Combining sustainability and cognitive health for healthier consumers and a better planet

Published: 23-Aug-2023

As consumers become increasingly aware of the environmental and social challenges posed by rapid industrialisation and climate change, the topic of sustainability has taken centre stage in discussions about the future of our planet. Sarah Gonçalves, Technical Business Development Manager, Nutraceuticals, at Univar Solutions, reports

Simultaneously, an emerging field of research illuminates the connection between sustainable practices and cognitive well-being. Choosing sustainable ingredients may play an indirect role in mental health, including the promotion of altruistic behaviour.

Implementing this symbiotic relationship within the supplement, food and beverage industry will not only benefit environmental and social sustainability, it might also foster company accountability and contribute to the enhanced mental health and cognitive well-being of consumers, employees and leaders alike.

Cognitive ingredients and sustainability 
Ingredient distributor Univar Solutions (US) adopts a comprehensive approach to sustainability that encompasses three facets: protecting the planet, prioritising the well-being of its people and communities, and creating a transparent, consistent and simple framework to communicate sustainability at the product level.

One example of a sustainable product is a nootropic, which is produced using renewable energy (diverted from waste streams or harvested from a plant-based source) to reduce trophic energy loss. 

Social responsibility towards cognitive ingredients includes a focus on fair-trade certified products that support local distribution, food safety and supply chain transparency.

Establishing an accountable culture involves forging partnerships with manufacturers and vendors whose practices are aligned with Univar Solutions’ sustainability goals.

Responsibly sourcing ingredients is one of our environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, and Univar Solutions communicates its intent and builds alignment throughout the supply chain by issuing a “Supplier Code of Conduct.”

Combining sustainability and cognitive health for healthier consumers and a better planet

Additionally, US is seeing consumers and companies looking for ongoing education and the provision of sustainable products within the market, facilitating conscientious and informed decisions.

Warm glow and sustainability
It’s worth mentioning that the choice of sustainable ingredients could potentially have an indirect impact on cognitive well-being through the “warm glow” phenomenon. This refers to the positive emotional satisfaction or feeling of well-being that individuals experience when they engage in proenvironmental and prosocial behaviours.

It’s intricately linked to the concept of altruism and reflects the intrinsic reward that people derive from helping others or making a positive impact on the planet. 

This emotional response can reinforce and motivate individuals to continue to engage in prosustainable behaviours, creating a cycle of positive contribution and personal gratification.

This feedback loop can be beneficial to key aspects of sustainability goals but can be, unfortunately, exploited through “greenwashing.” Transparency and accountability for the ingredient supply may be one way to ensure  that warm glow motivation is positively directed.

Switching to sustainable sources
n-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) should be considered as part of a healthy diet. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an n-3 PUFA found in significant amounts in the neural cell membranes, plays an important role in neural integrity and signalling.

Combining sustainability and cognitive health for healthier consumers and a better planet

Additionally, it has the potential to target inflammation, increase neurogenesis and contribute to neural protection. 

The absence of DHA is associated with various mood disorders and may lead to impaired memory and cognitive function.1 Alpha-linoleic acid, the n-3 PUFA found in many plant sources, can be converted into DHA in the body … but often at lower conversion rates compared with consuming DHA.

DHA derived from microalgae offers a sustainable, effective and ecofriendly substitute for conventional fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids. Algal DHA circumvents the necessity to extract omega-3 from fish sources, thereby alleviating stress on delicate marine ecosystems and fostering the preservation of fish populations.

Its non-animal origin, reduced environmental impact and potential to support marine ecosystem conservation makes it an attractive choice for individuals looking to prioritise both their health and the well-being of the planet.

Cleaning up the planet with upcycled ingredients
Upcycled foods offer solutions for food waste reduction and contribute to a circular economy. Coffee fruit powder is an example of an ingredient that embodies both sustainability and potential cognitive health benefits. Traditionally, coffee fruit — derived from the pulp surrounding the coffee bean — is often discarded.

A staggering 24 million metric tons of waste is produced for every six million metric tons of coffee consumed.

The decay of the pulp also releases harmful mycotoxins, which can seep into ground water and contaminate local waterways.2 By harnessing the nutritional potential of coffee fruit, the industry can divert this valuable resource from a waste stream and transform it into a superfood, thus enhancing the overall sustainability of the coffee production process. 

CoffeeFruit Pure is a polyphenol-rich coffee fruit powder. Its high chlorogenic acid content makes it a promising neuroprotective agent. Chronic inflammation is closely linked to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative conditions; the anti-inflammatory properties of coffee fruit polyphenols are poised to play a positive role in cognitive well-being.3

Carbon capturing and recycling
Carbon recycling provides a pathway to meet the 2050 net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions target. Building sustainability into food and ingredient manufacturing operations and adapting carbon recycling practices will not only make companies profitable, but also attractive to do business with.

Botanical extracts and powders manufactured via these sustainable practices are desirable in specialised nutrition and supplement formulations. Curcuminoids from turmeric are widely consumed and there is ample evidence to support the neuroprotective potential of curcuminoids (based on their antioxidant activity and healthy inflammatory response).4 

Combining sustainability and cognitive health for healthier consumers and a better planet

Despite this evidence, bioavailability and solubility challenges significantly impact the practical utility and effectiveness of many ingredients. MaxiCuma turmeric extract combines the benefits of sustainability, cognitive well-being, bioavailability and solubility.

Plant-based ethanol extraction in a CO2-neutral facility makes it an attractive ingredient for food and supplement formulations.

As global awareness grows about environmental challenges, strategically selected sustainable ingredients will foster not only the cognitive well-being phenomenon known as the warm glow, but also environmental and social sustainability.

Ecological business practices in ingredient procurement will not only set an inspiring precedent for the industry, but also help to secure the future of food and the planet. Following suit will lead to the success of other businesses and, ultimately, to a better planet. 



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