According to the recently released 2022 Food and Health survey from the International Food Information Council, feeling stressed is all too common for Americans. In fact, 30% report turning to diet and nutrition to help manage stress.
What’s more, 33% of Gen Z respondents reported seeking an emotional/mental health benefit from foods, beverages, or nutrients. This shift in consumer perception towards mental wellness is driving a trend of seeking out food and beverage options that support mental well-being.
Using recent Google search and social listening data, the Ketchum Analytics team also identified consumer trends related to the impact a food or beverage may have on mental well-being.
Consumers Are Searching for Foods or Drinks that Contain Mood-supporting Properties
People are seeking out foods to help with stress, depression, brain power and fatigue, and searches for the term “mood-boosting foods” are up 50% year over year (1.6K searches in March 2021 vs. 2.4K searches in March 2022), according to Pi-Datametrics.* Search terms such as “good mood foods,” “best vitamin for anxiety” and “best supplements for anxiety” are among the most popular. Beverages advertising mental health benefits are more common than foods, likely due to associations of calm with beverages like tea, but one-third of consumers have shown interest in healthy foods that offer emotional well-being benefits such as anxiety relief.^
Consumers Are Interacting with Foods and Beverages in Ways that Decrease Stress and Increase Well-being.+
Consumers are seeking products that amplify flavors, colors, textures, aromas and interactivity to create moments of happiness or memorable experiences. They want meals, drinks, and snacks to serve as outlets for comfort and creativity, and to bring joy. Meal kits, digital cooking classes and gamified recipes are making mealtimes more fun and complement the new cooking, baking and drink-making skills that consumers turn to when they’re stressed.
Consumers Are Sharing their Experiences and Talking about the Gut as It Relates to Mental Well-being in New Ways on New Platforms
According to the American Psychological Association, gut bacteria produce an array of neurochemicals that the brain uses for the regulation of physiological and mental processes, including mood. It’s believed that 95% of the body’s supply of serotonin – the “feel-good hormone” – is produced by gut bacteria. TikTok has grabbed hold of this information, with Gut Tok the latest trend in a never-ending stream of “self-transformation” videos. TikTok users have been sharing their gut health hacks, including taking shots of aloe vera juice, drinking extra virgin olive oil daily, and recipes like cucumber-ginger juices, boiled apples, and bone broth.&
The topic’s hashtag, #guttok, has generated more than 460 million views.
The State of the Science – Can You Eat for Mental Well-Being?
It’s complicated. The role that food and beverage choices play in supporting mental well-being is an exciting but still-emerging field in nutrition research. Consumer search behaviors may often outpace the science on a variety of health, wellness and nutrition topics – as is the case with eating for mental well-being.
However, several recent scientific reviews and analyses of studies done across a wide variety of populations have started to identify the following general nutritional considerations as important when it comes to eating for mental well-being:1-7
- Sticking to dietary recommendations (e.g., national food-based dietary guidelines like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans)
- Following a generally healthy eating pattern comprised of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, dairy and lean protein foods. (This also includes eating patterns like the Mediterranean diet, high fiber foods and “good” fats)
- Avoiding a “Western-style” diet
- Including probiotic (fermented foods) in the diet that may protect “good” gut bacteria
- Following an anti-inflammatory eating pattern
- Eating enough nutrients, including magnesium, zinc, folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
That said, the causes of mental or behavioral health disorders, including common mood disorders or general symptoms of mental well-being, are many and varied, and will often present and persist independently of nutrition and diet.
More research is needed to understand the complex pathways and mechanisms that link nutrients in certain foods, drinks, dietary supplements, or eating patterns to mental well-being, and determine how and when nutrition can be used to manage symptoms of mental health.
What This Means for Marketing and Communications Professionals
Guard Against Reputational Risks – “Mind” Your Claims
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of consumer lawsuits in the food and consumer packaged goods industry centered around misleading, unfounded, or deceptive claims. As the scientific evidence continues to advance around the role of nutrients, ingredients, foods and beverages in supporting mental well-being, food and beverage companies should pay very close attention to and not overstate product health claims being made on label statements and marketing materials.
It is essential that any structure/function claims about a product’s benefit on mental or behavioral health – including mood, stress, emotional health, fatigue, etc. – match the underlying scientific support and be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence. These claims typically must be qualified to relate to a specific, supportable benefit.
- Before making a claim related to supporting mental well-being, supplement and conventional food and beverage manufacturers should conduct a careful review of the support for the claim and keep this information on file, making sure the evidence is scientifically sound (e.g., well supported by at least two randomized clinical trials), that it is sufficient in the context of surrounding evidence, and that it is relevant to both the product and claim being used, including for the target audience who may be interacting with the claim and using the product.
