Functional Food Trends

Functional Food Trends

Today we are more conscious of the foods that we eat, and as consumers we want to find highly customizable foods, beverages and diet options that allow us to optimize our health. Over the past years, consumers have begun to redefine what a healthy lifestyle looks like in their day-to-day routines. A healthy lifestyle includes exercising regularly, paying attention to mental and emotional health while eating well and making sure to have some time to relax. Almost half of all consumers admit that they now watch what they eat. 


Individuals considered fit, who live healthy and active lifestyles where they frequently physically exercise and focus on promoting their everyday physical and mental health represent 40 percent of the general population. And now, with an increasingly older generation, functional food sales are predicted to rise. 


What are functional foods? 


Functional foods are common foods that not only provide us with essential or basic nutrients, but also have other health benefits associated with them. Functional foods can provide us with nutrients beyond what we need for normal bodily maintenance, growth and development. They also give our bodies other bioactive components that can contribute other health benefits and desirable physiological effects. 


Foods that are rich in nutrients like fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, legumes and seafood are typically considered functional foods. Food scientists have also developed fortified, enriched or enhanced foods like adding calcium to orange juice, fortifying milk with Vitamin D or grains with added fiber which would also be considered as functional foods. 


When functional foods are consumed as part of a healthy diet, they can help you:


-Prevent nutritional deficiencies

-Reduce the risks of chronic disease

-Promote proper growth and development

-Enhance your overall health


Functional Food Trends


These are some examples of the top functional food trends that have grown out of the demand for a healthy lifestyle among consumers. 


Eating Healthy


Consuming high-quality, nutrient-dense foods and beverages is second to eating tasty foods within the criteria consumers use to define whether or not they have eaten well. One major trend that has overcome eating foods that are good in a holistic way is eating specific foods that can provide a unique benefit to the body. 


Growing interest in the unique benefits of healthy foods and ingredients is also popularizing the consumption of superfoods and more novel food ingredients. Healthy eating has also begun to focus more on finding a good balance, reducing sugar or sodium intake while increasing intake of nutrients that are considered “good”. 


Buying Foods with Healthy Ingredients


Consumers are also increasingly choosing to buy foods and beverages that contain specific healthy ingredients. Some examples include protein and fiber, vitamin D, calcium, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. All of which are ingredients that more than half of consumers are trying to include more of into their diet. 


More and more consumers are looking for and choosing products that have added antioxidants, omega-3s, green tea and probiotics. Along with choosing to use more olive oil and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils in their diet. 


Increasingly, consumers are consuming more superfoods such as fermented foods, avocados, seeds, exotic fruits, ancient grains, blueberries, nuts, non-dairy milk, beets, and green tea. These foods were trending superfoods for 2020. 


More than half of consumers now take an herbal/botanical supplement. Herbal supplements are one of the fastest growing supplement categories, with sales reaching a high of over $8 billion since 2018.


Foods that Contribute to Brain Health


When consumers were asked what healthy means for them, more than half cited their ability to deal with stress, staying alert or bright-minded and being able to relax and have a good time. Having a healthy brain ranks high among the benefits that consumers want to get from the foods that they eat. 


For the older population aged 50 and over, memory, focus and cognition were ranked fourth among the health benefits that they want to get from foods. Maintaining mental sharpness with age is at the top of the overall list of health concerns globally. That’s why anti-aging foods are getting more popular.


Stress relief is also an important culinary trend for 2020, with CBD snacks or sweets ranked hottest when it comes to dessert trends, and CBD infused meals were one of the top culinary innovations on trend for 2020 as well. 


Foods That are Quick and Easy


Foods and healthy snacks that are quick, easy and high in nutrients have continued to drive growth within the functional food category. Sales of meal replacement and weight loss beverages have increased over the years and consumers are looking for more meal replacements that can help them increase their immunity and help aid digestion. 


Eating diets that are high in protein is now important to over half of all consumers, as well as paying attention to food products that are low to no sugar, low carb and have no artificial sweeteners. Half of those who participate in physical exercise will always or usually pick specific foods after their workout, and more than a third will choose specific foods before exercise. 


The top benefit that consumers associate with a high protein diet is muscle health and muscle growth. There are also other benefits that include physical energy, weight management, healthy hair, skin and nails, mental energy, brain nourishment, bone health, sports recovery, and athletic performance.


While consumers become more aware of the availability of different proteins, they have become more focused on the quality of the protein and try to find a protein that is suited to their needs. Many consumers are choosing to go with a plant-based source of protein, and an increasing amount say that going plant-based is very important to them. 


Getting the right nutrients to meet the body’s needs is becoming increasingly important to today’s consumers. For more information, you can continue reading our guide to functional foods.


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Medically reviewed by:

Frankie O'Brien, MS, RD, LDN

Registered Dietitian

Frankie is a registered and licensed dietitian who received her Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she also completed her dietetic internship. Frankie is passionate about helping others with mindful eating, lifestyle changes, weight management, and performance nutrition. She focuses on helping clients improve their relationship with food and navigate the misinformation in the media. Frankie has experience helping others make sustainable changes to help them reach their long-term goals. During her career, she has helped others find a healthy relationship with food so they feel empowered to ditch diets and trust their bodies.

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