In some cultures, the number 13 is considered unlucky. But for others, 13 is a harbinger of good fortune. For this, the 13th annual Prepared Foods survey of functional ingredients, it’s possible to say that the past 13 years have shown incredibly positive strides vis the creation and manufacturing of better-for-you foods, beverages and nutritional supplements.

In this year’s survey, conducted through BNP Media’s Market Research Division, processors revealed the ingredients and trends they see as forming the backbone of the healthful products market. This is an increasingly sophisticated, knowledgeable, and compartmentalized consumer market.

It’s important to begin by understanding the importance of products with a functional capacity to the half-trillion-dollar food and beverage industry. Of the food and beverage manufacturers initially invited to participate in the survey this year, half are planning to develop or already are developing foods or beverages with a functional component beyond simple nutrition or comfort/indulgence.

This has been the case for several years now, although this year, the number of those currently taking advantage of the opportunities in this channel of the industry dipped from 80% to 73%, while those planning to make better-for-you products by year’s end went up from 27% to 30%.

Within the group of processors currently making or planning to make better-for-you products, 25% specifically are focusing on functional dairy beverages. This is about the same as last year. However, those focusing on nutritional supplements that include nutraceuticals, phytochemicals, herbals, or botanicals fell from last year’s 27% to 19%.

Much of this “slack” was taken up by makers of non-dairy functional beverages (this category includes items such as enhanced waters, probiotic juices, and “energy shots”)—up to 21% from 17%. A significant jump also occurred among those respondents making and/or marketing dietary supplements, rising from 12% to 16%.

Ingredient Trends

There has been an interesting shift in focus regarding the ingredients processors are looking at as they move toward designing the next generation of healthier products. Non-soy Plant Proteins enjoyed the biggest boost over last year, jumping from just over half of those product developers polled (55%) to nearly three quarters (73%). These included such upward-trending sources as pea, rice, potato, lupin, microalgae, and wolffia proteins.

Another big jump occurred with Fruit/Vegetable Extracts and Powders. While these made a strong showing last year at 58%, their position on the processor radar rose more than 15% to 67% of processors finding them “highly important.” This likely is indicative of the wave of consumer demand for healthy ingredients with obvious, natural, and easy-to-recognize sources.

Also experiencing a substantial rise was interest in such powerhouse seeds as Flax, Chia, and Hemp, from 45% last year to 55% this year. Soy proteins, too, increased markedly, from 43% to more than half of respondents (51%) while Dairy Proteins saw strong growth at six percentage points (up to 62% from 2015’s 56%). Interest in Whole Grains and Seeds rose from 62% to 66%. Whether quinoa should be included in the Whole Grains and Seeds or in Nutraceutical Seeds, that high-protein ingredient also has experienced impressive growth in the past year.

Other rising stars include Non-GMO Ingredients, proving their status as a consumer-driven demand and rising from 64% to 68% in product developers’ rankings. The Functional Sweeteners category (including ingredients like stevia, agave, monkfruit, madhava, and ribose), too, rose this year, from 64% to 67%. Natural entrants in this category are strong on consumers’ lists of what they seek in a low-calorie formulation label.

Innova shows the rise in GMO-free claims to be continuing on a smaller scale, with such products currently still accounting for 2.4% of total global launch activity, although rising higher in Eastern Europe and North America. In terms of products carrying GMO-free claims, dairy, baby food, and bakery have the largest number of launches.

While mandatory labeling of GMOs failed to pass in the US, consumers are more aware than ever of what’s inside the food they eat. They continue to insist on transparency, especially on whether the foods they buy contain GMO ingredients. This is making the legal wrangling over labeling moot, as manufacturers grasp the benefits of marketing non-GMO and reject genetically modified ingredients.

On the other side of the trend coin, Amino Acids experienced a sharp decline in interest, dropping seven percentage points from 49% to 42%. And, tellingly, interest in Gluten-free Ingredients fell appreciably, from 66% to 60%. While the trend is still going strong, and as recently as last spring appeared to be on-track to continue its prodigious growth, some indications are that the gluten-free trend is encountering the reality that only a very small percent of the population is medically required to adhere to such a diet.

Last fall, it was reported that Boulder Brands Inc., parent company of Udi’s and Glutino brands and one of the leading providers of gluten-free products, saw its sales in the category slow. While in some part attributed to increased competition, economist Vikram Mansharamani reported on Time Inc.’s “We’re in a gluten-free bubble that is about to burst.”