- A systematic evidence-based review process can be used for evaluating the strength and quality of the evidence for substantiating claims and determining if claims should be leveraged.
- Use terms like “boost mood,” since it is difficult to describe and substantiate what a “boost” to mood actually means.
- Suggest a dietary supplement or conventional food or beverage can cure, treat, mitigate or prevent a specific mental health disorder, such as anxiety disorder, depression, or any other recognized mental health diagnosis.
- Conventional foods manufacturers are not required to place disclaimers on foods or notify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about claims, but claims may be held in similar regard by FDA or the Federal Trade Commission as for dietary supplements.
- Any suggestion that products can address long-term symptoms or provide chronic changes to mood should be avoided as these can be characteristics of a disease state.
- Compare a product to a prescription drug treatment for the same mental health condition.
- Make claims about a product’s effect on symptoms of mental health or well-being conditions or claims on general symptoms linked with non-disease states, without referring to specific diseases.
- If using evidence on a specific ingredient or nutrient that is found in the product and not the ingredient or nutrient itself in isolation, make sure it is clear to consumers that the claim is based on the ingredient or nutrient and provide the amount of ingredient or nutrient substantiated by the claim.
- These mental health or well-being claims may be appropriate when properly substantiated:
- “Helps to manage stress”
- “Supports emotional well-being”
- “Relieves stress and frustration”
- “Promotes relaxation”
- “Gently soothes away day-to-day tension”
- “Maintains normal mood balance”
- “When you are under occasional stress, helps you relax”
- “Resolves irritability that ruins your day”
- “Supports positive mood”
- Low-risk alternatives for mental health or well-being claims when properly substantiated may include but are not limited to:
- Happy mood support
- Balanced state of mind
- Helps support smiles.
Communicate with Accuracy and Balance
When it comes to communicating with consumers about the role foods, beverages, ingredients and nutrients play in supporting mental well-being, it is important to be accurate and balanced.
This means putting messaging or programming around a product in the context of not only the broader body of scientific evidence but also in the context of how consumers are normally interacting with foods, beverages or ingredients in their day-to-day lives. Consumers do not eat single nutrients, single ingredients, or foods in isolation, but rather, they eat different combinations of foods with various mixtures of nutrients and ingredients at various times and amounts throughout the day in complex groupings.
Showing how a product with substantiated mental well-being claims can be eaten as part of a familiar and balanced dietary pattern or used as one of many healthy lifestyle habits a consumer may undertake to manage mental health each day, provides realistic positioning that showcases the product in ways that are accessible.
This could also mean focusing on what experiences or activities eating a product may unlock and how those experiences impact mental well-being versus the nutrients or ingredients in the product itself (e.g., the social interaction that may revolve around eating a product and the joy or benefits to mental well-being those interactions bring consumers).
Meet Consumers Where They Are with Education
We are at a crossroads of consumers wanting to do everything they can to support their mental health by eating the right foods and drinking the right beverages with the right ingredients or nutrients and where the scientific evidence actually stands. So, let’s think differently about how we may bridge consumer searching habits or product expectations with what the science says – or does not say – when it comes to eating for well-being.
Marketing and communications professionals can use educational moments to move from speaking AT consumers by explaining, telling and messaging, pushing facts and overwhelming with data – to WITH consumers, using storytelling, building engaging narratives, offering unique educational experiences and showing up where these conversations, questions or searches are happening most often with approachable answers.
If you are interested in working with us to navigate these health trends or learning more about guarding against reputational risks from foods and mental well-being claims, be sure to connect with us here.
*Pi Datametrics search for “mood-boosting food” over 03/2021-03/2022.
^Mintel, “Managing Stress and Mental Wellbeing,” U.S., 2022.
+Mintel, “What the 2022 Consumer Trends Mean for Food and Drink,” Global, 2022.
&Gartner Consumer and Culture Insights, “TikTok has Consumers Talking about Gut Health,” 2022.
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2. Martins LB, Braga Tibães JR, Sanches M, Jacka F, Berk M, Teixeira AL. Nutrition-based interventions for mood disorders. Expert Rev Neurother. 2021;21(3):303-315.
3. Chen GQ, et al. Association between dietary inflammatory index and mental health: A Systematic review and dose–response meta-analysis. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2021;8:163.
4. Ljungberg T, Bondza E, Lethin C. Evidence of the importance of dietary habits regarding depressive symptoms and depression. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(5):1616.
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