TOKYO >> Can consuming “complete nutritional foods” provide all the nutrients necessary for daily life, as these products claim?
Such foods traditionally have been beverage-type products, but these days they include items such as bread and instant noodles. They offer options for people who don’t eat three square meals.
Unlike what the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry categorizes as “food with health claims,” which are labeled as offering benefits from their nutritional ingredients, there is no clear definition of a complete nutritional food.
Most Japanese products seem to be made with an eye toward the standard intake of 33 nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fats, as indicated in the “Dietary Reference Intakes for Japanese” guideline published by the health ministry.
Three to four times a week for breakfast, a 21-year-old college student in Kanagawa prefecture eats bread that claims to be a complete nutritional food.
“It’s difficult to prepare a well-balanced meal in the morning,” she said. “I can eat this bread every day because it (comes in) a wide variety of flavors and (styles).”
That bread is produced by Base Food Inc., which also has developed pasta and cookies in its range of complete nutritional food. The company blends more than 10 ingredients, including soybeans and konbu, into a whole-grain base, and one serving provides more than one-third of the nutrients in the standard daily dietary intake.
Chief Executive Officer Shun Hashimoto said he had wanted to end his habit of eating out but had been unsuccessful in his attempts to cook for himself.
“For busy working people, it is difficult to keep cooking several healthy dishes per meal,” he said. “Bread and noodles make it easy to keep up with healthy eating.”
Though nutritional supplements have been available for more than 30 years, the first product marketed as a complete nutritional meal is said to be Soylent, from a U.S. startup, about 10 years ago. Since then, the trend toward simplified meals and health consciousness has continued to grow.
KBV Research, a company with locations in the United States and other countries, estimates that the global market for complete nutritional foods will grow at an average annual rate of 6.5% from 2021 and will generate $6.3 billion by 2027.
In May, Nissin Food Products Co. launched instant noodle and instant rice products that are said to be complete nutritional foods. These products provide all 33 nutrients in Japan’s dietary reference and are designed to be appetizing and nutritionally balanced.
“We want people who can’t prep healthy meals to try them,” said Daisuke Kaneko, Nissin brand manager.
Beyond starch products, there is miso soup by Misovation Inc. that is labeled a complete nutritional food and contains most dietary reference nutrients.
But a body can’t thrive off of these products alone. Important nutrients such as polyphenols from plant-based foods, for instance, also must be consumed.
“Try to eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of items as much as possible,” said registered dietitian Ayaka Miki. “If you are too busy … I recommend only replacing one meal with such products.”