Today’s holistic-minded marketplace has brought with it an acute environmental awareness. These days, before women entertain the thought of visiting a doctor, often they opt for natural, readily available alternatives to remedy their health concerns. With an eye toward preventative medicine, now more than ever women rely on dietary supplements and functional food and beverages to sustain mind/body wellness.
Further, the trend toward green living goes hand in hand with healthful nutritional choices. According a report from Luna, and the Institute for the Future, women in their 30s to 50s will shift to a more positive mindset about snacking.
Factors such as diet, exercise, genetics and even habit play vital roles in overall wellbeing. Health concerns at the forefront of women’s minds include weight loss, digestive irregularity and cancer prevention. Additionally, pregnancy and menopause—very different stages in a woman’s life—bring with them an abundance of physical changes that create a ripple effect in the body.
Speaking of menopause, a new study from the makers of Pycnogenol shows that it significantly improves signs and symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irregular periods, loss of libido and vaginal dryness. The study also found that it effectively decreased the severity of hot flashes and bloating and improved irregular heart beat and digestive problems.
Women’s intuition also has a direct influence on health. A recent report by Mintel, Chicago, IL, claims women are much more likely to report suffering from most illnesses when compared to men. The market researcher believes the reason behind this stems from women being more acutely aware of their own health. Consequently, it’s only natural they will seek ways to offset the effects of these illnesses. To that end, when it comes to supplements, women lead the charge, according to a recent survey from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), Washington, D.C. Seventy-four percent of women compared to 64% of men call themselves supplement users.
Down to the Bones
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 8 million women are estimated to already have the disease and millions of others have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk. While osteoporosis is often associated with older women, it may occur during any time during a woman’s life.
Even though calcium and vitamin D are the most widely known ways to help build strong bones and prevent the onset of the disease, Patrick Luchsinger, nutrition marketing manager, Corn Products International, Westchester, IL, said while excellent sources of calcium help to support bone health, they are not the only key components. “ The mix of minerals as well as uptake is important to maximize these effects,” he said. Specifically, he cited Aquamin calcified mineral source, calling it a “highly bioavailable solution that delivers a unique mineral matrix rich in calcium, magnesium and trace minerals to support bone and joint health.”
He went on to say that prebiotics, like NutraFlora prebiotic soluble fiber and Purimune high purity galactooligosaccharides (GOS) increase mineral absorption.
Within the functional foods market, Mr. Luchsinger says he sees more products being fortified with calcium to address bone health. And as the demand for calcium products increases, products have begun to emerge, that in addition to addressing health concerns, also cater to the active lifestyles of these consumers.
Also a prebiotic fiber, Oliggo-Fiber inulin from Cargill, known as the “invisible fiber,” can be incorporated into almost any food or beverage without affecting taste or texture. Research also indicates that inulin may enhance dietary calcium absorption, particularly among preteens and postmenopausal women. Inulin is also recognized as a prebiotic ingredient that supports the natural, healthful bacteria in the lower GI tract. Together, inulin and probiotics make up a strong team for any digestive health product.
Nature’s Health Warriors: Probiotics
As scientific research progresses, consumers have become increasingly aware of the multifaceted health benefits behind probiotics. In addition to the obvious digestion-related and feminine health benefits, they’ve additionally been linked to immune enhancement and even cancer prevention.
Holistic health coach, Catarina Rivera, trained by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, said, “From my experience, women look to remedy digestive issues or feminine health concerns like yeast infections.”
She added that the choice of foods, beverages and supplements have a huge impact on these health issues.
Ms. Rivera went on to say that women often reach for yogurts that may fool them into thinking they are more potent due to clever advertising; but she advises her clients to read labels. One ingredient she considers “especially effective” is the probiotic Florastor.
For a quarter of a century, Lifeway Kefir has been a natural source of 12 live and active probiotics cultures—long before probiotics were part of mainstream consciousness. Natalie Slater, community manager at Lifeway, says she believes companies will “continue to respond to consumer demands for probiotics in a wider variety of foods and drinks.”
Lifeway prides itself on being ahead of the curve when it comes to probiotics. Sharing the news of its latest product line, Ms. Slater said, “Probiotic-flavored waters, Pro2o, are appealing to consumers trying to avoid dairy altogether.”
Ms. Slater is also excited about the cutting-edge products on the horizon. “We are also experimenting with introducing other ‘superfoods’ into our products, like chia seeds and other popular supplements.”
Hearts & Mindsets
Superfoods, usually derived from fruits and vegetables with intense colors, such as broccoli, pomegranate and blueberries are being touted as nature’s miracles, due to concentrated quantities of antioxidants and good fats, which protect cells from free radical damage, and thus might boost immunity and possess anti-aging properties.
The New York State Dept of Health tells us heart disease is the number one killer of women, a fact frightening enough to get most on the fast track to defying the odds. Aside from super foods, another way of warding off the disease, is a diet that’s low in carbohydrates and saturated fat but high in fiber, fruits and vegetables. An effective method of sticking to these guidelines while on the run is eating protein rich snack bars, such as Larabar and Clifbar that boast high antioxidants and fiber.
