http://www.kerry.comBy DAN BENSON, Applied Health and Nutrition Lead, Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa
MENTAL health issues are on the rise, and with the pandemic blurring the line between work and life, consumers are starting to understand that mental wellness plays a big part in their overall wellbeing and quality of life.
Studies show that consumers globally were unhappy with their cognitive health even before the pandemic. An FMCG Gurus study on mental wellbeing found that feelings of stress and sleep disruptions—which can contribute to mental health issues—were common as people found it hard to manage and cope with daily pressures. In Asia Pacific, 42% struggled to sleep once in bed, higher than the global average of 40%, with 44% clocking an average of less than six hours of sleep a night.
COVID-19 aggravated the situation, with 79% of global consumers having trouble sleeping as they worried about their loved ones’ state of health.
In a 2020 Innova Insights study on mental health, about half of consumers in India reported experiencing stress at least once a day, and more than 60% of consumers in Indonesia and 40% in China at least once a week.
But why is stress and sleep so critical to overall mental wellbeing? Respondents say that stress affected their mood, mental state and clarity, energy, and quality of sleep. In turn, this can adversely impact health and immunity, increasing one’s risk of disease and illness.
With today’s busier-than-ever lifestyles, the struggle to relax and unwind is real. Striking good work-life balance is a challenge, as traditional work environments evolve. People were already bringing work home even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the FMCG Gurus report on mental wellbeing, 44% of consumers in Asia Pacific and 43% in the Middle East and Africa did so, and many reported checking work emails outside of work hours. As a result, people felt that they were not getting enough downtime, with 30% in Asia Pacific being unhappy with the amount of relaxation time they had.
Social media and reliance on digital devices also hinder consumers from completely relaxing − 47% of global consumers said they stay up late binge-watching shows on streaming devices, 39% lose track of time when on social media, and 27% use their smartphones and laptops in bed although they know they should be trying to sleep.
As a result of digital device overuse, the brain is left overstimulated, impairing one’s ability to mentally “switch off” and get enough restful sleep.
Nootropics like turmeric, have been shown to have the potential to improve brain health, memory function and attention span, and boost energy and relaxation (Source: Kerry)
Food as medicine
Given the landscape of mental strain, more consumers are turning to food and beverages to get healthier and feel better. Food is regarded as medicine, and increasingly, products that support brain health and general wellness are in demand.
According to Avinash Lal, Market Research and Consumer Insights Director at Kerry APMEA, the pressure of having to constantly be in top form is already driving consumer interest in energy drinks that can help them stay alert, focused and sharp.
A 2020 Kerry study shows that APMEA is the biggest region for energy drinks in retail sales volume, with a projected 5% CAGR from 2019 to 2022. While traditional energy drinks are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients, there is potential for healthier alternatives such as drinks that include nootropics. In fact, new product launches touting adaptogens and nootropics have risen considerably over the past five years.
Nootropics have been shown to have the potential to improve brain health, memory function and attention span, and boost energy and relaxation. Common ones include traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbs, supplements such as Omega 3, gingko, fish oil and foods like extra virgin olive oil, spinach, almonds, and turmeric, many of which are kitchen staples.
Adaptogens is another area to watch. Natural, non-toxic herbs and roots commonly used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, they are perceived to strengthen the body’s ability to adapt to extreme stress and improve overall quality of life. An Innova Insights report on mood cites traditional adaptogens like ashwagandha becoming mainstream ingredients in mood-regulating supplements and foods. Interest is also on the rise for basil, ginseng and ayurvedic solutions.
Another promising sign lies in growing research on the gut-brain connection. A Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute (KHNI) article cited the gut as the body’s second brain because of its ability to produce the same amount of dopamine—the ‘high’ hormone—as the brain and almost as much serotonin, the ‘happy’ hormone.
An Innova report on mood found that 47% of consumers associate a healthy digestive system with improved mood and emotional wellbeing, with 46% believing it can ease stress.
There is current interest in ‘psychobiotics’, a newly coined term for live bacteria such as probiotics that, when consumed in adequate amounts, may have positive effects on mental health.
Preliminary evidence shows that changing the gut microbiome with a Mediterranean style diet or probiotics may improve symptoms in mental health conditions such as low mood and depression, says Aoife Marie Murphy, PhD, Kerry APMEA Applied Health Nutrition Business Development Manager.
While good gut health is also linked to a strong immune system, products with science-backed immune health ingredients like Wellmune® , which have also been shown in clinical studies to provide mood state benefits, besides supporting immunity, may appeal to consumers.
As consumers start connecting the dots between their mental wellness and overall health, this shift in perception will influence food and beverage innovation and nutrition and compel more brands to expand their range to products that support healthy, holistic mind-body wellness.
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