Should empirically trained scientists and researchers attempt to identify how certain foods can affect mental energy?

The consensus from the annual Institute of Food Technologists conference was an arousing “yes” as consumers have articulated a desire to know if particular foods can improve mental clarity or physical performance and help control emotions.

Historically scientists view “brain foods” as the same food that can make the body healthier. On the other hand, consumers seek foods that stimulate “mental energy”.

Researchers presenting at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting say they’re still trying to nail down mental energy’s definition, even as new products make new claims that they are the answer.

Susan Borra, of the International Food Information Council, said consumers already have ideas about what mental energy is: Mental clarity, physical performance, and a combination of emotional feelings. They view it “not as calories, as scientists do.”

“Energy has a positive message for consumers; calories don’t,” Borra said.

Though numerous scientific studies have been done on exercise and sleep and their influences on mental sharpness, “we know least about eating’s effect on mental energy,” said Patrick O’Connor of the University of Georgia.

But that doesn’t stop consumers from thirsting for products offering to make them smarter, more energetic and more alert. In 2005, the energy drink category accounted for $1.79 billion in sales.

“The more [that] science understands about mental energy, the better [that] food companies can make more accurate health claims about products,” said O’Connor.

His research shows that 25 percent of men and women are concerned about lack of energy some of the time, with women complaining more than men.

“The impact on increasing the energy of a quarter of the population could be huge,” said O’Connor, describing the incentive for companies offering such products.

Concluding today, the IFT Annual Meeting + FOOD EXPO® is the world’s largest annual food science forum and exposition, delivering comprehensive, cutting-edge research and opinion from food science-, technology-, marketing- and business-leaders.

Source: Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)