Affordable nutrition for everyone is the key message at Food Matters Live’s Inspiring Nutrition
Nutrition should be affordable and accessible to everyone, that was the key message at Food Matters Live’s Inspiring Nutrition event, which took place at London’s Wellcome Collection on 23 and 24 of May.
Dr Kavita Karnik, Global Head of Nutrition, Regulatory and Scientific Affairs at Tate & Lyle, the Inspiring Nutrition session partner, stressed the importance of making nutrition democratic and reaching all sections of society, not just the few – a concept also brought up by Aoife Marie Murphy PhD, Sustainable Nutrition Manager at global ingredients, taste and nutrition company Kerry, in the keynote speech 10 key trends in health and nutrition that opened Inspiring Nutrition.
Dr Karnik who took part in The importance of nutrition research in improving human health and longevity panel with Dr Richard Siow, Director of Ageing Research at King’s College, London, chaired by Dr Lindsay Keir, Director of Science and Policy at Policy Cures Research, highlighted the need to translate food and nutrition science to consumers, so that they can make informed decisions. After all consumers don’t think about nutrients she said, but about food. Dr Siow agreed, pointing out the importance of finding ways to interact with consumers for better health, not in GP surgeries, but at the supermarket, which is where people buy most of their food.
Years ago nutrition science started in home economics classes, where individuals not only learned some invaluable cooking skills, but were also educated about the science behind what they were eating, Dr Siow said. Learning about food should start at a young age, and he remarked that food education should start in the kindergarten, yet a large number of children – and adults – know little about where food comes from. This point was shared by Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of food company Field Doctor, Sasha Watkins, who spoke on The future of nutrition and health: the health of practitioners perspective. For Sasha too better nutrition should be taught early in life. She added that, in her experience, people do want to eat better, but lack the necessary cooking skills. Good nutrition should be evidence based, she stated, and governments should work harder on their nutrition and science policies. She also suggested that countries’ quality of life index should be measured on the health of their citizens too, and wondered why such a measurement isn’t yet in place. A strong point indeed, especially considering the escalating number of overweight and obese people in the world, who either can’t cook or can’t afford nutritious food. Statistics from 2021 show that 63.5% of adults in England were overweight or living with obesity. Worryingly this trend affects children too, with 23.4% of year six (age 10-11) classified as obese, and a further 14.3% deemed overweight.
Speaking on the same panel, Dr Kiran Sodha pointed out the lack of nutrition training when he studied medicine at university, adding that a new NHS fund, ARS, has now allocated money to GP practices to provide health coaches or paramedics, to teach patients about good nutrition, yet that should perhaps be the job of a general practitioner. Keynote speaker Dr Elizabeth Thompson also made this point in her presentation, saying that healthcare professionals of the future should be taught to have conversations about food and stressing that daily rituals determine our health and longevity.
Funding nutrition research
Global ingredient supplier Tate & Lyle’s research is done independently, not in house. The company works with 100 universities to carry out studies on nutrients and ingredients and research must continually progress if we want to feed 9 billion people, said Dr Karnick. Making this research available and understandable to consumers is also of the utmost importance and it’s crucial to dispel misinformation when it comes to nutrition. “We should spend more time on good science rather than fighting bad science,” she stressed. Dr Siow agreed, stating that despite the fact that there is much more nutrition technology these days, more funding into the science and into food formulation is needed.
How human connection can aid good nutrition
The importance of human relationships was highlighted by many experts at Inspiring Nutrition.
In her speech, keynote speaker Dr Elizabeth Thompson spoke about the need for human connection, a theme that was prevalent throughout the two days of Inspiring Nutrition. Sasha Watkins concurred, adding that individuals are more likely to make necessary dietary changes if they do it with friends and family. Eating together, socialising around food is one of the basis of the Mediterranean Diet, deemed the healthiest and most nutritious of them all. Yet in many households, families don’t even have a dining table and often eat convenience food in front of the TV or laptop.
Compassion is important for good health too said Dr Thompson, as well as being active, always learning, giving our time, words and presence to those we care about and taking notice of our surroundings. So no TV or laptop, but communication, connection and good nutritious food, full of plant-based produce with little meat, fish and dairy.
More nutrition, less prescription
Dr Kiran Sodha, who spoke about the lack of nutrition science in his medical training, said he wouldn’t know what kind of doctor he would be without his prescription pad, because physicians are encouraged to prescribe pharmaceuticals. Dr Thompson was of the same opinion, stating that around 10% of all prescribed drugs are not required.
Prevention rather than prescription was also a hot topic, yet in the UK we are more likely to cure rather than taking care of our health before an ailment or disease rears its head.
The microbiome in the gut and beyond
The microbiome remains a key consumer concern, although focus is expanding beyond digestive health. Microbes live in many other areas of the human body, such as the mouth, skin, respiratory and urogenital tracts for instance. This message needs to be delivered to consumers, and a more holistic approach to the microbiome will be seen more and more in the next few years.