Processors should definitely continue to participate in the still-strong category. Those who do, however, should ensure their products not only belong in the category, but stand out as stellar examples of the genre.

Who’s Making What

Weight management and cardiovascular disease have been primary focal points of functional products for several years. And, while they still are, Digestive Health moved up with a strong enough showing to tie for the top spot with Weight this year. Both are the most important issues for nearly three out of four (72%) respondents.

This is supported by surveys from the global research group Innova Market Insights. Analysis of global product launch activity tracked by Innova a little more than a year ago revealed digestive/gut health to be the most popular active health positioning, accounting for one third of all active health product launches. Dairy products continue to dominate, representing 46% of global product launches with a digestive/gut health positioning in 2014, followed by baby food at 30%, and soft drinks at 5%. (Most Innova data presented here covers launches throughout 2014 and into 2015, the most recent data available at press time.)

Fiber content is an associated area of interest for digestive health, although products positioned on a fiber platform may or may not have specific digestive/gut health claims. High-fiber, source-of-fiber, or added-fiber claims were used on nearly 4% of global food and beverage launches recorded by Innova in the 12 months ending June 2015, rising to 5% in North America.

Cereals dominated the fiber category, with breakfast cereals (17%), cereal and energy bars (9%), and bread and bread products (8%) leading product launch activity.

Botanicals are an ingredient source receiving attention for digestive health benefits. For example, growth was evident in 2014 from 2013 for US products containing ginger (+51%), cinnamon (+18%), turmeric (+16%), milk thistle (+16%), and fennel (+13%) as digestive health promoters.

Growth in the already significant diabetes category has been sporadic for new product launches with this positioning. The leading market sub-categories with a diabetic positioning were sugar and sweeteners (accounting for 15% of product launches tracked), followed by chocolate and biscuits/cookies (both 7%).

Manufacturers are broadening product appeal to those more generally interested in healthy and “cleaner” eating, rather than targeting diabetics specifically. For example, global product launch activity tracked with either a “sugar free,” “no added sugar,” or “low sugar” positioning all increased, with growth of +6, +5, and +26%, respectively. Also, global low-GI-positioned product launch activity surged through 2014, with a +56% increase over the previous survey period, indicating future momentum.

Leading sub-categories for low-GI activity in this time period included: sugar and sweeteners (19%), cereal and energy bars (13%), and breakfast cereals (7%). North America represented just over one third of all low-GI product launches tracked.

Winning Hearts and Minds

Cardiovascular Health is still highly important to processors, with more than two thirds (69%) targeting that major, Boomer demographic health concern. Processors focusing on products to serve the tens of millions coping with diabetes and blood sugar-management health issues maintained its spot with the same number of respondents as the previous year—63%.

However, according to Innova, worldwide product launch activity positioned on a heart health platform started to fall approximately five years ago, following years of consistent growth. Heart health claims peaked with a 1.4% share of all food and drinks launches in 2010, but this has since decreased to a position where they accounted for just 0.9% in the 12 months to the end of June 2015.

It should be noted that this category increases to over 2.6%, if launches featuring omega-3/docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) claims are also included, whether or not they specifically refer to heart health. This compares with 2% of products simply featuring low-cholesterol claims. In terms of types of products using heart-health claims, the market remains fragmented, with breakfast cereals and cereal bars accounting for a leading 19%, ahead of meat, fish, and eggs at 10%; dairy at 8%; and bakery and soft drinks both at 6%.

Interest in Cognitive Health and Cancer also stayed level over last year, each rising just one percentage point—to 57% for the former and 54% for the latter. Processors’ focus has remained relatively steady on Immunity Issues, Energy/Sports Performance, and Aging. Immunity is up one percentage point, at 51%, and Energy/Sports is up two percentage points, to 53%. The needle did not move on Aging, staying at 51%.

The lion’s share of brain health-positioned product launch activity tracked globally by Innova was found in the baby formula/milk sub-category. Omega-3 fatty acids, in their DHA form, are often incorporated for their brain development attributes. This is despite rising concerns from seniors over age-related complaints such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, whom would benefit from products offering cognitive advantages.

Baby formula aside, manufacturers are targeting a range of consumers for new product launches with a brain-health positioning. This includes products with benefits being claimed for relaxation, improved focus, and stress reduction. Leading sub-categories (once again, excluding baby food) in 2014 for brain health product launch activity were tea with 1.9% of product launches, followed by milk and milk drinks (1.8%), and breakfast cereals (1.7%).

