another way to create products that can help consumers meet weight loss goals.

Health benefit: More energy and less fatigue

Energy, and by association other mood benefits like focus or less mental fatigue, are high on the IFIC list—ranking just below weight loss—because of their everyday impact. While many aspects of nutrition focus on long-term benefits, like eating more fibre or less saturated fat for reduced risk of disease, the delayed pay-off may keep motivation low. However, improving energy and mood can have an instant impact.

People define energy many different ways, and each comes with unique nutrition solutions. Some ingredients used for this benefit are still being studied, so be sure to be look at the state of the science for each ingredient you want to use to see if it supports your goals.

Physical energy mostly comes from calories. Whole grains provide sustained energy over a period of a few hours, while refined grains are digested more quickly. However, most consumers looking for more energy are more interested in combatting mental fatigue. Hunger and mental fatigue often go hand-in-hand, so nutrients like protein and fibre have potential to help due to their role in satiety.

‘Adaptogens’ and ‘nootropics’ are phrases we see more and more on energy and mood products. These words are used to describe ingredients that help our body adapt to stress, which can include mental stress. You’ll commonly see the phrases used for extract ingredients such as turmeric, ginseng or ginger, as well as isolated ingredients like GABA or CBD. Research is still emerging for most of these ingredients, so keep your eye on this area.

Caffeine is the most common ingredient you’ll see used for energy, with sources including green coffee and green tea getting more attention recently. When crafting products with caffeine, be aware that it is not recommended to consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine in a single serving or more than 400 milligrams in a day.

The scientific understanding of digestive health and the microbiome has boomed over the past couple of decades, leading to a growth in consumer awareness as well as products designed to support this benefit.bowl of healthy green veggies

Health benefit: Digestive health

The scientific understanding of digestive health and the microbiome has boomed over the past couple of decades, leading to a growth in consumer awareness as well as a bounty of products designed to support this benefit. In the IFIC survey, this was the third highest rated category, with around 36% of consumers expressing an interest.

Fibres have a long-standing relationship with digestive health and a very large body of science to support it. Despite the strength of the science, few people consume enough fibre: Only around 12% of adults meet the daily recommendation for fibre intake in the United States, with similar statistics seen in other countries. Most people consume less than half of the daily recommendation, making the addition of fibre a key consideration for brands wanting to help make this goal easier for consumers to achieve.

Probiotics are another digestive health ingredient with very broad appeal. Probiotics have a specific definition according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics: “Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. When choosing a probiotic, be sure to choose one that is shown by scientific studies to have a health benefit and to be using the proper dose or amount to deliver that health benefit.

Health benefit: Heart health

There are many ways that foods and beverages can support heart health, which ranked as the fourth most desired benefit in the IFIC survey. Science suggests that eating more fruits and vegetables is the most effective way to improve your health through diet, according to the Scientific Report for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and that the second most effective dietary change a person could make is to eat more whole grains due to their role in improving many aspects of health, including heart health. However, less than 2% of Americans meet their daily whole grain recommendation. A main barrier of whole grains consumption is often taste, so finding clever ways to ‘sneak’ whole grain servings into foods people already enjoy is an important way to improve public health.

Reducing saturated fat in products is another important way to improve heart health. The main sources of saturated fat in diet are typically animal-based foods like meat or dairy, so the plant-based trend has a key role to play here. To ensure plant-based alternatives deliver on a heart health benefit, healthy fats like mono- or polyunsaturated fats can be used instead of saturated fats. Some dairy alternatives use grain bases; by sourcing an oat base that contains whole grains you can provide additional heart health benefits in your product while also avoiding some of the saturated fat naturally found in dairy.

Health benefit: Muscular health

Science has shown that some groups such as athletes, people losing weight or healthy agers can benefit from protein intakes that are higher than current daily recommendations when it comes to optimising muscle health. Studies suggest we might need up to 50% more protein per day to maintain muscle mass as we age beyond 50 years old, which is essential to staying active in later years and maintaining independence.

There are three things to keep in mind when it comes to protein for muscle health:

  1. Amount of protein: Over the last 20 years, science has shown that there is a certain amount of protein required to ‘switch on’ protein synthesis. This is typically around 20-25 grams of protein at one sitting, but can vary with age and activity level.
  2. Protein quality: Not all proteins contain all of the amino acids, or building blocks, the human body needs, and some are less digestible than others. Milk and egg proteins are seen as the ‘gold standards’ when it comes to protein quality, while plant proteins are often missing specific amino acids. Blending plant protein sources (e.g., pea and rice) or using soy protein are effective ways to create plant protein products with a high protein quality.
  3. Protein timing. Eating the ‘effective dose’ of protein more times throughout the day will lead to more muscle growth and retention than eating larger amounts of protein fewer times per day. Higher protein products aimed at different dayparts, especially breakfast and morning snack times, when protein intakes are typically lower, can help consumers with this goal.

To learn more about adding sustainable nutrition to your products, contact us. For more information on nutrition science and research, explore the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute.

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