Proponents of keto say health benefits associated with the new diet trend are far reaching, from supporting weight loss to improving acne and reducing ‘brain fog’.
Supporters have also drawn links between keto and healthy ageing. And with older population numbers on the rise in most European countries – largely due to a higher life expectancy, a decline in mortality rate, and an increase in fertility – food and drink brands are taking notice.
FoodNavigator asked some of these players how NPD is addressing growing demand for keto-friendly food and drink with older generations in mind.
Ketone production and healthy ageing
The ketogenic diet is high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrate. The regimen forces the body to burn ketones – produced in the liver from fat – rather than carbohydrates.
This switch in energy source is essential to keto’s contribution to healthy ageing, according to Edward Taylor, co-founder of UK protein shake manufacturer Purition.
“A keto diet provides the human body with energy from fat instead of sugar. Fat is incredibly hard to eat, compared to sugar and carbohydrates, because it is so filling – unless of course you mix it in with carbs.
“Very few natural whole foods contain a lot of sugar and it’s now widely accepted that healthy ‘unrefined’ fats are, in fact, good for you.”
Taylor told FoodNavigator that when his customers switch to a ‘naturally low carb whole food diet’, they report weight-loss ‘without starving themselves’, as well as less hunger, more energy, and higher levels of alertness. “They also report improved digestion, improved cholesterol ratio and reversal of type 2 and pre-diabetes diagnoses.”
UK start-up Hunter & Gather, which makes keto- and paleo-friendly foods such as avocado oil mayonnaise, collagen peptides bovine protein powder, and unsweetened tomato ketchup, also draws links between keto and a decreased diabetes risk.
“We believe that although not acutely harmful for many, sugar, seed oils and grains are a big cause for modern chronic illness such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and inflammation,” co-founder Amy Moring told this publication. “A true, clean keto lifestyle removes these foods from your plate. It is now accepted that type 2 diabetes can be reversed with a low carb lifestyle.”
The co-founder continued: “We believe therefore that as we age, the impacts of a lifetime of eating a conventional diet can be drastically improved by removing refined sugars, grains and seed oils – for which the keto lifestyle also supports.”
Responding to the keto trend
New product development is rife in the keto-friendly space, as the diet gains in popularity.
Globally, the ketogenic diet market was valued at $9.57bn in 2019, and is expected to grow at an annual compound rate of 5.5% from 2020 to 2027.
Dutch keto food brand Funky Fat Foods says that 'front the start', its aim was clear: "We knew that we wanted to include MTC [medium-chain triglycerides] into our chocolate bars." According to the start-up, MCTs can support sustainable energy levels, stimulate fat-burning, brain function, and help lower blood sugar and improve cholesterol profile.
"Our dark chocolate bars are organic and also free from sugar, preservatives, and other chemical additives - preserving the nutritional benefits of cacao," a spokesperson told this publication. "Cacao has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help against chronic inflammation and improve cardiovascular health."
Ancient+Brave is another example of a keto- and paleo-friendly brand leveraging the power of MCTs. The start-up sells its range of food, drinks, and powders on both sides of the pond.
Among its range, Ancient+Brave sells a 100% coconut MTC oil that founder Kate Prince says encourages ketone production.
“MCTs are saturated fatty acids which, rather than being stored, tend to be quickly absorbed, converted into ketones and utilised in cellular metabolism and energy production. It is popular for ketogenic diets and nootropic support, since ketones provide a potential fuel source for our brain cells,” Prince told FoodNavigator. Ancient+Brave’s 100% coconut True MCT oil is extracted without the use of solvents or chemicals.
Seed snacks maker Pep & Lekker is another leaning into the keto trend. The start-up makes plant-based, gluten-free snacks with health in mind.
“The keto diet supports healthy ageing as eating a low carb and low sugar diet supported with the right fats help you to control your weight and/or lose weight,” founder Susan Gafsen told this publication.
Gafsen is bringing these ‘right fats’ to market, she explained, in low-sugar offerings. “We use olive oil to bind our seeds together and olive oil is a good fat for a keto diet, as well as being a good source of vitamins E and K.”
Pep & Lekker also advocates for swapping out high carb foods for low carb alternatives. “Bread is high in carbs and our seed snacks offer a wonderful alternative to bread, as they are great with soups, dips and salad,” we were told. “All our snacks have been certified low or reduced sugar by Sugarwise,” she added.
