Food Matters Live Trends Panel – A Taste of Trends: Immune Health in 2023

17th October 2022
Written by Zainab Jawed and Katie Avis

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Last week, two of our placement students, Katie and Zainab, had the opportunity to attend a Food Matters Live Trends panel – A taste of trends: immune health in 2023, on behalf of HRS. Here’s what they learnt!

What is driving consumers to buy immune health products? 

The Covid-19 pandemic has undeniably altered our perceptions of immune health. Where we once took our immune defences for granted, more and more people are now searching for ways to aid our bodies in keeping fit and well. Looking back, it is now evident that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the food and nutrition landscape. 

The public is now more aware than ever about the impact that diet and lifestyle factors can have on health and health outcomes. During the pandemic, many people reflected on why they were so concerned about Covid-19 and realised that they might not be as healthy as they would like to be. For example, they started to consider what they eat, how much sleep they get, how much exercise they do and so on. So along came the influx of home workout videos, meditation apps and healthy eating guides, which corresponded to consumers’ newly proactive nature. People have gradually seen the benefits of their lifestyle changes and are now looking for ways to maintain them. 

In addition, consumers have become more and more interested in ‘quick fixes’ to support their health needs. ‘Boosting’ their immune health is what they seem to be after. People are actively looking for products that will aid their immune defences and help them avoid illnesses or recover faster. They want products that offer a variety of benefits in order to get the most bang for their buck. In response to this, many products have modified their marketing strategy to emphasise their role in immune health support. Many more immune claims, for example, are being used on juices, soups, tea, and even snacks. Consumers, on the other hand, are becoming more sceptical; they want to see scientific evidence to back up the health claims they hear. But not too much, as that would be far too overwhelming. 

Food supplements or food-like supplements? 

Consumption trends indicate that people are starting to prefer immune-boosting foods and drinks over the traditional capsule or syrup supplements. Consumers are frequently sceptical of what’s inside the supplements, they are concerned about forgetting to take them, and the pleasure of eating or drinking something that tastes good is often the priority. 

So, is there evidence to support the choices that consumers are making? Do supplements have their place? 

The trends panel discussed how evidence suggests that supplements traditionally used for immune health, such as vitamin C, do not seem to influence the likelihood of becoming infected. Probiotic supplementation, on the other hand, have been shown to be beneficial. But why is this the case? 80% of our immune system sits around the gut. Gut bacteria absorb proteins from food and deliver them to immune cells via the gut lining. Practices that promote a diverse and healthy gut microbiome can therefore benefit immune health. For example, research shows that a Mediterranean dietary pattern, rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, and legumes is best when it comes to supporting gut health. With its numerous components, this dietary pattern is difficult to translate into a single product. As a result, many manufacturers are incorporating elements of it into their products, such as adding wholegrains and legumes in salads and soups. Furthermore, consumer spending habits have shifted, with kombucha and fermented products on the rise. However, it should be noted that one size does not fit all, and different people will react differently to probiotics. What might benefit someone may have no effect on someone else.  

Will the obsession with improving immune health fade as we transition from a pandemic to an endemic? According to the experts on the trends panel, this focus on immunity is here to stay for the foreseeable future. 

What does this mean for health care professionals? 

Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists can play a vital role in supporting consumers with making informed decisions and really understand the products they are purchasing. This includes advising on a balanced food intake and deciphering health claims. Companies and brands should be encouraged to collaborate with Nutritionists and Registered Dietitians to sort through the available scientific evidence, cut through the noise, and get the right message across.   

This panel talk broadened our knowledge of an important topic and provided an excellent platform for gaining the most up to date industry insights and consumer data. Thank you Food matters live for this insightful discussion!

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