Kate Williams, RDN
Can that eye-catching bottle of tea soothe your upset stomach? Does that vibrant juice hold the key to healthy, glowing skin? Many consumers think so. Functional beverages contain ingredients like herbs, vitamins, fruits, vegetables and amino acids that are linked to potential health benefits. Featured in our 2019 Culinary Trendscape, wellness sips have proven staying power. Consumers sipping with purpose want to know, “What can this beverage do for me?”. In the beverage space, consumers are willing to experiment with new flavors, which could lead to an evolving and expanding palate. As health professionals, we need to educate consumers about functional beverages and provide insight into their potential or perceived benefits. This means staying current on functional beverage trends in the marketplace, their claims and relevant, related research.
Energy & Mental Awareness Sips – We have all experienced the time of day, when it’s a struggle to keep our eyes open, let alone focus on a task. Supermarket aisles feature beverages designed to help people maintain steady energy. Interest in natural nootropics, defined as substances that may improve cognitive function, is also growing. Beverages with ingredients like ginkgo (claims speedy processing), rhodiola (claims alertness and concentration), ashwagandha (claims mental stamina and clarity) and maca (traditionally used to promote energy and memory function) are some examples Chef Carrie of Campbell’s Culinary Institute shares.
Sips to Fill-in-the-Gaps – Americans continue to fall short of the recommended intakes for veggies, fruit and dairy. Beverages can help fill these gaps. 100% Vegetable juice and sipping soups are convenient ways for consumers to get more vegetable servings and variety in their diets. Dairy alternatives like nut milks, hemp milk, soy milk and more can have a place in the diet. Be sure to consider clients’ nutritional goals to ensure that the dairy alternative meets their needs. Though typically fortified with calcium and vitamin D, differences arise when it comes to macronutrient distribution and vitamin and mineral content.
GI Health Sips – Have you ever heard that your gut is home to your “second brain”? New and ongoing research taps into the relationship between what is called the enteric nervous system (ENS), which is housed in the gastrointestinal tract and our brain. Promoting a healthy gut is a top priority for many. Fermented beverages like kombucha and kefir (which means “feel good” in Turkish) gained popularity a few years back and now new prebiotic-and probiotic-containing drinks are gaining a share of the marketplace. Different probiotic strains are linked to treatment of different health conditions, so pairing matters. In addition, some functional foods may not have enough probiotics to deliver health benefits. For example, while many yogurts contain live-active lactobacillus cultures, the quantities may not be enough to provide probiotic benefits.1
Immunity Sips – Consumers want to optimize day-to-day health and prevent or manage chronic disease. They seek natural ingredients to supply antioxidants and reduce inflammation. Ingredients like turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper and greens are popular in beverages because of such properties. Tea also continues to gain steam in the US. Ongoing research is related to specific types of teas and health benefits. As clients target a specific health issue like eye health or dementia prevention, drinks with potentially protective ingredients like kale, beets, berries, and turmeric fill the marketplace.
Functional Beverages Takeaways – A common mantra for dietitians in the past was, “Don’t drink your calories” but that phrase should be replaced with, “What do you expect from your beverage?”. Is that expectation realistic? Some factors to consider:
- Use professional judgment and have an open, honest conversation with clients as to the role of wellness sips in the diet.
- Address the potential role functional beverages can play as part of an overall wellness solution. If clients aren’t getting enough sleep, energy drinks can only do so much.
- Conduct a cost/benefit analysis as many high-end beverages come with a hefty price tag.
- Stay current on product innovation and emerging research related to functional beverages and ingredients.
- Remind clients that there are different requirements for products labeled with Nutrition Facts Panels versus those Supplement Facts. Review product labels and claims with clients and provide guidance as needed.
Beverage ingredients with potential functional benefits is a growing trend and an exciting part of both the nutrition and culinary world. Seize the opportunity to explore with new flavors, ingredients and learn about potential health benefits.
What’s your sipping strategy?
Kate's BioKate received her bachelor's degree in dietetics from the University of Delaware and completed her dietetic internship at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She has over ten years of experience in a variety of nutrition-related practice areas including clinical nutrition, weight management counseling, health and wellness and nutrition education. Kate has worked as a nutrition consultant to the Campbell Soup Company since 2005.