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"Food & Mood": "Nutri-psychiatry" adds a scientific touch to comfort food

The emerging field of nutritional psychiatry is adding a scientific twist to the idea that food can have a positive effect on our mood. What are the most promising ingredients and how receptive are consumers?

The emergence of nutritional psychiatry

The Food & Mood Center at Deakin University in Australia is a research center specializing in the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry. While the concept of comfort eating shows how people intuitively understand the connection between diet and mood, science is just starting to catch up, according to Dr. Sarah R Dash, nutrition researcher and honorary member of the center.

    "[...] studies in Spain, Norway, Australia and the United States have all shown that following a healthy and 'traditional' diet, made up of foods that we know are good for us - fruit and colorful vegetables, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats - is protective of mental health ", writes Dr Dash. "The bad news, which is perhaps not surprising, is that the reverse also seems true: unhealthy and processed foods are not only bad for our waist or our heart, but also for our mental health."

The Food & Mood Center gives five simple food tips for people who want to manage their mental health through food.

He advises:

- to follow "traditional" diets, such as the Mediterranean, Norwegian or Japanese diets;

- increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds;

- limit the consumption of ultra-processed foods;

- eat nutritious and healthy food with each meal and snack,

- to start "small" for lasting changes.

The public has never been more aware of the links between certain foods and stress, relaxation and sleep. Despite this interest, countless companies have failed to bring mood-enhancing food products to market over the past decade.

The 5 challenges for developing new products!

According to Julian Mellentin, founder of the food industry consultancy New Nutrition Business, food brands face a huge challenge because they have to find an ingredient that meets five specific criteria.

  1. the ingredient in question must be legal;
  2. , manufacturers should be allowed to use it in sufficient dosage to provide the benefit promised;
  3. it must taste good;
  4. consumers must also feel a tangible benefit;
  5. and, finally, it must have a "meaning" in the product.

    “Coffee beans in a snack bar or drink will be easy to accept, but something less common like L-theanine will fail this test,” explains Mellentin.

There are, however, a few success stories, including "GABA chocolate for mental balance" from Japanese confectionery company Ezaki Glico, which helps reduce stress. Launched in 2005, the chocolate bar contains 280 mg of gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) per 100 g, which is approximately 25 times more than the standard 9 mg of chocolate, and the brand generates approximately $ 50 million (45 million euros) in retail sales per year.
    In the short term, it is the foods that consumers see as "natural mood boosters" that will continue to provide the most benefits, along with some of the "no-diet" trends, all fueled by a new body of science. supporting "nutri-psychiatry".

Manufacturers who wish to take advantage of "Predatory Diet" trends can reduce the sugar and carbohydrate content of their products while focusing on their minimal processing profile.

At the same time, they can also focus on established "natural mood boosters" containing healthy fats such as omega-3s (found in fish, nuts, seeds and avocados) and gut-friendly foods. (fermented products such as kefir, kombucha and probiotics).

Applying the results to packaged foods

Nootropics, substances said to improve cognitive function or mental performance in healthy people, and which are most often used to stimulate memory, concentration and creativity, are also of interest to people. consumers, with natural sources like omega-3 B vitamins, caffeine, tryptophan, L-theanine, and CBD oil.

The Food & Mood Center at Deakin University does not explicitly recommend choosing a cognitive health-conditioned nootropic snack.

Still, could such products be beneficial if they have a simple list of complete food ingredients or if they are fortified with added nutrients such as polyphenols?

A published study in 2016 showed that women who ate a diet rich in several types of flavonoids, a specific group of polyphenols called flavonoids found in foods such as oranges, berries and cocoa, exhibit lower risk of depression.

It may be possible, according to Helena Gibson-Moore, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.

    “In addition to taste, appearance and price, consumers increasingly expect the food we eat to be perceived as 'healthy' and prefer 'natural' products to 'processed' products," he explains. -she to Fi Global Insights. "As consumers are perhaps more aware of the health benefits associated with consuming polyphenols, the fortification of foods with polyphenols may be welcomed."

However, Ms Gibson-Moore also expresses her concern about the idea of ​​fortifying processed foods with a few selected healthy components, as individuals may choose to substitute healthy whole foods such as fruits and vegetables with packaged products. Even though these processed products have been formulated to have a healthy nutritional profile, the ingredients may lack some of the benefits that come from following a healthy diet, such as consuming fiber or other potentially interacting nutrients and bioactive compounds in the diet. the food matrix, she adds.

The importance of scientifically substantiated claims

In any case, brands that market "Food for mood" products must invest in scientific research to support their claims.

New Zealand brand Ārepamakes is a nootropic drink made with New Zealand black currant (which she calls "neuroberges"), which are high in polyphenols and anthocyanins, and green tea for the amino acid L-theanine.

The start-up has spent more than five years developing the formula and claims that if consumers have doubts about the science behind the drink, it's because of years of deceptive marketing from "Big Food. ".

    “We knew that when we started we would face some skepticism due to the misleading marketing of multinationals that sell caffeine and sugar as the ideal solution to optimize cognitive performance,” she explains. "We therefore continue to research, test and develop our formula, while using cutting-edge food technology to ensure the effectiveness of our products."

She is currently working with the University of Auckland School of Psychology to assess the neurocognitive performance and brainwave activity of Ārepaaffects drink in a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial.

Although it is a niche and an emerging field, the category of "foods for good humor" is already attracting the interest of major players. Mondelez, for example, has invested in the prebiotic brand Uplift Foods whose "psychobiotic" dietary supplement powder contains fiber and resistant starch from green banana flour, Jerusalem artichoke, tapioca and lupine. According to the company's website, 90% of the "mood-uplifting" hormone serotonin is found in the gut, underscoring the importance of the gut-to-mood connection.

But that we already knew ...

Inspired and translated from:

| Oct 22, 2020 at



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