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Eating Well

In the face of the pandemic, spas are in the position to bring nutrition centre stage with a focus on holistic wellbeing. Cornell University’s Heather Kolakowski details the latest in nutritional trends and science

Leafy greens, nuts and healthy oils are part of the Mediterranean diet RossHelen/shutterstock
Plant-forward dishes can provide colourful options for spa guests TAtjana Baibakova/shutterstock
A healthy, balanced diet can help support the immune system sirtravelalot/shutterstock

The pandemic has impacted the ways spas conduct their programming and structure their in-person offerings and as people seek to better their health, the role of nutrition has become increasingly important in this wellness space. Many well established spas, such as Canyon Ranch in the US, have offered healthy cuisine, as well as diet and nutrition educational programmes, to guests. The pandemic has heightened the desire to boost and maintain health to withstand illness, and spas are in a position to address this need.

Remote-access settings like podcasts or Zoom meetings to discuss healthful eating and to offer virtual programming when in-person experiences are limited can reach further than the traditional market for a spa. This opportunity to have a broader target market to promote product offerings, such as healthy foods and nutritional education, can help sustain the brand awareness of a spa during a time when it may be forced to reduce its in-person guest interactions.

The Mediterranean diet and plant-forward offerings
While some spas are focused more specifically on weight loss, many more have the opportunity to promote overall healthy eating habits for their guests. The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthy eating plans recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 to promote health and prevent chronic disease, and has been consistently ranked by the US News & World Report as one of the best overall diets. This diet is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nut and seeds, and olive oil.

Plant-forward, while not a new concept in the spa world, continues to rise in popularity in the mainstream food service sector, lending itself to unique offerings in the spa market. According to Technomic’s ‘50 Menu Trends to Watch’ in the third quarter for 2020, plant-based items such as coloured chickpeas, banana blossoms as a meat substitute, plant-based caviar, and yarrow, to name a few, are on the rise in popularity on menus. Continuing the trend of focusing on local, sustainable and organic food offerings in spa menus will also be important, in addition to the added factor of how climate change is affecting the food supply.

Anti-inflammatory/immune boosters
Our immune systems require balance and harmony to work effectively. While there is a lot of discussion about how to boost your immune system through supplements and nutrients, there have been relatively few studies of the effects of nutrition on the immune system of humans. A healthy, balanced diet can help support the immune system by providing regular nourishment.

There have been several studies, however, that support the idea that chronic inflammation can lead to weight gain and disease. According to Harvard Health Publishing, an anti-inflammatory diet should include tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish and fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges, if tolerated. To reduce inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet, in particular the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and healthy oils. Fresh herbs and spices add antioxidants and flavour, and turmeric and garlic can help curb inflammation, if tolerated.

Food Safety
With the reopening of in-person services, the consideration of food safety is paramount in whichever culinary programme a spa implements. Following health guidelines and policies during meal preparation and service, such as frequent hand washing and sanitising procedures, is critical to ensure guest and employee safety. Whether a spa outsources its food preparation to a local restaurant or hotel kitchen or prepares the meals on-site, clear communication of the practices in place will help ease the mind of guests that might still be uncertain about their safety. From placing posters or signs informing guests of the safety measures implemented, verbally confirming hygiene practices or even demonstrating them in front of the guest, your organisation can reassure them that you have their best safety interests top of mind.

Keeping these particular food items and safety measures in place when planning culinary options for guests at the spa can help to increase their awareness of the impact of nutrition on their overall wellness. These concepts can help spas focus on a new kind of healthy eating, which considers many factors such as nutrition, food safety and flavour.

Photo: Jesse Winter
About the author:

Heather Kolakowski is an associate director for the Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures and Lecturer in Food and Beverage Management at the SC Johnson College of Business, School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. As a passionate foodie, Heather studied at the Culinary Institute of America, as well as the School of Hotel Administration, and currently teaches an elective course in Non-profit Social Enterprise and Food Justice.

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2021 issue 1
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