What does this year hold for natural health? From the wacky to the wonderful, the results may just surprise, writes Jennifer Pinkerton.
The Obama effect
There's more to US President Barack Obama's impact than a crackdown on CEO salaries and a stronger focus on the environment. The new president's arrival may trigger (if it hasn't already) a worldwide shift in values, some believe. As a recent report entitled Food Flavors and Ingredients Outlook 2009 predicts: "Whereas the beginning of the decade will be remembered as an era of greed, the end of the decade will be marked by a return to a culture of responsibility."
In terms of health, health news site NutraIngredients suggests this ideological change may drive demand for smaller packet and portion sizes, a reinvigoration of fair trade, a return to food staples such as bananas, pasta and rice, a rejection of artificial flavours and additives, and heightened interest in "natural sweeteners" (more on that later).
Foods that claim to uplift mood, boost mental health and improve cognitive function are streaking down the fast lane in 2009. A new market report by research firm Kline & Company, says the reception of "mood foods" is receiving strong support in developed countries such as the US.
"As food scientists and marketers strive to infuse new ideas and incorporate new benefits, the focus of the functional foods industry is widening beyond the traditionally offered physiological functional benefits," Kline report. "In this context, functional foods and beverages that stimulate mental and emotional wellness emerge as an interesting market niche."
New figures from the US suggest one in every 200 children identify themselves as vegetarian. Last year's report, Ethical and Wellness Food and Drinks for Kids, helped shed light on the trend and argues that children are becoming more aware of environmental issues from an earlier age.
Animal welfare resonates more strongly with children than the health benefits of ditching meat, and environmental issues also have sway, says Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. This may be linked to the elevated profile of the meat industry's impact on global warming (by way of energy expenditure).
Famous Aussies who adhere to the "climate change school of vegetarianism" include Cate Blanchett.
Natural 'go-fast' products
As well as products that demonstrate environmental sustainability, consumers are increasingly looking for stimulants offering consistent, sustained energy boosts.
The Natural Marketing Institute of America predicts this will result in a thirst for natural alternatives to caffeine and sugar. Consumers are "dissatisfied with the high and low spikes, but interested, instead, in healthier alternatives to caffeine and sugar," the institute believes.
NutraIngredients suggests we should keep an eye out for products containing the stevia rebaudiana plant (a natural sweetener) and expect to see caffeine (rather oddly) added to beverages such as beer.
Fish oil almost as popular as multivitamins
Fish oil continues its impressive catapult in popularity. A survey of 6000 Consumerlab (a product testing firm) subscribers found fish oils are almost as popular as multivitamins, particularly among older users.
The firm's research found around 70 percent of respondents use fish oils, 55.3 percent take calcium and 50 percent use CoQ10 supplements.
A greater focus on individual wellness
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to health, fitness and fat loss. Gymnasiums are already trying to cater to a wider array of individuals by offering women-only rooms, dance studios, mind-body classes such as yoga and Pilates, and outdoor options such as boot camps.
Expect to see an even greater focus on services and facilities that cater to baby boomers, overweight children and overweight or obese adults. A generalised approach that fails to account for individual preferences and attitudes will be much less likely to succeed, says personal trainer Andrew Cate.