The movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the story of finding the Holy Grail, a theme that replays itself when we search for those “magic” foods and beverages that will help us restore our youthfulness.

While many Americans say they are eating better, a survey conducted by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in conjunction with the FDA suggests otherwise (Health and Diet Survey: Dietary Guidelines Supplement, www.cfsan.fda.gov/~comm/crnutri6.html). Some 90% of those surveyed said they were “actively trying to eat a healthy diet,” but results showed otherwise.

For example, about 70% of women said nutrition was important to them and considered this while shopping, while only 54% of men did the same. Of seniors aged 65 and older, 71% said they considered nutrition to be very important, while the percentage dropped to 64% for those aged between 55-64; this number dropped again to 52% for those aged 18-34.

Youthfulness is tied to energy and weight, significant drivers in the functional foods and beverages and supplements industries. A report by Leatherhead Food International (www.leatherheadfood.com) reinforces the importance consumers place on health, showing it is creating a “huge demand for low-fat, low-calorie and functional foods.” This, in turn, increases the need for ingredients such as “emulsifiers, hydrocolloids, sweeteners, vitamins and minerals, soya ingredients, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, prebiotics and plant stanol esters,” the report states.

A focus on losing weight is reiterated in the International Food Information Council’s second annual Food & Health Survey (www.ific.org), which revealed that “nine of 10 Americans do not know how many calories they should consume in a day.” There were several other “diet disconnects” identified. One was that respondents did not really comprehend how to use exercise and diet simultaneously to lose weight. While most respondents claimed to know breakfast is important in managing weight, less than half, 49%, actually eat the morning meal. Also contributing to the problem is a lack of knowledge of “good” vs. “bad” fats, along with not knowing what types or how many carbohydrates should be eaten.

Nevertheless, Americans are actively searching for help in staying young, and companies looking for their own versions of the Grail may want to explore functional foods. Leatherhead estimated the 2007 fat replacers market at $500 million and the vitamin market at $1 billion. Additionally, Business Insights (www.globalbusinessinsights.com) revealed that Americans aged 18-29 are responsible for nearly 30% of total supplement sales.