Botanicals show promise for brain health claims. For example, growth has been reported for US product launches from 2013-2014, containing ginger (+19%), gingko biloba (+18%), turmeric (+18%), ginseng (+13%), and cinnamon (+13%).

One new ingredient system trending up in this category is a combination of phosphatidyl serine and phosphatidic acid, also known as PS+PA. PS has been known for some time as an ingredient believed to support cognitive health, but research studies indicate that the combination of PS with its “sister” compound PA act as a natural solution for mitigating, managing, and normalizing physical reactions to stress, including social stress.

Powering Up

Innova’s global tracking reveals that products positioned on an immunity platform still demonstrate good growth on a global scale, however, with a +9% increase in product launches with an immune health claim evident in 2014 over the previous year’s survey.

Baby food is the leading market category for immune health-positioned product launch activity, but immune health benefits can be found in an array of foods and beverages.

Key ingredients for immune enhancement include: multiple probiotic strains and blends; vitamins, particularly the so-called ACE vitamins; and zinc. Many of the products using these nutraceuticals do not make specific claims, relying instead on consumer association of the product ingredients with these benefits.

The leading sub-categories for immune health-positioned product launch activity were baby formula/milk (35%), juice and juice drinks (8%), baby cereals and biscuits (6%), and tea (5%).

Botanicals making an impact for immune health claims in the US market (with growth in applications in 2014 from 2013) include ginger (+39%), turmeric (+22%), cinnamon (+13%), ginseng (+10%), and annatto (+8%). Annato is a popular source of vitamin E, especially in its tocotrienol form.

Inflammatory Response

There are numerous studies linking obesity with cellular inflammation. Inflammation has become a “buzzword,” used in a general fashion for claims related to a range of ingredients, as observed by Innova. New global product launches tracked using the word “inflammation” surged just more than two years ago, increasing by +50% from 2012, but have since stabilized.

Turmeric, curcumin, and ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) have seen rapid upward growth. All three are considered powerful antioxidants, as well as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents. 

“The turmeric trend has been driven by two factors,” says Robert Schueller, a director at Melissa’s World Variety Produce in Los Angeles. “First, there’s a continued increase in interest in Asian/Indian cuisine, coupled with a juicing/smoothie trend at home that is seeing more botanical inclusions, in the form of both fresh ingredients, as well as extracts and powders. Turmeric has the been the surprise healthful and tasty, spicy root added to these mixes—it’s just as was seen with ginger a few years ago.”

Excluding sports products—where the term relates more to muscle exertion and fatigue—the leading sub-categories for inflammation claims were juice/juice drinks, with 12% of product launch activity. This is followed by tea (9%) and iced tea (5%). Ingredients associated with reducing inflammation include flax seed, tannins, ginger, chia, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, and wheatgrass.

It’s a well-accepted fact that many consumers work longer, sleep less, and turn to functional foods and beverages for an energy boost. Products positioned on an energy/alertness platform continue to rise, with a 14% increase in tracked product launch activity recorded a year ago over the previous year.

Leading sub-categories for energy positioned product launch activity were energy drinks (19%), cereal and energy bars (12%), and breakfast cereals (8%).

The evolution of energy drinks into the mainstream has been a significant driver for growth. The use of natural flavors, zero-sugar formulations, ongoing activity in organic lines, and a focus on additional benefits (i.e., hydration, endurance, mental focus, protein content) have broadened the appeal of energy drinks.

The snacks category is another noteworthy area for new products with healthy energy platforms.  Energy balls and other interesting formats, as well as products based on nuts and seeds, are leveraging their inherent energy attributes for energy claims.

Aging Concerns

Processor interest in Eye Health and Joint Health both fell slightly—maintaining their gradual dip. With an aging population not only growing older, but also growing in general, the diminished interest in helping to address these conditions with customized foods and beverages is likely derived from a perceived difficulty in marketing products in such specific and narrow health categories. (Of course, one thing aging Boomers have in common is a collective denial that they are getting older.)

Innova research also noted new product innovation specifically for eye health continues to remain niche worldwide. However, survey data shows a 21% increase in global product launch activity of products with an eye health positioning. Interestingly, the growth is mainly attributed to eye health claims used for the baby food category. These represented nearly three quarters of all eye health-positioned product launch activity. (Juice and juice drinks was the next-best leading sub-category for product launch activity, with 5.4%, followed by milk and milk drinks (4.6%).)

