An estimated 700,000 deaths annually are related to what we eat, which influences many chronic diseases including hearth, obesity, type 2 diabetes, immune function, and much more, according to Dariush Mozaffarian, who is the dean of the Friedman School at Tufts University.
Presenting at several events this spring, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Science Forum and the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit, Mozaffarian explained to attendees that the old adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away may be more prescriptive than we thought.
He explained that by combining national demographic data, disease rates and national eating habits, his research revealed that most health problems are caused by consuming too few fruits and vegetables and too much salt, processed meat, red meat and sugar sweetened beverages.
But if food and diet are the cause of so many diseases and health problems, it also could be the solution – an idea that many researchers and legislators are exploring through the bipartisan Food is Medicine Working Group that Mass. Rep. Jim McGovern helped launch earlier this year. The idea also is gaining traction with several food and beverage startups, including Kashaya Yogurt and AC1 Foods.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, the entrepreneurs behind these brands explore how food, and their products, are helping to improve the health of consumers as well as what structural changes need to happen in our society for more people to look first to their diet, rather than pharmaceuticals, for answers about their health.
Cultivating the idea of food as medicine
For Anjali Pati, who launched Kashaya Yogurt as a probiotic-rich therapeutic food after studying at the National University of Natural Medicine for Naturopathic Medicine and Global health, the idea of food as medicine came naturally, but she recognizes that the concept likely feels foreign to many mainstream shoppers and will require extensive outreach and education.
“We have trained our minds and humanity, basically, to think that by popping pills we can … actually be healthy,” she told FoodNavigator-USA. And while this is convenient, she added, “we are walking away from what we would call the ancient future, which is our ancient civilization used to live long, long lives because of their ability to use food as medicine.”
She says our culture needs to move back to that space, and she is hoping to help pave the way with the launch of Kashaya Yogurt, which is a vegan yogurt that uses a pre-biotic packed coconut base to synergistically magnify the clinically researched health benefits of specific probiotic strains.
Part of what sets Kashaya Yogurt apart from other products making probiotic claims is the extensive research and clinicals available on the specific strains it includes, which Pati says are essential to set her product apart from other products that make probiotic claims for marketing purposes but do not have evidence of benefit.
Pati notes that effectively communicating all of this to consumers in the retail setting can be difficult given the restrictions FDA places on the types of claims that foods can make, which is one reason that she wants to sell her beverages through clinicians offices first and slowly expand to more mainstream stores.
Recognizing that her brand is not even a year on the market, Pati knows she has her work cut out for her to reach her goals, but she says in the next two to three years she will focus on expanding her brand’s presence in the clinical setting and communicating the benefits of food as medicine to clinicians, who can then act as brand ambassadors and exponentially reach more people.
Convenience, taste still key
In order for more people to adopt the idea of food as medicine and adopt healthier eating habits long term, they need choices that are both convenient and taste good, according to the co-founders of A1C Foods Mariela Glandy and Ran Hirsch.
Glandy explained the duo developed a proprietary method to create low glycemic-index alternatives to classic comfort foods – like chocolate and bread – that people with diabetes or who are watching their carbs often crave but cannot have without consequences.
“We understand that it is very hard for people to change their habits. Most diets fail because they are trying really hard to make a change, but then in the end a lot of people fall back to their own habits,” Glandy said.
To help avoid this pitfall, she said, consumers need convenient, delicious options, like those created by AC1 Foods.
The company currently offers a decadent chocolate packed with nuts and made with real sugar for a satisfying treat, and a low carb bread that tastes like conventional options. It also has plans to launch a pizza as well as other snacks in the future.
The products currently offered by A1C Foods and Kashaya Yogurt are only the tip of iceberg as far as the potential for marketing food as medicine is concerned, according to the entrepreneurs.
As Glandy noted there is tons of room for innovation in comfort foods and snacks and Pati sees potential for a high-probiotic kombucha and even in food fortification across other categories.