NPD for healthy ageing
Keto aside, some food and drink brands are fortifying their products with ingredients and micronutrients they say can benefit healthy ageing in other ways.
Ancient+Brave, for example, has developed a range of collagen products. Advocates of collagen-intake say it can help with joint pain relief, improve skin health, heart health, and can help prevent bone loss.
“Our True Collagen, Coffee + Collagen, and Cacao + Collagen all contain bovine collagen from grass-fed herds in South America,” said the start-up’s founder.
The brand has also developed a range of vegan ‘Collagyn’, which Prince suggested can improve brain health. “We’ve taken our extensive knowledge of collagen and formulated a new range of vegan Collagyn products which are suitable for anyone following a plant-based diet.
“These products contain vegan sources, five key collagen specific amino acids including glycine, proline and hydroxyproline, alongside botanical extracts and buffered vitamin C to help protect cells from oxidative stress and support collagen renewal.”
Hunter & Gather, too, includes collagen in the form of protein powders, which can be added to drinks, smoothies, or food.
“The majority of western world is not getting enough protein in their diet,” said Morin. “Collagen has essential amino acids which support your overall health and wellbeing. As collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, as we age these levels start to decline, and by supporting with collagen peptides, you can help with healthy ageing.”
Omega-3s are also associated with a higher likelihood of healthy ageing. Pep & Lekker’s seed snacks – made up of 40% seeds – are ‘full’ of omega-3 and other micronutrients, said its founder Gafsen.
“Seed snacks include 14% linseed and 5% chia seeds, and are an omega-3 powerhouse. Our seed snacks include 22% sunflower seeds, which is a great source of vitamin E.”
Funky Fat Foods, on the other hand, taps into the natural goodness of cacao to encourage healthy ageing. "Our dark chocolate bars are sugar-free and contain over 70% cacao, which is a great source of antioxidants and essential nutrients such as iron, copper, and magnesium," said the spokesperson. "These nutrients play an important role in our metabolism, nerves, brain and muscle function, as well as bone health.
"Los magnesium intake, for example, is linked to osteoporosis, memory decline, insulin resistance, and more. Therefore, a sufficient intake of these nutrients can contribute to healthy ageing and the prevention of age-related diseases."
Similarly to Pep & Lekker and Funk Fat Foods, Purition takes a wholefood approach to healthy ageing. While the protein shake maker doesn’t add in isolated micronutrients, founder Taylor said his products contain whole foods ‘packed’ with micronutrients for healthy ageing, such as omega-3 and protein.
Taylor is, in fact, sceptical about the bioavailability of isolated vitamins and minerals in food and drink.
“The great thing about whole foods is they contain all the other nutrients like enzymes, fats and polyphenols needed for the body to recognise and use the nutrients.
“Adding in a bunch of isolated or synthetic vitamins and minerals might look good on the packaging, but have been proven time and time that they don’t get absorbed by the body.”
Targeting older generations
In Europe, more than one-fifth of the EU-27 population was aged 65 and over in 2019. The European Commission predicts the share of people aged 80 years or above in the EU will increase from 5.8% to 14.6% by 2100.
As population numbers increase, it is likely food and drink brands will increase focus on older demographics. Some, however, are already.
Pep & Lekker, for example, says its seed snacks are popular with those aged 50-years and above, largely because many are ‘conscious of their weight’ and ‘looking to cut back on sugars and bread’. “In addition, our products are a premium product, so an older generation can be less price sensitive.
“We have recently increased the olive oil and cut down on chia to make our snacks easier to suggest,” Gafsen added. “Our product is also appealing to an older generation as it is high in fibre and the high percentage of chicory root fibre supports gut health.”
Purition has also observed interest from ageing populations. “We have lots of elderly customers who call to place their orders, these customers find us through world of mouth and relatives who buy Purition,” explained founder Taylor.
The brand is investigating how it can get its products in front of a greater number of older customers, the founder revealed. “Our older customers have reduced appetite, so ease of preparation, versatility and yes, less chewing than a regular meal, is a consideration.”
Over in the Netherlands, Funky Fat Foods says the majority of its consumers are Millennials. However, the brand does receive orders from consumers in the over-50s bracket. "We are delighted to serve everyone seeking a healthy keto chocolate bar," said the spokesperson, "[and] we are considering actively targeting older generations as population numbers increase."