The leading ingredients offering eye health benefits include vitamin A, B vitamins, zinc, vitamin E, lutein, and beta-carotene. Lutein and zeaxanthin feature strongly as ingredients within the eye health supplements market. However, they are usually in combination with other beneficial components, such as antioxidant vitamins A, C and E; B vitamins, such as B6 and B12; blueberry extracts as a source of anthocyanins; omega-3 fatty acids; and minerals, such as zinc and selenium.

The lagging interest in bone and joint health was reflected in Innova’s research, as well, with product launch activity representing less than 1% of all global food and beverage launches. A more general bone health claim was used for the majority of products in this category, at 97% of the total. This compares to a mere 5% for joint health and only a marginal amount of products carrying both claims.

While approximately half as prevalent as bone health claims, added calcium is another claim used to convey bone health benefits, relying on consumer awareness of the link between calcium and bone health. Interestingly, the growing dairy and alternative drinks market was the leading sub-category for added calcium claims, representing just over 20% of product launches, followed by milk and milk drinks with 18%.

Baby food led for bone health claims, representing just over half of product launch activity tracked, followed by dairy with 23%. Product launches with specific joint health claims were evenly spread between the soft drink (21%) and hot drink (20%) categories.

A surprising and continued decline was that of the considered importance of “beauty from within” when developing foods, beverages, or nutritional supplements. Last year, nearly one third of processors—31%—had their eye on this category. This year, less than one quarter, 23%, are seeing the possibilities in creating products targeting that healthy glow.

Vitamins & Minerals Trend Up

As in previous years, we asked processors about the Vitamins and Minerals; Nutraceuticals (such as antioxidants, botanicals, pre- and probiotics, fruits, fibers, functional starches and flours (including from native starches, resistant starch and waxy maize starches) and newer players in the field like microalgae). Prepared Foods also asked about use of  nutraceutical lipids (think: omegas, CoQ-10). 

This year, the survey separated out what is showing all signs of becoming a very hot trend: mushrooms. Whether medicinal species used only for the powerful and complex chemical compounds in their extracts or the fungi used directly in foods, mushrooms reveal an astonishing array of functional capabilities.

And product makers are taking notice. More than a third of those polled placed Mushroom-derived Ingredients in their “highly important” category for investigation as key components in better-for-you formulations.  

Among the vitamins and minerals, vitamin D still is showing strong interest, with nearly two thirds of processors (63%) responding to it as “highly important.” While this is only a single percentage point above 2015’s survey results, last year’s No.1 in this category, Minerals, dropped to
61%, pushing vitamin D to the lead interest.

Expect vitamin D’s importance to increase with the newly released 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines once again tagging it as a nutrient Americans just aren’t getting enough of. This, coupled with the science that demonstrates the hormone-like compound is responsible for far more functions in the body than previously believed, should keep interest strong.

Vitamin A stayed rock-steady, with 54% of processors rating it “highly important,” and vitamin B stayed fairly level, rising from 59% last year to 60% this year. However, many of the key ingredients in the Vitamins & Minerals category saw shifts based in part on trends and in part on the survey’s closer look at how product developers perceive these nutraceutical ingredients.

As interest in the powerful antioxidant tocotrienol form of vitamin E grows, separating it from the tocopherol form for the survey showed exactly half of respondents—50%—considering it “highly important,” as well as 57% seeing the tocopherol form as such. Compare this with a 52% ranking for both forms together last year. [Learn more about vitamin E in all its forms from “Healthy Characteristics of Vitamin E,” PF January 2016, or on the website at]

Vitamin C, one of the very first supplements (sent along with sailors in the British navy more than 200 years ago to ward off scurvy) saw a slight rise in its ranking, moving up from 55% to 59%. As knowledge of its role in wound healing and healthy skin—including wrinkle control—becomes more mainstream (coupled with its ease of inclusion into multiple food and beverage formulations), this antioxidant vitamin is likely due for a renaissance in recognition.

By far the biggest star of the Vitamins & Minerals category is vitamin K (especially in its K2 [menaquinone] form). There is a flood of research about K2’s role in bone health, inflammation, and cardiovascular health. This year’s survey showed an increase in recognition of its importance by processors rising by 25%—from 39% to 49%.

Antioxidants and Superfruits

According to Innova, after a period of product launch activity stabilization in 2011 and 2012, antioxidant claims are “back on the radar” for food and beverage products, with growth again evident during the past two years, as reflected by tracked global product launch activity. Juice and juice drinks continue as the dominant sub-category for antioxidant claims, accounting for 15% of global launches, followed by tea at 10%.