As well as pre- and probiotics, postbiotics, the ‘new kid on the block’, are also emerging as a key trend for 2023. But it’s important too that consumers understand that whilst taking probiotics may be beneficial for some individuals, a varied diet comprising of 30 different plants a week can do wonders for the gut.
Women’s health stands out
Women’s health featured prominently throughout the event, with multiple speakers bringing attention to gender gaps in health research. Shockingly, we heard that up to 85% of nutritional research is confined to male participants, with the industry historically treating women as if they were simply ‘small men’. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Aoife Marie Murphy shared in her keynote speech, women have unique nutritional needs throughout their lifespan, beginning at puberty and moving throughout pregnancy into menopause and beyond.
Despite the dynamic nutritional needs of women’s health throughout their lifespan, the industry has historically treated them as homogenous. Thankfully, this looks set to change as new products targeting women’s specific needs are hitting the market at a rapid pace.
As we heard from Holland and Barrett’s Senior Nutritionist Alex Glover, red clover extract is trending due to its naturally high levels of isoflavones, a plant compound that exerts oestrogen-like effects. Likewise, sage has also seen renewed interest owing to its purported ability to alleviate hot flushes.
Personalised nutrition takes centre stage
Personalisation took centre stage at Inspiring Nutrition, emerging as a key trend across the panels on nutraceuticals, sports, functional and performance nutrition. As research shows that we respond differently to the same foods, consumers increasingly want nutritional solutions tailored to their unique biology – not the average of non-representative nutritional studies.
James Morehen, Performance Nutritionist at Bristol Bears Rugby, England Rugby Roses, highlighted the dangers of a one-size-all-fits-approach to nutrition whilst discussing Consumer trends across sports, performance and active nutrition. Whilst consulting for a professional female football team, James discovered that blank nutritional advice resulted in numerous players over-fuelling and others under-fuelling by up to 2000 calories. Despite the fact the women played in different positions and had variable energy expenditures, they were treated as homogenous. The story offers a microcosm of society as a whole and shows that dietary advice needs to be tailored to activity levels, genes and other variables.
The ‘AND’ consumer is driving rapid change in the food and drink industry
Today’s consumers want more from their products, seeking out natural, premium, and local taste experiences. On top of this, they also want more convenient, affordable options that are sustainably sourced – what Kerry calls ‘the AND consumer’.
Sustainability issues fuelling plant-based innovation
As we heard in Kerry’s keynote speech, sustainability is a ‘mega-trend’ driving the rise of plant-based foods, alternative proteins and cellular, slaughter-free animal protein.
With food production accounting for over a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, consumers care about the sustainability credentials of nutritional products. This consumer appetite for sustainable products is accelerating innovation in plant-based alternatives.
In the closing panel covering Sustainable and responsible nutrition, Huel co-founder and Head of Sustainable Nutrition James Collier raised concerns about the NOVA classification system, suggesting that ultra-processed food is an unhelpful categorisation that could stifle plant-based protein alternatives.
As consumers begin to demand more than meat mimicry and challenge the heavily processed nature of plant proteins, Kerry’s Aoife Marie Murphy raised a provocative question: should we be re-imagining plant-based proteins, taking the best of meat items to create a unique plant-based proposition?
‘Biohackers’ are driving a shroom boom
Whilst traditional ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, and saffron remain popular with consumers, there are novel ingredients taking the functional ingredients industry by storm.
Adaptogens are a key area of focus
Adaptogens are herbs, roots, and other plant substances (like mushrooms) purported to help our bodies manage stress. Adaptogens were a prominent point of discussion across both days, representing the fastest growing key ingredient trend across both functional nutrition and nutraceuticals.
Speaking on The future of nutraceuticals panel, Alex Glover told us that ashwagandha is the most popular adaptogen on the market – and the best studied.
Whilst adaptogens and nootropics can be consumed in multiple formats, coffee appears to be the most popular conduit for both. These ingredient trends all reflect the growing interest in cognitive health, as identified by Kerry.
Mind and mood matter
Topping consumer concerns were energy and alertness, with supplements seeking to fight fatigue and enhance cognition boasting the most product launches in 2023. Within this wider theme omega 3, polyphenols, and adaptogens all stand out as key ingredient trends. Related to this, the gut-brain axis is a key area of focus, with people turning to probiotic supplementation and other products targeting the brain via the gut.
Biological data is a valuable currency
The growing demand for personalised nutrition has fuelled a renewed interest in wearables such as blood glucose monitors and smart watches, although concerns have been raised about data privacy – ‘a new currency’ in the words of Vityl’s Roxane Bakker. Going forward, regulation on the storage and use of this data will be paramount.