Green tea is often considered a superfood packed with powerful polyphenols—rich antioxidants that may help fight certain cancers. They are also known to strengthen the cells lining the blood vessels, helping to reduce one’s risk of heart disease. In recent years, there’s been a green tea boom. In addition, companies regularly add green tea extract to foods, beverages and supplements.
Savvy brands, such as Flora pro-activ, have chosen to target women and heart disease. According to the company’s “Check for Change Report,” once women enter menopause increased levels of cholesterol are triggered. However, only 46% of doctors advise women over 45 to have frequent cholesterol checks. Flora addresses these needs with a line called “Flora pro•activ, foods for cholesterol lowering,” which contain concentrated levels of plant sterols clinically proven to lower cholesterol.
Labels & Getting Back to Nature
“Consumers are gravitating more toward food as a source of nutrition,” said Daniel Wiser, director of marketing, Attune Foods, San Francisco, CA. “People overwhelmingly want to get their nutrients from whole food sources—and to supplement for nutrients that cannot be readily found in whole food.”
To that end, Mr. Wiser is optimistic about the future of functional foods. “We expect to see continued growth in the most functional of natural foods.” He referred to “a movement to simplicity and purity when it comes to food,” convinced this trend would flourish in the coming years.
Mr. Wiser added that there will be “continued resonance from the nutrient dense cereals like Uncle Sam, which are unprocessed and thereby preserve the nutritional integrity of the whole grains.”
For the future, he said, “Consumers are looking for a clean ingredient label they can read and understand. They want to know that what they are eating from a box is something they could also make at home—things with isolates, fortifications and funny sounding names are becoming a turnoff for women.”
Sabrina Chin, public relations associate from LUNA, is very knowledgeable about the increased nutritional requirements of pregnant women, a group that is extremely mindful about the ingredients they select. She explained how both mother and child need a special type of nourishment. “Baby’s red blood cells and development are dependent on protein and folic acid for brain development,” she said, adding, “Calcium is good for baby’s bones and iron helps promote weight gain in baby and support healthy blood cells in mom.” These nutrients are prominently featured in LUNA bars.
The Wave of the Future: ‘Free-From’ Foods
According to Mintel, new products that target allergies are important for women. In fact, 65% of those women who reported treating food and environmental allergies said they used products that didn’t require a prescription. Interestingly, the study also cited women were often the grocery shoppers in the household—which showed, if one person had a food allergy, it usually influenced the nutritional habits of three to four other individuals.
Free-from foods run the gamut from those that don’t contain sugar or soy to one of the most popular in the category: gluten-free.
Celiac disease affects three million Americans. And according to the National Foundation for Celiac awareness, the only known treatment is a gluten-free diet. In 2011, the retail gluten-free food market grew to just over $6 billion.
However, Liz Wright, CEO of Bumble bar, says the market is expanding beyond just those diagnosed with Celiac. “People are taking gluten out of their diet for many reasons,” she said. “Those folks in general are looking to feel better, and experience less bloating and other stomach issues.”
It’s astounding how many foods contain gluten and since cooking gluten-free can be complicated at home, many women choose to purchase products that are already prepared. In that vein, Ms. Wright has noticed that whole foods are a reoccurring theme, “People are more attracted to real food as opposed to food products created in a lab.”
Nils Molly, director of operations, I Choose Free-Better life, said, “There are an increasing number of suppliers, new products and a rising awareness of the gluten intolerance problem.” He added that consumers are attracted to the sound of eating something “free from” because it gives them a feeling of purity and comfort. Mr. Molly said the gluten-free trend has even spread to restaurants. “They are increasingly putting gluten-free meals on the menu and making sure there is no cross contamination in the kitchen.”
Go Light on the Sugar Please
According to the American Diabetes association, nearly 11% of all women aged 20 years or older have diabetes. And with scientific research warning of the adverse side effects associated with artificial sweeteners, more people are opting instead to go the natural route.
More than 60% of U.S. adult women are overweight, according to 2007 estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics. The weight loss market has topped $60 billion, according to a Marketdata Enterprises 2011 report from Rainbow Light.
As women move away from artificial sweeteners in favor of more natural options, Mintel predicts that stevia, an herbal calorie-free alternative to sugar, will see its segment of the natural sweetener market double in size by the end of 2013, reaching nearly $1.2 billion, up from an estimated $610 million in 2011.
Make it Simple
As women continue to cultivate wellness and veer away from conventional medicines to treat diseases, they will be looking toward organic and whole food choices coupled with educated choices in nutritional supplements. In addition, they will read those labels with a discerning eye, expecting ingredients they can trust and understand.
Interestingly, it seems what women require most from functional foods, beverages and supplements lies not in simply what they buy, but the underlying psychology behind how they shop. A straightforward approach to nutrition fosters an outlook of simplicity—focused on the purest, most effective ingredients possible to satisfy their health concerns. If suppliers take notice of this new attitude, and simultaneously educate shoppers as to the science behind the ingredients, it seems likely the market will do more than merely grow; it will thrive.