Cereal and energy bars led in terms of food products with antioxidant claims, at 6%, followed by snack nuts and seeds, at 4.5%. The snack nuts and seeds market in particular, demonstrated significant growth in regard to antioxidant claims, with a 47% increase recorded for such product launch activity.

North America is the leading region for antioxidant claims, representing one third of antioxidant-positioned product launch activity tracked in 2014. Product launch activity with antioxidant claims in 2014, as a percentage of total product launches tracked, is higher for North America, also, at 2.5%, compared to only 1% worldwide.

Analysis of new global tracked product launch activity by Innova Market Insights revealed a 43% increase in product launches with a “superfood” or “superfruit” claim in 2014 from the previous year’s launches. Sports powders was the leading market sub-category for “superfood” claims in 2014, with 16% of product launch activity, followed by cereal and energy bars (13%) and breakfast cereals (8%).

Among superfruits trending up among consumers are berries and pomegranates, according to Schueller (of Melissa’s World Variety Produce, Los Angeles). “Pomegranate demand is growing, and the fruit—more easily available in the form of predecorticated arils year-round—is increasingly popular. Plus, there’s been much growth of demand for dried berries, such as goji, aronia, and white mulberries.”

In seeds and grains, Schueller verifies that chia and quinoa have skyrocketed with consumers. Concurring is Jenny Perez, education coordinator for the American Botanical Council, Austin, Texas.  “The coming year will see continued emphasis and exploration of seed-based protein and essential fatty acid sources,” says Perez.

“Chia, fenugreek, and Nigella sativa, also known as kalonji, and black cumin or black caraway.”

Perez also anticipates a “continued rise in seaweed and chlorella-based products and foods.” As far as beverages, she points to dairy alternatives as an expanding phenomenon, as well as “fermented ‘fun’ beverages, like kombucha, and shrubs or switchels—spiced vinegar punches with ginger and functional sweeteners, like molasses, maple, or brown sugar.

Switchels still might need some time to hit the mainstream, but superfruit claims were most prevalent for the juice and juice drinks (26%), sports powders (10%), and fruit (7%) sub-categories. Aside from allergy-free positionings, organic was the leading health positioning in 2014 for superfood products, accounting for 43% of product launches, while antioxidant (33%) was the most prevalent health positioning for superfruit product launches tracked.

Study Details

In December, 2015, Prepared Foods, through BNP Media Inc.’s Market Research Division, contacted all active, qualified subscribers of Prepared Foods magazine who declared their company currently develops and markets, or plans to develop and market, functional foods, beverages, and dietary supplements.

Key objectives were to identify involvement in formulating with or specifying ingredients; frequently used sources of information on new nutraceutical or nutritional ingredients; and importance of various health and wellness issues when developing products.

Four American Express gift cards (one valued at $100, one valued at $50, and two valued at $25) were given away to four randomly selected participants. Of nearly 200 surveys attempted, 81 fit all parameters for completion and usability.

All closed-ended numerical data was tabulated using a statistical software package (SPSS), while open-ended questions were either summarized, coded, or included as written by respondents, as appropriate. Sample sizes varied throughout the report due to “skip logic,” data cleaning, or missing responses. Some percentage totals did not equal 100%, due to rounding.

The editors at Prepared Foods wish to thank all who participated and helped provide the insight and depth into these nutraceutical ingredient trends. Be sure to participate next year! 

Functional starches and flours, such as resistant starch, are still a strong-interest category for processors making food for healthy digestion. 

Supplemental Information

Beyond weight management as a platform, products designed primarily for weight loss are a key target market for supplements.  Nearly 13% of global 2014 supplement launches had a weight management positioning. Dietary supplements play an increasing role, and as a result, demand for weight-loss ingredients is probably at an all-time high, resulting in a growing number of emerging new ingredients and blends.

Ingredients vary, from the relatively well-established—such as whey protein and green tea—to the more unusual, more fashionable, but often less well-researched, such as raspberry ketones, African mango seed, Garcinia cambogia, bitter orange (Citrus aurantium), green coffee extract, forskolin (Coleus forskolii), and white mulberry (Morus alba). There has been considerable controversy about the safety and efficacy of many of these products, something that has caused problems in the market as a whole.

Innova Market Insights


Originally appeared in the March, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Healthy—Pure and Simple.

Mushrooms—Beyond Flavor

Steven Solomon, Contributing Editor

Mushrooms are well-positioned to capitalize on consumers’ interest in better-for-you foods. Mushrooms are favored by consumers and product makers for their taste (mushrooms are among the top foods in delivering umami flavor notes), culinary versatility, and utility to improve nutrient density in foods.

