The topic of gut health, along with tips for improving the gut microbiome, has been around for a while now, and the evidence base to support it is only growing. Many people seem to be taking an interest in gut health due to the sheer number of health parameters that it can impact and improve; everything from mental health to immunity.
The best way to help improve the diversity of the gut microbiome is to eat a wide variety of plant based foods; at least 30 different types a week (different colours count as a different type!), including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, wholegrains and spices, as this way, our healthy gut microbes will be well fed and will diversify! It’s more about what people are adding to their diet, as opposed to taking away when it comes to gut health, which includes the importance of adding prebiotics as well as probiotics to the diet; whether that be from yoghurt based products or from fermented foods.
Sustainability is another big driver and is strongly linked with people eating more plant-based/focused diets. People are caring more about where their food is coming from and the impact that producing the food has had/is having on the planet i.e. the carbon footprint. For sustainability we should be eating a wide variety of foods, including plant foods, with moderate amounts of meat and fish from certified sustainable sources, if eaten. Healthy fats such as rapeseed and olive oil should also be consumed, alongside unsalted nuts and seeds, and dairy products or alternatives potentially fortified with calcium and iodine.
Cost of living
Alongside sustainability is the topical subject of the cost of living crisis - ways to save money, especially when it comes to food, are pertinent and needed right now. The public need to be empowered to believe that healthy eating on a budget is possible, for example encouraging shoppers to buy frozen as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen produce contains as many (and sometimes more) nutrients than fresh and can help reduce food waste too. It’s also good to look for products that offer nutritional value which don’t have to be expensive, such as kale or walnuts.
There’s been a greater focus on women’s health recently too, with discussions around how women and their nutritional needs differ from men, when previously a lot of nutritional science could be very ‘one size fits all’. There’s more attention now on the different hormonal challenges women face, such as the monthly cycle, and going through the menopause and how this impacts a woman’s body, physical performance and nutritional needs.
A non-nutrition health driver that brands should be focusing on is breathwork which involves controlled breathing to improve mental health, sleep, productivity and more.
TikTok Trends - a note of caution
TikTok trends such as the ‘internal shower’ (a drink made with water, chia seeds and lemon juice) or #watertok (featuring brightly coloured flavoured waters) gain popularity quickly but are generally quickly replaced with a new craze, so brands need to be careful not to focus too much on the short term gains these trends offer and only look to those that offer real nutritional benefit – which isn’t many!
Traditional media may pick up on these trends (usually shared along with supporting quotes from Health Care Professionals regarding if they should be followed or not), but coverage usually only extends to a week or so before they move on to the next trend.
What are the slow burners coming to reality?
Brain health and eating to support mental health are key areas at the moment, and with more people consuming less meat (which is a good source of iron; deficiency of which can cause changes in mood and lethargy) as well as oily fish (which provides brain healthy omega 3 fatty acids), supplements are sometimes required to supplement plantbased sources of omega-3 in the diet, like walnuts, flaxseed and rapeseed oil.
Personalised nutrition (and personalised supplementation) has been growing in popularity for a while; limited only by the science and technology available. There are though now companies helping users to improve their metabolic health through user feedback such as CGMs (Continuous Glucose Monitoring).
What is becoming entry level or old hat?
Cutting out meat and fish completely (veganism) seems to being replaced with eating in a more ‘flexitarian’ manner, with people realising that you do not need to take an all or nothing approach to eating a more plant based/focused diet.
It also seems that ‘fad’ diets are starting to become far less popular, thanks to more knowledge around healthy eating and realising that restrictive diets do not work in the long term. By following a diet designed to lose weight in a short space of time, you will more than likely be cutting out important food groups and giving yourself intense cravings, making you feel like you’ve failed - definitely time to say goodbye to this way of thinking! In addition to this, intermittent fasting seems also to be being left behind, with people slowly realising that it’s not a sustainable way to eat for most.
The 5- a-day message for daily fruit and vegetable intake is still touted by the NHS and Government but has now been joined by the newer message of eating 30 different plant-based foods across the week. This newer messaging prompts people to make changes if they keep buying the same fruits and vegetables each week and draws on the messages around ‘adding’ to your diet. It’s newer and more interesting than ‘5-a-day’ which we have heard for 20 years, since 2003, but will be interesting to know if we’re still talking about it in 20 years!
How do you make claims that are rigid, responsible and backed up by data?
Enlisting the support of a Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist should be the first port of call for all food manufacturers seeking to make health claims and / or wanting to educate the public as research into nutrition is constantly evolving and this in turn will impact the advice that is given.
Looking at large, well-controlled studies (such as RCTs and systematic reviews) which have been conducted recently by a reliable source is what is needed when it comes to extrapolating trustworthy data.
The only way to make sure that health claims are legitimate is to run them by the Government website.
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