Matt Kalil is a former NFL offensive tackle. Like most football lineman, Kalil is a big guy and he keeps up his physique by consuming 5,000-6,000 calories per day. To ensure he gets enough calories and protein, Kalil “indulges” in three protein shakes daily, each containing 60 grams of protein.
Kalil may be an extreme example, but he isn’t the only athlete pounding the protein. The protein supplement market size is around nine billion dollars annually, and is expected to grow to nearly 30 billion over the next decade.
Last month’s blog focused on natural functional foods, like mushrooms for memory, caffeine for alertness, and whole grains for heart health. In this blog, we will explore the other side of the functional market, including supplementation, fortified foods, and ingredients that are nutritionally enhanced.
Functional foods are foods touted for their extra-nutritional benefits. The saying goes that “food is medicine and medicine is food.” But, sometimes, especially in the world of modern supplements, it can be hard to actually distinguish between “medicine” and “food.”
Some examples of nutritionally-modified foods include:
Protein Powders, Bars, and Shakes
Bodybuilding influencers and popular diets like the keto diet are responsible for the increased interest in protein consumption. And, while protein is crucial, not just for getting shredded but also for optimal heart and brain function, most people can get a sufficient amount of protein from their diets. That being said, there are a number of commercially-available protein powders, bars, and shakes, touted for their ability to control hunger and promote muscle building.
Protein bars and shakes are the most controversial of the three. Because many of these contain so much added sugar they seem just like candy bars or milkshakes marketed as health food. However, for those in the food industry, the interest in protein does provide unique culinary opportunities. For example, a restaurant can add protein powder to a popular drink or shake to make an “athlete’s version.” And, since protein can keep hunger at bay, these protein-powder drinks can also be marketed as meal replacements for busy people on the go who don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast, and prefer a morning smoothie during their commute.
Collagen is a specific subset of proteins that are essential for skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Low collagen levels are what is usually responsible for wrinkled skin, osteoarthritis, and mobility problems that are associated with the elderly. Like protein powder, collagen powder is also commercially available in health food stores and online, and can be added to smoothies, drinks, and baked goods. The jury is still out on whether these supplements are effective in revitalizing skin and mobility (a few limited studies indicate that they might be), but if you have clientele with these concerns, it may be worth considering adding functional collagen drinks and foods to the menu. Just don’t make any health claims or promises or you could end up in legal hot water.
Nutritional Candy and Fair Trade Chocolate
Similar to the protein (candy) bars mentioned above, the world of “healthy” chocolates and candies is rapidly expanding. Some of these are marketed to children, for example vitamin gummies and candy probiotics. While a “spoonful of sugar” can help the medicine go down, the candies do need to be watched carefully to make sure kids, who can’t tell the difference between M&Ms and candy vitamins, don’t overdose. Additionally, there are also “functional” chocolates, with additives like protein, superfood mushrooms, caffeine (energy boosting chocolate bars), and other “functional” ingredients added into the chocolate.
Another category of functional candies are chocolates marketed for being green or fair trade. After the courts went after Nestle for alleged use of slave and child labor to pick their chocolate beans, a host of fair trade chocolate alternatives entered the market. For marketing and for humanitarian and environmental reasons, it may be worthwhile to use ethically-sourced chocolate in your food establishment’s baking and cooking, or buy pre-made Fair Trade and eco-friendly chocolate for the dessert menu.
If you’re from the era before cell phones, you may remember a childhood of reading cereal boxes. Kids’ cereal boxes featured colorful games and activities on them. And adult cereal always had statements like “high protein,” and “heart health.” When you turned the box around, the nutritional facts revealed the added vitamins and minerals.
Fortification is the act of adding nutrients to products that don’t naturally have them. In the United States, it’s quite common for milk to have added vitamin D, and for salt to be iodized. And cereals commonly contain the following vitamins that are missing in sufficient quantities from many Americans’ diets such as iron, folate, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin A, niacin, and thiamin.
Fortified Milk Alternatives
Also in the fortified category are non-dairy milk alternatives. Some manufacturers are making products like soy milk, oat milk,almond milk, and rice milk, fortified so that they have just as much calcium as cows’ milk, along with other nutrients like vitamin D and vitamin A. If you are already using alternative milks to create vegan or vegetarian dishes in your food establishment, there’s no reason not to go with a fortified alternative so you can market the product as both vegetarian and extra-nutritional.