However, mushrooms’ long history as a food includes an equally long history of beliefs about their curative abilities in traditional medicine systems, both the folk medicine of the Western world and traditional medicine of Asia.

These so-called “mycoceuticals” are often taken in teas, tonics, and soups for their health benefits. Studies on the nutraceutical consumption of mushrooms have appeared in scientific literature for well over a century. And for millennia, China was known as the cradle of medicinal mushroom usage.

To date, there are more than 11,000 published papers on the effects of mushroom intake on human health, with the majority focusing on immune function and anti-cancer effects of edible mushrooms and their components, either as a primary or adjuvant therapy in some chronic diseases.

Mushrooms and their extracts commonly were prescribed for a long list of conditions including influenza, tumors, cancer, diabetes, neuralgia, high blood pressure, rickets, cirrhosis, hepatitis, insomnia, asthma, and stomach ailments, explains Shu-Ting Chang, PhD, emeritus professor of biology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

In Central and South America, mushrooms were used by native populations for malignant tumors, cancer prevention, chronic hepatitis, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and hypercholesterolemia.

Although classified as a vegetable, mushrooms are fungi and differ biologically from plants and animals. Fungi contain chitin (a polysaccharide derivative of glucose also found in the exoskeleton of crustaceans), as opposed to the cellulose found in plants. They also contain the unique sterol, ergosterol, rather than the cholesterol found in mammalian cells.

Mushrooms are distinct in their nutrient profile, set apart by vitamin B12 in the same form found in meat, yet rich in fiber and other B vitamins. The ergosterol in mushrooms is readily converted by UV light into vitamin D2 and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

Mushrooms also are a rare source of the sulfur-containing amino acid ergothioneine and the mineral selenium, which both function as powerful antioxidants and contain healthful amounts of other B vitamins and minerals.

Preclinical and clinical studies suggest positive impacts of mushrooms on cognition, weight management, oral health, and cancer risk. Preliminary evidence suggests mushrooms support healthy immune and inflammatory responses through interaction with the gut microbiota, enhancing development of adaptive immunity, and improving the function of immune cells.

Part of this immune function is believed due to their fiber and other functional carbohydrates, especially the polysaccharide beta-glucan. Beta-glucans have demonstrated an independent ability to help moderate immunity, lower blood cholesterol, block tumerogenesis, and protect against multiple forms of cancer.

The most common mushroom is Agaricus bisporus, and includes the white button, crimini, and portabella varieties. The next most common commercial species are shiitake (Lentinus edodes), straw (Volvariella volvacea), oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus), and enoki (Flammulina ostreatus). As mushrooms’ popularity increases, consumers are becoming aware of dozens of cultivated, species; 15 or so wild edible species; and wild non-commercial edibles.

Mushrooms are the only ingredient in the produce section with naturally occurring Vitamin D, identified as a nutrient of concern by The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Mushroom growers can increase vitamin D levels in mushrooms to up to 400IU per 100g merely by exposing them to UV light. Research shows that vitamin D-enriched mushrooms are a safe and effective product to increase serum vitamin D levels in healthy but deficient individuals. Vitamin D-enriched mushroom powders have been shown to improve bone health.

There are compounds—most likely conjugated linoleic acid and its derivatives— common in many edible mushrooms that exhibit an ability slow the growth of breast cancer cells. They accomplish this by inhibiting aromatase, an enzyme involved in making estrogen and believed to play a major role in the development of breast cancer. In fact, typical hormonal therapy for breast cancer involves inhibiting the activity of aromatase.

Researchers also have looked at the role of mushrooms in prostate cancer. One study of prostate cancer survivors given precise doses of powdered, freeze-dried white button mushrooms experienced a continual lowering of prostate specific antigen (PSA).

The nutritional and umami properties of mushrooms have inspired chefs to spotlight the role of fresh mushrooms in culinary “medicine.” Mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with meat.  According to research group Datassential, mushrooms are the “number one topper” on steak, chicken, and burgers (when common ingredients, like lettuce and onions, are discounted).

From mycoceuticals to everyday usage for consumers and foodservice operators, mushrooms will continue to play a significant role in nutrition, sustainability, and great taste. No matter how consumers interact with mushrooms, they can benefit from the regular inclusion of nutritious, tasty, and versatile mushrooms in a health promoting diet.

Steven Solomon is the director of FSInsights and a culinary strategist with the Mushroom Council where he is responsible for foodservice strategy, menu development, communication, education and promotion. To learn more about mushrooms, contact him at