The stress linked to these uncertain times has marked, on the one hand, the search for indulgence food as comfort and, on the other hand, the necessity of taking care of oneself by boosting immunity and relieving anxiety. For these reasons, fermented food, adaptogens, and calming food have a special place in the COVID-19 era, when consumers’ switch to a more holistic approach to health.
Last spring, virtually all over the world, Google Trends recorded worldwide the highest peaks of online searches for “boosting immunity” near the peak of the contamination curve. When we look at “boosting immunity food,” we see three peaks in mid-March, early May, and early summer, thereafter, the level drops, while we still observe a high level of searches for “superfood” and exponential growth from December 2020 of more specific searches like “adaptogens” and “fermented food”.
What about “mood-food”, that is food making us feel well? The interest is high in Estonia and, in the United Arabian Emirates and, according to Google Trends, as well as local press and social media, the interest in mood-enhancing foods is growing in France and in the US.
In this post, we’ll analyze four main food and beverage trends:
- Fermented food
- Mood-boosting food and drinks
What is fermented food? As the name says, fermented food is issued from the process of fermentation. Simply put, it is the result of the transformation of organic matter by microorganisms such as bacteria and yeasts into something new. Bread, cheese, pickles, tea, coffee, and wine are all produced by fermentation, as well as condiments like nuoc-mam (the Vietnamese fish sauce) and soy sauce.
Fermented food has shaped human civilization, allowing preservation without cooking and, at the same time, enhancing the flavor.
Thanks to the probiotics that they contain, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and beverages like kombucha are known for boosting immunity by improving gut microbiome.
According to Emergen Research, The Global Fermented Food and Ingredients Market is estimated to be worth USD 875.21 Billion by 2027, with the demand for fermented foods mainly driven by increasing prevalence of digestive problems and obesity.
What is a superfood? There’s no scientifically based definition for superfood. Generally, food rich in nutrients and with additional beneficial effects on health and well-being is considered a superfood. Superfoods enhance immunity, as in the case of green tea, ginger, cranberry, blueberry, garlic, cocoa, kelp, chia seeds and also broccoli.
Local production of exotic superfoods
Recently, to overcome supply constraints due to long distance, exotic crops such as quinoa and chia seeds have started to be produced locally in France and Italy. Superfoods such as goji berries and exotic fruits such as mango and avocado are produced in Sicily.
What are adaptogens? Adaptogens, are natural substances helping the body to adapt to stress, including physical, environmental, and emotional stress. They contribute to keep the body balanced supporting the normal metabolic functions. Adaptogens help relieving stress, improving digestion, and increasing concentration.
For example, ginseng, licorice, and rhodiola are adaptogens.
According to “The Adaptogens – Global Market Outlook (2019-2027)” report by Research and Market, the global adaptogens market accounted for $9.80 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $19.20 billion by 2027 growing at a CAGR of 8.8% during the forecast period.
Mood-boosting food and drinks. Improving emotions.
In the pandemic world, mental health is becoming a new priority, with a growing attention on improving our mood with what we eat. Consumers today not only seek for nutritious food, but they also want to destress.
A growing number of studies show a relationship between eating behavior and mood.
Food influences the mood in four main ways:
- Taste and memories
- Healthy eating habits
- Specific natural substances
- Gut-brain axes
Taste and memories
A dish can improve our mood through its taste and the memories it brings back to us. This kind of food is called comfort food. It can be lasagna, pizza, cheese soufflé, and much more. What you consider as comfort food depends on your culture and family habits. In all cases, we feel better from the first bite, but this effect is only temporary.
Healthy eating habits
Healthy eating habits sustain a positive mood. Research for years now has highlighted the positive effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on health and wellbeing. In addition to this, researchers are now looking for a correlation with overall mood. A balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, and low in red meat and unhealthy fats have been associated with a lower risk of depression, while high-fat Western diets and sugar-sweetened beverages have been associated with higher risk of depression.
Specific natural substances
Thanks to their content of specific active substances, certain foods and beverages like chocolate and green tea can also enhance our mood.
Chocolate, the “Food of the Gods”, contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid (amino acid = the units making up proteins; essential = of a substance that the human body is unable to synthesize) from which serotonin and melatonin are produced.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a substance helping brain cells communicate with one another). It modulates mood, cognition, learning, memory, and many other functions.
Melatonin is another neurotransmitter. It is involved in sleep regulation.
Chocolate also contains flavonoids, potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents with benefits for cardiovascular health and possibly an impact on mood.
Apart from chocolate, sources of tryptophan include milk and dairy food, soybeans, oats, chickpea, rice, and quinoa.
Another important substance involved in the production of tryptophane is selenium. Studies have reported that a low selenium intake was associated with poorer mood. The main sources of selenium in the diet are foods like cereals, meat and dairy products, fish, seafood, milk, and nuts. The bioavailability of selenium increases in the presence of vitamins A, C, E.
In addition, eating pasta and potato for dinner will likely make you more relaxed and sleep better. How? Carbohydrate intake facilitates the uptake of tryptophan by the brain, where it is transformed into serotonin and melatonin, the neurotransmitter for “good mood” and “better sleep”.
One more word on comfort food. The positive effect of comfort food on your mood is due not only to the memories it brings back to you but also because it is often rich in carbohydrates. As we have seen previously, the high content in carbohydrates, like in pasta, potato, and cakes, makes the tryptophan more available to the brain. There, it is transformed into serotonin and melatonin, making you feel a sensation of wellbeing. Since comfort food is generally a dish rich in carbohydrates and fat, its consumption should be occasional.
To meet our serotonin and melatonin needs, it is recommended to eat foods low in calories but rich in tryptophan, such as whole grains, leafy greens, and quinoa.
Green tea and anti-energy drinks
Green tea is traditionally known to induce mental clarity, cognitive function, and relaxation.
Research is now focusing on L-theanine, the only amino acid found in tea. According to researchers, this amino acid increases serotonin production in the brain as well as the production of two other neurotransmitters involved in the regulation of mood, dopamine, and GABA. L-theanine has a calming effect, and it is now used in a new type of soft drink, the “anti-energy drinks.” The anti-energy sector is booming. As opposed to caffeine-drinks, anti-energy drinks promise consumers to relax, destress, and help to sleep. They are soft-drinks with chamomile, passiflora, linden, hops, valerian root, kava, L-theanine, and cannabidiol. All these ingredients have a relaxing effect on your mood.
The gut-brain axis
The food we eat affects our gut microbiome. A diet rich in highly processed foods, saturated fats, and sugar would increase the “bad microbiome” negatively affect your mood. Besides, research has shown a possible role of the gut microbiota in regulating tryptophan and serotonin levels in the brain. Further studies are needed to confirm and clarify the mechanism. The gut-brain axis promises in perspective fascinating ways to control your mood.
Conclusion for Health & Wellness
In the COVID-19 context, consumers not only seek for nutritious food, they also seek for food and drinks helping them to destress. The food and drinks industry is innovating in offering a variety of new kinds of products, like destressing beverages and calming food. As we will see in the next chapter, home cooking has an important part in relieving anxiety.
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