Superfoods banner expands as disease reduction evidence grows

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14 Aug 2017 --- Products and ingredients marketed as “superfoods” are exploding in popularity. Indeed, Innova Market Insights statistics show that there was a global increase of 47 percent in compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for new products with a “superfood” claim from 2011 to 2016. There was also a 15 percent increase in CAGR for new product launches with a “superfruit” claim.

Research has also suggested that they could play a role in staving off disease.

The impact of nutritional lipids on neuronal and cognitive performance in aging, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia has been studied by the European project LidiDiDiet, according to an article by the knowledge-based bio-economy ProBIO project on youris.com. The aim of the research was to analyze the link between some omega 3 sources and the lowering of the risk of Alzheimer’s, to complement medical therapy with nutrition, especially in the early stages.

Click to EnlargeAdditionally, after two years of research, a medical food in the form of a nutritional drink was also developed last year. The daily beverage Souvenaid can help to conserve memory in people in the pre-dementia stage of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly within the brain area that stores short-term memories for long-term retrieval. The drink contains a specific combination of fatty acids and vitamins, and the positive effect has been proven by randomized clinical trials.

New superfood platforms
According to experts, superfoods can affect brain functions, from cognitive ability to memory, learning and emotions. “Among nutrients not to be missed are folates found in dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, citrus and eggs. They are very important for memory and verbal fluency,” says nutritionist biologist Elisabetta Bernardi, who collaborates with the well-known Italian scientific program Superquark.

“But it is equally important to avoid deleterious foods: a diet rich in saturated fats, sugars or calories can reduce cognitive functions. Overweight or obese adults have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia, and obesity is also linked to memory deficits,” Bernardi continues.

Health platforms with growth potential in the superfoods field going forward include Ayurveda for holistic health, adaptogens for less stress and the incorporation of multiple superfoods for greater intensity, according to Innova Market Insights 

Still super popular
The increase in superfoods’ popularity has happened despite the EU showing concern about their sensationalist promises in 2007 by banning the use of “superfood” on labels without a health claim that’s “clear, accurate and based on scientific evidence,” explaining why the food is good for consumers. Latin America has seen a particular increase in interest, with a huge 142 percent jump from 2011 to 2016, according to Innova Market Insights, but numbers are up all over the world.

Now many companies in the West are emboldened to try out new recipes with seemingly exotic ingredients, like goji berries, quinoa or algae, to appeal to Western tastes. At this year’s edition of "Seeds & Chips," a global food innovation summit, the European Research Media Center reports that the Irish start-up Seamore presented reinterpretations of traditional foods like Italian “tagliatelle” or English bacon by replacing pasta and pork with marine algae.

“In essence, seaweeds are a vegetable, but they contain nutrients absent in most vegetables, like iodine and omega 3. Indeed, fish get their omega 3 from seaweed,” explains company founder and CEO Willem Sodderland. The three cold-water seaweeds studied by the startup, namely the brown Himanthalia, the red Palmaria Palmata – which tastes like bacon – and the most known green variety have very little fat.

“There is a lot of isolated scientific research about the nutrition of seaweed, for example, finding a connection between Japanese people becoming very old and the way they use algae,” says Sodderland. “Moreover, it is supposed that seaweed is able to change and create a better gut flora, which is essential for the absorption of all other nutrients. Unfortunately, outside Asia, seaweed is such an unknown food that scientific research has only just started.”

Superfoods get smaller
Superfoods will be smaller and smaller in the future, says the ProBIO project’s communication, because it is easier to assimilate. Some foods are called “super” because they are nutritionally dense and particularly rich in nutrients.

For example, insects are some of the small superfoods – and are listed among the new worldwide trends. But in Europe right at the moment, only Belgium, Denmark, The Netherlands and the UK permit marketing and consumption of insects.

“Insects are nutritious and tasty, similar to crustaceans,” says Marco Ceriani, founder of the Italian start up Italbugs, However, he asserts that “the future of nutrition will not be about putting insects directly into your mouth as in Asian countries, [but] rather using flours produced from insects.”

Insect food is known to be hyper-proteinaceous. It is difficult to think that it will become competitive with other traditional food, but it could probably make it to market in specific areas such as sports-food, nutraceuticals and animal nutrition. “Among our products there is an insect powder containing 50 percent protein, consisting of crickets and flour larvae, packaged in ingestion capsules with beetroot and maca root,” says Ceriani.

The company also produces a “panettone” (traditional sweet bread loaf from Italy) made with silkworm flour. “It is called Panseta and contains up to 75 percent protein, thanks to a special flour produced with cooked silkworm.” It is the world's first experimental bread made with silkworm, with a reduced amount of fat. In the production process, the caterpillar is baked while still inside the bug, without ruining the silk cocoon.

Beyond “foreign” and experimental foods, there are also many traditional foods that can be considered “super.” “Lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, whole wheat, berries, nuts, yogurt and sardines are among the superfoods that we should eat frequently,” explains Bernardi.

By Paul Creasy

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