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Healthy, 'Well'thy and Wise Foods for Women

June 1, 2017
There are many nutritious guardians besides calcium and vitamin D available for women's health issues. The right foods and ingredients can enhance fitness and curb menopausal issues as well as fight everything from diabetes, cancer and birth defects to heart disease and stroke.
Wellness, or the quality of being healthy in body and mind, has become a luxury lifestyle for many American women. In fact, wellness and fitness rank up there with "one can never be too rich or too thin" among female consumers. For many, healthy might just be the new "wellthy."

That's not to say healthy food and drinks should be luxuries; access to and the cost of better-for-you products often impede lower-income consumers from purchasing healthy items, including "free-from," "natural" and organic products, according to Mintel Group's (www.mintel.com) Global Food and Drink Trends for 2017 report.

"The need to address inequality in healthy products will persist because lower-income consumers make up a large part of the worldwide consumer base," the report states.

Dealing with energy drains, headaches, hormones, job, finances and family/household stress and especially weight issues are all in a day’s work for many women. While their health issues are as varied as women themselves, more women are influenced by fitness, anti-aging, the environment, healthy eating and nutrition. In the U.S., women spend more than $125 billion on nutrition and $40 billion against alternative medicine, according to Womens' Marketing (www.womensmarketing.com).

For decades, Kellogg Co. (www.kelloggs.com), Battle Creek, Mich., positioned Special K cereal to help women curb calories. More recently, women's changing viewpoints prompted the brand to revise its image and instead encourage empowerment and an active lifestyle. When Kellogg developed new Special K Nourish cereal and chewy gluten-free bars, it combined multiple grains, quinoa, granola, sliced almonds apples and raspberries.

Kellogg's research found women's approach now is more to manage health. "Skinny isn't how she wants to be perceived, but rather, strong," said Natasha Millar, senior marketing director for breakfast cereal and beverages at Kellogg Canada. "It’s not about losing weight, it’s about working out and building her sense of self. And while her stance on body image was at one point about looking good, now it’s about feeling good."

"Women are adopting a more proactive approach toward their health and shifting to preventive solutions rather than traditional interventions," explains Julio Lopez, nutrition research & innovation manager at Archer Daniels Midland Co. (www.adm.com), Chicago. "Nutritional needs vary by life stage and the specifics of certain key health conditions. Some focus areas particularly important for women are: heart, bone and reproductive health (including menopause)."

When it comes to food and beverages, Lopez notes women now favor clean, clear and transparent labels and ingredients of natural origin. "Some of the most popular ingredients in the women’s health space are calcium, plant-based proteins, vitamin D, folic acid, fiber, DHA, plant sterols and plant-based extracts with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties," he says.

All of this is creating opportunities for food manufacturers to develop better-for-you options. "There's a tremendous opportunity to develop food and drink lifestyle and life stage brands that support a wide range of women’s health needs," adds ADM's Mark Rainey, vice president of global food marketing.

While many women are aware of calcium and vitamin D's bone-strengthening benefits, they can face information overload when it comes to other elements of the women's health market, Lopez recognizes. "Consumers are often confused about which products are best to address specific health and nutrition needs."

Potassium, probiotic pluses

The number of women reaching menopause is increasing along with life expectancy. Estrogen declines and weight can increase at this time, as do the chances of osteoporosis, heart-related issues and diabetes. A diet high in calcium and vitamin D helps increase bone density and prevent bone loss and fractures.

Potassium-rich foods -- like vegetables, fruits, nuts and dark leafy greens -- and potassium-fortified products can lower blood pressure and contribute to a steady heart rhythm. That's important for many women who risk atrial fibrulation, a common irregular heart rhythm, says cardiologist John Day, who specializes in heart rhythm disorders at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, Utah (drjohnday.com). The USDA recommends at least 4,700mg of potassium each day. "If your potassium levels are too high or too low, the heart is at increased risk of a cardiac arrest," Day adds.

Bioactive ingredients such as probiotics show a lot of promise in terms of improving gut health. Probiotics support digestive and immune health as well as enhanced protein utilization. Ganeden Inc. (www.ganedenbc30.com) says its probiotic GanedenBC30 can assist manufacturers in broadening retail product offerings, ranging from yogurt, smoothies and nutrition bars to sauerkraut chips, vinegars and quinoa infant cereals.

The Mayfield Heights, Ohio-based company worked on one recent example that incorporated dark chocolate − widely used by formulators for its antioxidants and heart-healthy, mood boosting properties. Chocolate Probiotic with Antioxidant Vitamin E, produced by supplement/vitamin maker Nature's Bounty Co. (www.naturesbounty.com), Bohemia N.Y., is dark chocolate pieces that each contain 2 billion live probiotic cultures of GanedenBC30. Launched this spring, the chocolate has 30 calories per piece and is designed to support digestive health.

