Trust your gut: Growing interest in personalized nutrition and functional foods

18 Dec 2022

Taste Tomorrow

While research on personalized nutrition is still in its infancy and bringing personalization to the mass market meets with several difficulties, research data show that the interest in the subject is growing. Gut health already has been of enormous impact on the bakery sector. Personalized nutrition will have an even bigger impact.

New research data from Taste Tomorrow show that global interest in gut health is increasing: 3 out of 4 consumers have interest in gut health to improve immunity (78%) and mental well-being (75%). Data also show that consumers are largely discussing foods with specific health-boosting properties: functional foods and personalized nutrition. These conversations cover both mental and physical benefits such as Mood food and Gut health. It is the next step in the consumer’s search for gut-friendly food options, the trend that made fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha increasingly popular, just like yogurt, kefir, whole-grain and sourdough breads and other high in fiber options.

Gut health

What is the relation between gut health and personalized nutrition? Our microbiome contains trillions of microorganisms. This ecosystem plays a fundamental role in maintaining our health, nutrition, immune defenses and as more recently discovered, brain activity and behavior. These gut microbiota form a complex system composed also by the central and enteric nervous systems, known as the microbiota-gut-brain-axis. Various international studies show that the proper ecological balance of the gut microbiota is known to affect brain development, cognitive performance, mood, reactivity to stress and socialization and it even plays a role in certain psychopathologies such as depression and autism.

No one-size-fits-all diet

Traditional medicine hasn’t paid much attention to nutrition. But research has exploded in the past five years suggesting the importance of the gut microbiome to overall health and the way it can be affected by food. It’s a complex process: foods contain over 25,000 chemicals. They combine with more than a thousand different species of microbes in the gut that interact with 20,000 genes. Also, hormones play a role. A slight change and the whole system can get out of balance, which can cause long-term problems.

With this in mind, researchers are coming around to the idea that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet for improving health. The interplay of genes and microbes affects how and what we eat and how the body responds. Everybody is different and needs something else. Carrots are healthy, but some people are better at digesting them than others. Or take coffee, for example: some people metabolize caffeine in a healthy way, others don’t. Which camp you fall into depends on the above-mentioned factors. Above all: the microbiome.

Optimizing individual health

The most well-developed food and beverage segment focused on microbiome health is the probiotic market. Probiotics are living microbes, also known as ‘good bacteria’ that live naturally in the body. All different kinds of foods are getting fortified with probiotics to gain health benefits. Still, it’s not very precise and personal.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what food we’d need to eat to optimize our individual health and performance? That’s the question researchers and some companies have been posing over the last few years. Using technologies such as genomics, proteomics and metabolomics they analyze what people eat and predict how they respond to it. One example of a company that offers personalized nutrition is Zoe, an American brand that offers an online testing kit, which looks at your overall metabolic health, which will work out how your genetics, timing of food, blood chemistry, and so on will have an overall impact on your well-being.

Predicting diets

Bringing personalization to the mass market meets with several difficulties: so far there is no single definition of a healthy gut microbiome, or of an imbalance in the gut. The research is still in its early days. Experts are now trying to establish links between the microbiome and diseases. Hopefully, this will lead to insights that can specify or predict what you need to eat to modify your microbiome in the long term. At the moment it is still unclear how the microbiomes exactly react to what we eat. 

Reading consumer’s needs

What we do know is that bread can play a key role in increasing the quality of people’s diets, nurturing a healthy gut and keeping or restoring a well-functioning immune system. Prebiotic fibers, like in whole wheat and seeds, selectively promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. An increasing amount of studies show that adding food that’s rich in prebiotic compounds to the diet is a very effective way to keep a healthy gut, or restore an imbalanced one.

Some countries allow the use of gut health promoting claims in finished products that contain adequate amounts of a single source of cereal fiber, like wheat, rye and oat fiber.This brings us to another challenge that has to be solved before the bakery sector can benefit from the personalized nutrition trend: legal approval of health claims. 

Take sourdough for example: even though an increasing amount of studies show that the use of active living sourdough and long-time fermentation processes results in improved bread digestibility and the lack of unpleasant after-meal gastrointestinal symptoms, a legally approved health claim isn’t accepted yet. Although regulations are not there yet, more and more consumers experience the benefits of sourdough on their well-being. Increasing both its popularity and sales numbers. Luckily, microbiome research has accelerated dramatically in recent years. So, in the future, it might be possible for bakeries to ‘read’ consumer’s needs by a metabolic reading device they carry on their bodies. And to give personal advice on what type of bread or ingredient he or she needs to feel more happy or healthy.

Taste Tomorrow

Taste Tomorrow is the world’s largest ecosystem for consumer understanding in bakery, patisserie and chocolate. By tracking local and global consumer behaviors, attitudes and choices it provides us with valuable, in-depth insights. We are able to use these insights to track the evolution of trends and reveal new ones, helping your business to stay connected to your customers and discover new opportunities.

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