Friday, August 13, 2021

Is Whey the Way for Dairy to Gain an Edge in “Mental” Health Foods?


“Feeling good about oneself” ranks as one of the most important aspects of health and wellness for consumers in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Germany and India, according to The Hartman Group. And right now, many of us are not feeling too great, mentally, as stress, anxiety and depression are rising in the U.S., and I am sure around the world. 

At times, some of us may have handled it better than others; but, most of us have our moments, right? This week was a sad one for me with three upcoming business-related trips that I was really looking forward to getting cancelled because of safety fears from the delta variant. 

The U.S. Census Bureau recently conducted the Household Pulse Survey. The 20-minute survey studies how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting households across the country. Data show moderate to severe anxiety peaked in 37.3% of adults during the pandemic, which is up 6.9% from 2019. When it came to depression among adults, reported cases jumped from 7% to 30.2% over the same time period. As for young adults, 43.5% said they had moderate-to-severe anxiety.

The story is even more grim with children and adolescents, who are now either back in school or getting ready to go back to school and “adults” around the country are adding fuel to the fire by arguing about masks and safety protocol. The August 9, 2021, issue of JAMA Pediatrics featured a meta-analysis titled “Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19.” 

The researchers looked at 29 general-population studies, one of which was not peer reviewed, and found pooled depression and anxiety rates at 25.2% and 20.5%, respectively. Around the world, children’s depression and anxiety rates may have doubled since the start of the pandemic. Both depression and anxiety rates were associated with later stages in the pandemic and with girls, and higher depression was also associated with older children. 

Whey may be a way to help people improve mood and feel better. That’s because whey is a concentrated source of the amino acids glutamine and tryptophan. Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, which means the body can produce it. It is known to reduce anxiety, as it is a precursor of  gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which regulates neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system. In other words, it helps keep you calm. 

Tryptophan, on the other hand, is an essential amino acid. This means it is not made by the human body. But guess what? It’s typically in whey protein. Tryptophan aids in the production of serotonin. This is a neurotransmitter that many researchers believe is linked to anxiety and depression.

Disclaimer: I have no medical training and am only summarizing information in scientific literature. However, there’s something to be said for having a glass of warm milk before bed to assist with calming and relaxation. 
We have been so focused on the quality of protein in whey and its positive effect on muscle and weight management that we may overlooked an innovation opportunity. Whey is not just good food, it’s mood food. 

With that, there are some real opportunities for developing mood foods for certain dayparts.

My friends at The Hartman Group recently published “Redefining Normal: Spring 2021 Eating Occasions,” which has some very interesting findings. It is a free report to Daily Dose of Dairy subscribers. You can download it HERE

Some key highlights include that this past spring, the basic rhythm of eating through the day shifted. Fewer Americans are participating in lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and after-dinner snack occasions, yet early morning snack occasions appear to be playing a more important role, as more Americans are now consuming food and/or beverages earlier in the day. The average number of eatings across the day has also declined, from 4.1 in spring 2020 down to 3.9 in spring 2021. This is a small, but statistically significant drop. This slight decline in participation in eating occasions per day corresponds with more items consumed per occasion, especially when snacking.

The average number of food and beverage categories present at any given occasion has increased significantly, reaching 3.1 items in spring 2021 (vs. 2.8 items in both spring 2019 and spring 2020). Morning and after-dinner snacking occasions are playing a more important role in consumers’ daily eating behaviors, all witnessing significant increases in the number of food and beverage items present compared to pre-pandemic eating and reflecting the elevated role that snacks are playing in consumers’ food lives.  

With snacking occasions playing a more important role in how Americans eat, and with mental health an epidemic because of the pandemic, there is a need for mood foods. Think, Stress-free Smoothie at 11:00am, a scoop of Happy Ice Cream at 3:00pm and Sleepy Time Sipper at 9:00pm. Namaste!  

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