Destressing through food: Can functional food help stress relief?

Gen Z are “the most diverse, best-educated and most stressed-out generation in the country’s history,” FoodNavigator was told last month​. They are, indeed, very stressed. For example, according to marketing agency Mintel, 94% of Gen Z in Germany felt stressed at least once per week during August 2022, compared to 25% of Boomers.

It isn’t just Gen Z that are stressed, however. Stress reaches many demographics. In our recent Positive Nutrition event, Tastewise CEO and co-founder Alon Chen told us that stress relief is a key desire for consumers.

Stress relief, therefore, is a key trend in functional food and beverage, and consumers want foods and drinks that can make them less stressed. For example, according to Mintel, 77% of UK consumers agree that tea makes them less stressed.

Finding stress relief

Finding the right foods to relieve stress can be difficult. Israeli personalised nutrition company myAir uses AI to find the best foods for each individual to relieve their stress levels.

“We harness a revolutionary intellectual property that utilises physiological data (sourced from smartwatches) and psychological assessments (derived from cognitive questionnaires) to craft a detailed user profile,” Rachel Yarcony, myAir’s co-founder and CEO, told FoodNavigator.

“Our platform invites users to complete an assessment (at myAir coach App) to identify their primary stress effects and receive custom functional nutrition recommendations 24/7 from our Gen-AI-based nutritionist. Through the myAir coach app and smartwatch integration, users can monitor real-time improvements in sleep quality and stress reduction, experiencing the tangible benefits of personalised functional nutrition.”

AI and personalised nutrition

The pairing of AI and personalised nutrition is not unique to myAir. In fact, such a pairing has proved useful, with artificial intelligence’s capacity to personalise almost anything more efficiently than a human being.

For example, the US company Youniq​ uses AI to track many physical attributes in its users, from blood pressure to the microbiome, and suggest recipes by scanning the foodstuffs in their fridge to help them stay nutritious.

Prevess, which FoodNavigator interviewed for its recent Positive Nutrition event, also uses AI, in combination with consumer data and wearables, to personalise its users nutrition.

Many foods have the potential to relieve stress, Yarcony told us. But what these foods are depends very much on the individual. “

“Functional foods derived from plants, such as adaptogens, mushrooms, and many more offer a wealth of benefits for stress relief, but it’s crucial to recognise that individual responses vary. The key lies in identifying and integrating functional foods that resonate with your unique behavioural patterns. Tailoring your diet to include these functional foods can significantly enhance stress management, leveraging the natural therapeutic properties of plants to align with your health blueprint.”

Adaptogens are one the key ingredients that is often linked with stress relief. Hannah Skingle, COO of functional beverage company G-Spot, told us what they are and about their stress relief potential.

Adaptogens, she told us, are a class of plant that have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries. “These botanicals are believed to help the body adapt to stress, both physical and mental, by restoring balance in the body. Adaptogens work holistically, supporting overall well-being and helping the body cope with various stressors. Examples of adaptogens include bacopa, ashwagandha and ginseng. They are increasingly popular in modern wellness practices for their purported ability to enhance energy, improve focus, and support the body’s natural response to stress.”

G-Spot, which was founded by the actor Gillian Anderson, includes adaptogens, along with nootropics, in all of its functional drinks.

How foods relieve stress  

It’s one thing knowing what to look for to get stress relief, but those with a curious mind will want to know exactly how a food or beverage is able to relieve stress, such a natural and often seemingly insurmountable emotion.

It turns out, according to myAir’s Yarcony, that it’s all about the gut​. “The gut-mind connection, often called the gut-brain axis, is a complex, bidirectional communication system between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. This connection involves direct and indirect pathways that include the nervous, immune, and hormonal pathways, linking our gut health to our mood and mental health.

“These natural compounds directly influence our cognitive functions, underpinning the well-documented gut-brain connection.” The connection between nutrition and mental health is, she told us, extensively documented.

Adaptogens, according to G-Spot’s Skingle, are slightly different. “Adaptogens relieve stress through their ability to modulate the body’s response to stressors and bring the body back to homeostasis. They are suggested to interact with the sympathetic nervous system, which are key components of the body’s stress response. By doing so, adaptogens help regulate the production and balance of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.”

Celebrity food and drink

Gillian Anderson’s G-Spot​ is one of many brands​ built by, or at least backed by, celebrities. In recent years we’ve seen olive oil produced by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood​; Cygnet gin, which was established by opera singer Katherine Jenkins OBE; Casamigos tequila, founded by George Clooney; and even Dos Hombres Mezcal by Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul.

Brands actually started by celebrities is only the tip of the iceberg. Many are backed by famous faces. For example, Lobos 1707 tequila is backed by Lebron James; vegan burger brand Neat Burger is backed by​ actor Leonardo DiCaprio and racing driver Lewis Hamilton; and English football captain Harry Kane is the face of the crisp brand Insane Grain​.