How the food industry can help support longevity – discussion at Food Matters Live

This week I’m on a discussion panel at Food Matters Live “Inspiring Nutrition” in London (14/15 November 2023). It will be an event discussing topics like personalised nutrition, herbs and spices, chrono-nutrition, brain health, microbiome and health food claims. 

The starting point of the panel is the idea that we are living longer but less healthily, and the question we hope to answer is how the food industry can help the public take control of their longevity through nutrition. In particular:

  • What new ingredients are supported by emerging research?
  • How is science reshaping our understanding of “positive ageing”?
  • What can we expect from the market in 2024?

My top worries about our long-term health

In short: the overprescribing of medicines, and pollution. A report by Age UK suggests that 2 million people aged 65 and above are on seven prescription medicines a day. My Mum, who died this year at 87, was on statins – and on three tablets for diabetes and heart disease – despite not having been diagnosed with any of the associated medical conditions. My Mum’s over-medication caused episodes of dizziness and confusion – including one where she was hospitalised.

We should also be concerned about drug metabolites polluting our rivers. Unexpected metabolites in river ecosystems damage biodiversity, and the impact on humans is not yet fully understood. Drugs like Metformin (used to treat Type 2 Diabetes) are one of the most common pollutants, and exist to treat a condition which we already know can go into remission through a better diet.

The food and drink industry has a big opportunity to provide the public with healthy choices and education for more lifestyle-related conditions – addressing overprescription the managing conditions that can be helped through diet, and limiting the amount of metabolites in our water.

What are some of the current food and consumer trends?

The good news is consumers are buying more healthy products as they’ve grown their knowledge, for example about the connection between gut health and mental health. A Euromonitor report, including a survey of consumers, shows that most want to improve their eating habits – but don’t know how.

As a scientist I’m never a fan of “super-foods” – the idea that one ingredient can be a panacea. A simple and affordable solution to introduce healthy plant compounds into your diet is to drink tea – herbal, green and black. A herbal tea contains many botanical species stuffed with phytonutrients – polyphenols, essential oils and other plant compounds. Drinking herbal teas helps our health – with evidence strongest for chamomile (sleep, stress) and mint (digestion), but more research is needed. For green tea (Camelia sinensis) there is more substantial evidence for its positive effects on cardiovascular health.

So drinking green, black and herbal tea is an affordable solution to support health, even if all the benefits aren’t yet clearly defined. As well-understood natural products, teas are also very safe. Two or three cups every day of green and herbal tea will have a noticeable positive effect on overall health.

Other help can come from the herbs and spices in our kitchen cupboards. The US supplement sales trends show us that turmeric, ginger and fenugreek are currently in the top 10 best-selling supplements. Buying the same herbs for cooking will be just as good for you – I love to chuck turmeric in smoothies and porridge, plus make meals like dahl in bulk every few weeks. Ginger goes in to most things too, as does garlic and chilli.

Pukka scientist Marion Mackonochie is at the European Nutrition Conference this week sharing her summary of the health benefits of kitchen herbs and spices. She found nearly 150 studies on the effects of herbs and spices in controlling inflammatory and metabolic markers for heart disease and Type II diabetes. More research needs to look at these groups of conditions in more detail. But again, there would be no harm to topping up your herb and spice consumption now.

How is science reshaping our understanding of “positive ageing”?

We are understanding more about the microbiota – particularly our large intestinal bacterial and fungal ecosystem and its importance for health. One key area of our Pukka research was the herb Shatavari racemosus – our research partners at the University of Exeter found potentially beneficial changes in muscle health in older women from consuming 2g of shatavari per day, and further research is underway.

Science is also pointing toward a holistic approach – looking at health beyond just dietary choices, or exercise. At Pukka we worked to educate consumers to care for their digestion, mental wellbeing, sleep and activity levels. Dr Rangan Chatterjee talks about four similar pillars – relaxation, food, movement, sleep. I love delving back into the history of medicine and found a 1872 paper by Birmingham doctor Willoughby Wade and he wrote about managing health through considering drugs “but also diets, rest and action…This gets to the cause”.

What to expect from the market in 2024?

So what about the tea market next year? I see more green tea coming onto our supermarket shelves with funky recipes to overcome the bitter taste. I love Pukka’s blends of green tea with mint and Hampstead Tea’s green tea and nettle.

Unfortunately there seems to be more of a trend toward fancy packaging and single use plastics and cans. Tea in Nespresso-type pods was disgusting when I tried it and must be completely unnecessary. Buy a tea pot! There are more loose teas and refills which companies like Hoogly Tea does well – and are delicious.

Tea formats are diversifying to appeal to younger consumers – cold teas, shots, bubble tea (if you like sucking up frog-spawn through a straw).

It is good to see more organic teas – Dr Stuart Teas are organic and also support the 1% for the Planet campaign, which re-invests profits into sustainable projects. They do a lovely dandelion root and burdock tea. Pukka and Clipper are already organic and use fair certifications. We need to keep educating the consumer on these important benefits and help them to understand where their teas come from.


The use of herbs and spices in our teas and cooking is something I’m excited about, as a fun and affordable way of eating more healthily. I’m working with UK universities on new avenues of research, and am keen to work with companies also wishing to support investigations and develop findings into products. The use of herbs and spices and healthy nutrition is also of interest to the growing integrative medicine community.

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