Nessta Life (www.nesstalife.com), Burbank, Calif., creates customized free-from nutrition bars, cookies and shake/meal replacement products especially for women under the Eat Like a Woman brand. Suitable as a meal or snack, its Life Stage dairy-based shake mixes contain antioxidants, omega-3s and GanadenBC30 probiotic, and are designed to boost metabolism, curb hunger and cravings and support digestive and immune health and protein utilization.

"Our shake line has 22 vitamins and minerals needed for each life stage of womanhood (reproductive years, pregnancy/lactation and menopause and beyond), says Staness Jonekos, founder and CEO of Nessta Life. "From heart and bone health to the brain/gut connection and how women absorb nutrients are all very different than men," she adds. "Women have very different digestive needs because many are prone to bloating, so we incorporated the probiotic. More women than men suffer from autoimmune diseases, and BC30 was included to help regulate the protective cytokines, which help fight inflammation. Our Eat Like a Woman line is committed to bringing awareness to women’s health by providing delicious, plant-based nutritional solutions inspired by the latest research."

Matcha's mucho functionality

Many women look to green tea as an aid to weight loss and for a caffeine kick to keep alert and improve reaction time and memory. Green tea is also rich in antioxidants, nutrients and polyphenols like flavonoids and catechins, which studies have shown can increase the body’s rate of burning calories and fat during exercise.

Popular matcha and matcha powders are packed with wellness antioxidants that aren't found in other foods. Matcha green tea has high concentrations of the polyphenol catechin EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), said to have medicinal properties to treat various diseases. It has been shown in some studies to increase the rate of burning stored fat as energy and have calming effects from L-Theanine, an amino acid that balances the caffeine and calms without drowsiness.

Infusing matcha ingredients into its snack bars, Pamela's Products (www.pamelasproducts.com), Ukiah, Calif., launched Ambition Bars snack bars in five grain-free, vegan, gluten-free formulations that combine chocolate, almonds, almond butter, almond meal, salted caramel and coconut flour with the caffeine of matcha, espresso, chai and cold-brew coffee.

Luna Bars from Clif Bar Co. (www.clifbar.com), Emeryville, Calif., which are marketed directly to women, also feature ingredients such as green tea extract along with plenty of protein (8g), as well as oats, nuts, granola and seeds. The bars "were created to assist women to obtain more of the nutrients lacking in their current diets," the company says. They're fortified with folic acid, soy protein and calcium − essential nutrients for a woman's daily nutritional needs.

ADM developed a new functional green tea extract as an antioxidant blend of tea, fruit and veggies in powder form, which delivers a concentrated dose of phytonutrients. The extracts can be added to mainstream products to improve their nutritional profile and deliver antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Folate and soy

Folate or folic acid is also linked with women’s health. A water-soluble B vitamin, it's critical for pregnant women and those who want to become pregnant because it protects against neural tube birth defects. A folate deficiency also can lead to anemia in adults and slower development in children. Folic acid is currently used to fortify various breads, pastas and cereals. It's also found naturally in leafy green vegetables, lentils, oranges, beans and peas. Herbs and chili powder also contain a bit, but beets have 37 percent of the daily value for folate.

A recent study showed women who consume more folic acid had a significantly reduced risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension). It's also important for cutting breast cancer risk and regulates calcium, another heart benefit. Folate also incorporates isoflavones, naturally occurring chemical compounds that have several possible health benefits, such as improved heart health.

A British study indicates that a vegan diet reduces the risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Vegan diets also go far in preventing strokes and hypertension, says Harvard research. More specifically, those who averaged eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared to those who had less than 1.5 daily servings. Weight loss is a bonus.

Soy has been the subject of some debate lately. Some studies laud the positive effects of its isoflavones, others connect isoflavones to increases in estrogen in women, which can lead to breast cancer. Studies show it demonstrates positive effects for many women during perimenopause and menopause. Soy is considered the only complete non-animal protein, a plant source of eight of the essential amino acids.

Emerging research suggests links between isoflavones and strengthening healthy bones. The studies indicate they promote cardiovascular health by maintaining arterial elasticity and contribute to reducing the frequency of hot flashes. The structure of soy isoflavones is similar to the structure of the osteoporosis drug ipriflavone, a synthetic isoflavone.

Soy isoflavones may help improve cardiovascular health in those with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a study determined last year. The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, indicate women with PCOS consuming soy isoflavones over three months decreased circulating levels of insulin and oxidative stress markers.

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