According to statistics, the worldwide revenue for functional food, which offers functions beyond nutrition, should increase to over 440 billion dollars in 2022. These superfoods have a positive effect on well-being as the products are packed with healthy additives. Kids and their growing bodies have needs that can be supported by these food offers. In fact, functional food for kids is appreciated as it allows to fill gaps in a better way than dietary supplements while providing more nutrients. This is perfect to help parents save time, especially if their children are picky eaters. Discover the 5 nutrients and their health benefits that kids require most and how companies pack them into innovative food products.
Brain foods that develop kids’ cognitive functions
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Choline are part of the first super-powered nutrient family. DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid and Choline is often classified as a vitamin; both are essential nutrients. Babies obtain these nutrients from human breast milk, while kids and adults get them from food sources such as salmon or eggs. DHA and Choline are important for neurological development, visual development and cognitive function. The kids’ growing bodies and minds need to develop a healthy brain to learn and develop their memory and behaviour. Food supplements for kids providing DHA and choline are well-established and are available in form of chewables or oils. But lately, a trend for functional food enriched in DHA or choline appeared on the market. An example is Horizon Organic Holding who offers DHA milk.
Probiotics to support kids’ digestion and immune system
The gut, our “body’s second brain”, contains trillions of microorganisms that play a major role in human health. Although bacteria are often associated to pathogens, probiotics are actually healthy. For example, Bacillus coagulans are located in the intestinal tract and inhibit growth of pathogenic bacteria. It also influences the immune cell’s function. Probiotics are thus beneficial for digestion and immune system. The microbiota is dynamic in infants and stabilizes during childhood. Dietary supplements in form of capsules provide probiotics, but combining these healthy bacteria with food is much more fun for kids. For example, the famous drink called Yakult has been a commercial success for several years. Other recent companies such as the American company Uplift3 propose cookies filled with a probiotic cream.
Essential minerals for kids’ health, for strong bones and blood cells
Calcium is among the most frequently mentioned minerals when it comes to kids’ health. Dairy products are known to be rich in calcium but growing kids need an extra dose of this chemical. It is famous for building strong bones but also helps in blood clotting. Iron is another mineral with benefits for bones and blood. Potassium, Zinc or Selenium are also part of this micronutrient family. As kids grow fast, calcium and iron are essential for their diet. Several food products enriched in minerals appeared on the market, such as PediaSure from the company Abbott4; Calcium, Iron, Zinc and Potassium are included in the drink to help kids grow and develop.
Traditional medicine plants as sources of nutrients for kids’ vitality and natural body defences
For centuries, traditional medicine used plants such as Ginseng to treat conditions, especially in Asia. Ginseng is a plant root often found in herbal infusions. A famous variety is the Korean Ginseng, which is used in the food industry. In fact, it seems Ginseng helps to reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, and boost energy. Another spice appearing on the market often is Turmeric. This spice is a type of ginger and belongs to the herbal medicine family. Turmeric displays anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Although Ginseng and turmeric are not new in the industry, more and more kids’ food products are based on these plants. In Korea, the market is growing for Ginseng containing foods of all types. For example, the Ginseng Jelly for toddlers5 . In the USA, more and more products now rely on turmeric to improve kids’ health6.
Protein-rich diet for growth and healthy metabolism in kids
Proteins are a main component of the body. They are required to build muscles, bones, skin and many other organs. Kids need proteins to grow. Some amino acids, the protein building blocks, are not made by the human body and need to be consumed in form of food. Proteins promote a healthy metabolism. A lack of proteins in kids could result in weakness or regular sickness. Hence, functional food for kids is often enriched in proteins, with plant-based sources often appearing as a trend. Proteins are often associated to sport bars, such as Cliff bar & company7 who refreshed their offer by proposing the protein rich “Zbar” for kids.
As bodies grow, children have specific nutritional needs. Previously, these gaps were filled through dietary supplements and natural resources. Today, more and more companies offer functional foods, with a focus on kids, to fill these potential gaps. The five top nutrient families are brain foods, probiotics, essential minerals, medicinal herbs and proteins to improve brain development and digestion, aid in immune system and bone development, and improve vitality and growth. Providing healthy nutrients in form of ready-to-consume foods and drinks is an entertaining way to support kids’ development.
If your company is active in the food industry, exploring applications of these families of nutrients for the infants’ and kids’ segment could be a great opportunity for product innovation and development, for which our teams, working both the health and food industries, can help you!
About the authors
Christina, Consultant in Alcimed’s Life Sciences team in Switzerland
Quentin, Project Manager in Alcimed’s Life Sciences team in Switzerland