KANSAS CITY — The ketogenic diet represents a significant yet challenging market opportunity for product developers, according to panelists presenting at ShIFT20, a virtual event produced by the Institute of Food Technologists, Chicago.

Interest in the high-fat, low-carbohydrate lifestyle has surged as consumers seek personalized solutions for managing weight, improving physical and cognitive performance, and treating or preventing specific health conditions, said Lu Ann Williams, director of global insights at Innova Market Insights, Arnhem, The Netherlands. She cited a spike in Google searches for “keto” at the beginning of the year that eased during the initial pandemic period.

“Now we’re seeing it start to creep back up again as we begin to regain our confidence coming out of the different lockdowns and so on,” Ms. Williams said. “Keto is definitely back on trend.”

Food and beverage manufacturers, including mainstream brands, are tapping into the trend. The number of global product launches featuring a keto claim increased 239% year-over-year in 2019, Ms. Williams said.

Nearly a fourth of sports nutrition products introduced last year had a keto claim. New cereals, snacks and soft drinks with a keto claim grew 150%, 169% and 212%, respectively, in 2019. Packaged products that promote convenience help consumers adhere to the diet’s rigorous guidelines, Ms. Williams said.

“Convenience is so important because it is a real pain if you have to prepare everything in advance, and this is a diet where you’re either on it or you’re off it. You can’t kind of halfway do it.”

Achieving nutritional ketosis, when the body uses fat as its primary energy source, requires a diet that is 70% to 90% fat, 6% to 20% protein and approximately 5% carbohydrates, said Kristen N. Smith, PhD, nutrition consultant and owner of K&T Consulting Services, LLC, Minneapolis.

"This is a diet where you’re either on it or you’re off it. You can’t kind of halfway do it.” — Lu Ann Williams, Innova Market Insights

While sustaining this state is linked to such outcomes as weight loss and treatment of epilepsy, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, the program presents several barriers to adoption, Dr. Smith said. Physical side effects may include fatigue, dehydration, constipation and muscle cramps that may last about a week as the body adjusts. Food choices are generally restricted to meat, poultry, fish, full-fat dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, fats and oils, and leafy vegetables. Fruits, grains, starchy vegetables and legumes are excluded.

“The limited number of food choices … can be a challenge for some,” Dr. Smith said. “Compliance can be affected by difficulty going out to eat, feeding a family and trying to follow a fairly strict regimen.”

Packaged food and beverage products that simplify the keto plan are in demand, but key formulation challenges exist, said Marshall G. Weston III, senior food scientist at Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. When reducing sugar and increasing fat in a recipe, product developers must consider ingredients that offer sweetness replacement and functional characteristics such as bulking, browning and emulsification, he said.

“Ingredient selection is essential to formulate a product that is acceptable to the end consumer,” Mr. Weston said.

Solutions vary across applications. In a frozen dessert, for example, reducing sugar may create challenges relating to hardness, ice crystal size and texture, freeze/thaw stability and freezing point depression.

Mr. Weston shared a formulation for a no-sugar-added toasted coconut frozen dessert that contains coconut cream, allulose and stevia as non-caloric sweeteners, acacia as a bulking agent, tara and guar gums that control ice crystal formulation during freezing, and rice starch, which offers superior freeze/thaw stability characteristics.

Ramesh Reddy Yettella, PhD, consumer innovation manager at AAK USA, Edison, NJ, addressed ideal fat sources for a ketogenic diet. Avocado oil, olive oil and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil are considered healthier sources of fat. He provided an example of a ketogenic beverage featuring a blend of rapeseed oil, MCT, algal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and egg phospholipids, which delivers a combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Information on registering for ShIFT20 may be found here.