While most super foods are perceived to be exotic, expensive and difficult to find, this is not really true, says nutritionist Ishi Khosla
Evolving consumer demands based on health needs and changing lifestyles have resulted in changes in the food industry in recent years. To meet growing and changing consumer demands driven by health and well-being, the food industry is forced to come up with new, innovative concepts and food products that are driven by the use of new raw materials. These are emerging out of super foods, which gained the attention of the consumers over the last few years.
The increasing popularity of super foods can be understood from the fact that these raw materials match with diet trends like “organic”, “all-raw”, “free-from”, “vegan”, “gluten free” and an increasing desire to stay healthy. These new raw materials might play a role in meeting the new health needs in the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic along with existing epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, auto-immune disorders and cancers. These merit particular attention when immune systems are challenged and there is rising awareness about their importance. The properties that qualify a food as super are that it should possess special health benefits which go beyond its nutritional benefits. While most super foods are perceived to be exotic, expensive and difficult to find, this is not really true. Actually they are all around us in legumes (soya, black beans), spices and herbs (turmeric, basil), vegetables (ginger, garlic, broccoli, kale, mushrooms, avocado), fruits (berries, amla, olives), grains (quinoa, millets). Some of the unsung Indian super foods are fox nuts (makhana), kokum, morenga, Sea Buckthorn, flax, soursop, basil seeds, and in-fact our entire spice box.
It is only when a food gets recommendations by health professionals based on research or other factors that it acquires a premium status and is then positioned as a super food. As a matter of fact, the concept which was meant only to describe foods with higher polyphenols and anti-oxidants has been revoked and has become questionable.
In 2012 USDA has withdrawn this term and does not support claims of super foods. The goal is to eat a variety, include all the food groups, in the right amount as a part of a healthy diet. Rising consumer awareness about the health benefits being offered is leading the industry to boost its demand. Growing health consciousness among the consumers and rising number of new products are some of the major factors contributing to growth in this industry. For example leading multinational food companies are serving turmeric ginger laced beverages. Such trends are only expected to grow. Currently global super foods market is dominated by North America, with a growth rate of 9 per cent followed by Europe and Asia-Pacific region.
Consumption in Asia-Pacific is driven by the growing affluence of the middle-class population and rising health consciousness among consumers coupled with increasing acceptance of nutritious products. However, the high prices of such products restrain the growth of their demand. High rate of urbanisation has radically changed the lifestyle and resultant changing diets of people are expected to have a positive impact on this growing market.
To cope with increased demands and the growing popularity of these foods, there is a need to increase agricultural production and productivity with more environmentally friendly agricultural practices. Until then, it is likely that the demand may exceed the supply and the prices will go up making them assume a further premium status on super market shelves. With the adoption of new ground breaking innovations, it is possible to add value in the areas of health, nutrition, consumption, and overall well-being. Organic, bio-dynamic cultivation, hydroponics and many more advancements are some the future agricultural practises which will not only be good for our health but the entire ecosystem.
The combination of suitable raw materials and inspiring food technologies may guide and shape the food sector of the future. Meanwhile the best practices that emerge to enjoy these high value foods is to go back in post world war times and grow your own vegetables, herbs and spices. Victory gardens (vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens planted at private residences and public parks) supplied 40 percent of fruits and vegetables at one point in the US after the war in 1919. Fruits of the war on COVID could be the little victory gardens with super foods all across the country and may pave the way to victory on the virus by building our very own immunity.