Before adding an immune strengthening ingredient to your products, it’s important to investigate effectiveness, processing criteria and other limitations
Because immune strength plays a role in whether or not people fall ill with a virus, supporting immunity is a first line of defense. During the current spread of COVID-19, many consumers are in search of ways to support their immune health, including purchasing more foods and beverages that they believe will improve their health.
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But, while “superfoods” and other foods, beverages and ingredients can contribute to good health, there’s not always an agreement on what consumers perceive as being effective at boosting their immunity and what science shows to be proven immune health ingredients. In this article we’ll break down the role immune health ingredients play in staying well, and why it’s important to review clinical research when choosing which immune ingredient to add to food and beverage products.
Immune health ingredients 101
Superfoods noted for supporting immunity run the gamut, from vegetables and herbs to spices and chocolate. And, while it may be true that consuming some of these foods (or products containing them) may provide immune health benefits, there are limitations.
For instance, oats, mushrooms and yeast have been commonly associated with the immune-supporting properties of beta glucans, the fibers naturally found in these foods. But only yeast-derived beta glucans (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) have been shown to have well-substantiated immune-supporting properties. There is limited scientific support for immune benefits of oats and mushrooms, which is why, despite containing beta glucans, these ingredients may not be as effective at strengthening the immune system.
Selecting an immune strengthening ingredient
Identifying research that supports functional ingredients can help manufacturers build trust in the products they are creating and address consumers’ need for transparency in product claims. Likewise, research-supported ingredients can differentiate immune-health products in the marketplace, helping manufacturers create the best products to meet consumer demand.
But not all scientific research is the same. When evaluating an immune health ingredient for a future product, it’s important to focus on the quality of the research. Here are some questions to ask:
- Is the ingredient safe, and how has safety been verified?
- Has the mechanism of action been explained, defined or published?
- Is the ingredient an immune stimulator or immune modulator?
- How was the clinical study designed?
- What kind of outcomes were described in the study?
- Is the ingredient well-characterized?
- How is serving size determined?
- What are the formulation characteristics?
In addition to investigating an immune health ingredient’s overall effectiveness, manufacturers that want to add research-backed ingredients to their products will need to consider other fine points. For instance, different brands and blends of the same ingredient may be offered in different concentrations and, when the active ingredient is put through traditional processing, there could be nutrient losses that that influence effectiveness.
Getting these questions answered will help brands decide which ingredient is best for their application. Although the market for healthy lifestyle products is vast, consumers say scientific claims influence product selection. Kerry’s recent global research found that 39% of consumers would be more likely to buy a healthy lifestyle product with claims based on scientific data.
Fact-based Functional Formulations
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, people of all ages sought options for immune support via functional foods, beverages, and supplements. Recent Kerry research from 2019 that spanned 14 global locations and 11,000 consumers found:
- 63% chose immune system support as the most important health concern
- 20% said immune system support was their main reason for purchasing healthy lifestyle products
In addition, other research indicates that 42% of consumers are proactively looking for products that can improve their health.
Although immune health ingredients can be applied to a limitless range of applications, at the time of our survey, 70% of people were most interested in eating immune-strengthening foods at breakfast time.
To learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting the food and beverage industry, including changes in consumer preferences and purchasing behaviours, visit Kerry’s COVID-19 resource page.