Also in the drinks category are vitamin waters. These are usually marketed for their vitamin and mineral content as well as their extra-hydrational benefits. Vitamin waters usually have electrolytes, including sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, chloride, phosphate, and bicarbonate. These substances have either negative or positive ionic charges when dissolved in a liquid. For example table sodium contains sodium and chloride. These ions split apart inside the body (which is made up of 60% water), and their charges are key for helping the body carry out chemical reactions. Excess electrolytes are excreted by the kidneys, but they can also be lost through sweat, which means athletes and exercise enthusiasts may seek out drinks with electrolytes. In addition to electrolytes, enhanced waters often contain additional flavoring. There are many great reasons to offer enhanced waters on your menu or to make that an option for the table in place of ordinary water.
Energy Drinks with Caffeine
A third category of functional drinks are energy drinks. These usually contain super-high levels of caffeine and sugar and claim to improve alertness and reduce tiredness. White these claims aren’t always accurate – Red Bull recently settled a 13 million dollar false advertising lawsuit in which the company claimed that their product would “give you wings.: It was later discovered that the drink contained no more caffeine than an ordinary cup of coffee. Yet that revelation hasn’t slowed down the energy drink market which is on track to double in size to 108 million dollars by 2031. There are a number of ways to DIY an energy drink, which can make for a popular beverage to add to your menu. For example, you can use green tea as a base. Because it doesn’t have as strong a flavor as coffee, and blends well with fruity flavors, you can add lemon, fruit juice, coconut water, and some carbonation, lightly sweeten and serve chilled.
This supplementation option is the polar opposite of energy drinks. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body at night. It is claimed that melatonin supplementation can help with relaxation and falling asleep. Melatonin is often taken as a pill, but there are now baked goods on the market like “Insomnia Cookies” that claim to have added melatonin for midnight snacking.
Pros and Cons of Functional Foods
For restaurants and food establishments, the functional food trend clearly presents a wealth of opportunities for integrating these supplements into existing menus. However, before diving headfirst into this culinary movement, it’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons.
One of the most compelling arguments in favor of adding functional foods to your menu offerings is that they can facilitate healthier eating habits among consumers. Unlike traditional dietary supplements, functional foods are often viewed as a more natural and enjoyable way of engaging with health and nutrition. They are a form of personalized medicine where each person can alter their diet according to their lifestyle and needs. By including these items on your menu, you can contribute to improving your customers’ overall well-being and provide them with an enticing avenue to partake in this culinary movement.
While the benefits are clear, it’s important to acknowledge the potential drawbacks and challenges that come with offering functional foods. Many of these items are expensive, more so than the traditional food offerings. For example, fortified cereals may be up to twice as expensive as conventional cereals.
Another issue relates to the claims of those in the nutrition and supplement industries. The functional food industry is still evolving, and not all claims are as well-regulated as those for pharmaceuticals. Therefore, it’s unclear if all these foods and ingredients being marketed for their functional purposes are actually providing the promised benefits. It’s essential to be transparent and cautious about any health claims made in your menu offerings and to provide customers with accurate information so they can make informed choices.
Marketing Functional Foods
In order to avoid making unsubstantiated health claims (which is both dishonest and can get you into legal hot water), it’s important to research each trend and understand the research behind each potential health benefit, before making any menu changes. Restaurant owners who want to add functional foods to their menus can collaborate with nutritionists or dieticians to ensure that they get the maximum functional benefits from their ingredients and can market them with full confidence.
Alongside the health “functionalities” of certain functional foods, restaurants can offer sustainability, green, gluten-free, and vegan options. Many of the functional foods listed above fall into several of these categories which can be helpful for ensuring that the food items appeal to a wide variety of consumers.
When it comes to adding functional offerings to a menu, you can create dishes that revolve around a specific function. For example, a turmeric-crusted salmon, may be “cognitive health” themed, with information on the menu attesting to its benefits. Whereas a dish starring Greek yogurt may be an opportunity to educate consumers about the functional benefits of probiotics. You can even add “green” dishes, featuring rescued food and foods that are produced in environmentally-sound ways. Or dishes containing fruit and vegetable powders and supplements to boost their functional abilities.
And, as always, social media is a great place for those in the food industry to tout their healthy and sustainable products and menu items. Additionally, restaurant owners should make sure their staff is well-informed about the functional food items on the menu so they can answer customer questions about the ingredients.
Incorporating functional foods into your menu can be a valuable step in catering to the evolving preferences of health-conscious consumers. By conducting thorough research, collaborating with experts, diversifying your menu, and focusing on transparency and sustainability, you can successfully navigate the functional food landscape and provide your customers with healthier and delicious choices.