Feeding Healthy Boomers

February 18, 2010

11 Min Read
Feeding Healthy Boomers

By Kimberly J. Decker,  Contributing Editor

It may have been Peter Pan who famously intoned, I wont grow up, but a whole generation of Americans78 million strongremains doggedly resistant, if not actually to growing up, then at least to growing old. That generation, of course, would be the baby boomers, and its members view supermarket shelves and restaurant menus as key fronts in the battle against the ticking of the biological clock.

Health span, not lifespan

According to Sharrann Simmons, senior marketing manager, Cognis Corporation, La Grange, IL, The average baby boomer is much more active than their parents generation wouldve been at the same age, so today, people talk not only about a lifespan, but a health span.

But boomers can only stare down Father Time for so long. Baby boomers face a multitude of challenges that result from the physiologicalas well as lifestylechanges that occur with aging, says Lorraine Niba, Ph.D., regional marketing manager, FrieslandCampina Domo, Chicago. Diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal diseases often emerge over time. Hormonal changes in female boomers result in health concerns that are often different from their male counterparts. The slowdown in metabolic rates and hormonal changes may lead to weight gain and other associated conditions. In addition, Caucasian boomer females show high rates of osteoporosis, resulting from inadequate calcium absorption.

Ticker talk

Boomers are at a critical age for development of cardiovascular diseases, says J. J. Mathieu, ADM technical services, ADM, Decatur, IL. According to the American Heart Association, Dallas, roughly 40% of boomers aged 40 to 59 suffer from cardiovascular disease, as do a little over 73% of those aged 60 to 79.

Clinical and epidemiological research has established that long-chain omega-3s, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can help lower those disease rates by decreasing triglyceride and remnant lipoprotein levels, improving endothelial function, and decreasing the rate of atherosclerotic plaques.

With ongoing research in the role of DHA in preventing or slowing the onset of Alzheimers disease and dementia, boomers also value the nutrient as a tool to help the aging brain function at its maximum effectiveness, Simmons says.

The main challenge to formulating with DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is the oxidation during processing and storage. As long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, DHA and EPA are prone to oxidative degradation, and its unpalatable off odors and flavors. Key to preventing that is starting with a very clean product, Simmons says. That goes back to how you deodorize and process the oil originally, so that when the customer gets it, its in the highest possible purity and is clean from a sensory standpoint. Her company offers long-chain omega-3s in a number of oil formats, as well as in encapsulated powders with added stability. The powder is recommended for any dry application like a bakery mix or other application where you need stability in heat processing, she says.

Phytosterols, including plant sterols and sterol esters, are among the most-established nutrients in terms of providing health benefits, especially against cardiovascular disease, Simmons says. Theres such an overwhelming body of science proving their ability to reduce cholesterol, up to 15% reduction.

Mathieu notes the sterols can reduce cholesterol by an average of 10%, no mean feat when the American Heart Association estimates a 10% population-wide decrease in total cholesterol levels could produce a 30% reduction in the incidence of coronary heart disease.

The theory is that phytosterols reduce cholesterol because theyre structurally similar to cholesterol, and compete with it for incorporation into the micelles that transport cholesterol out of the gut into circulation. So less cholesterol gets absorbed into the bloodstream, where it does harm, and more gets excreted from the body.

Given that 3 million Americansmany of them boomerstake a prescription statin drug to lower cholesterol, plant sterols can serve as a useful dietary adjunct to reduce prescription-drug costs. If you take a statin drug, you can still use plant sterols to further reduce your cholesterol levels, says Simmons.

Plant sterols are most prevalent in vegetable oils; as food ingredients, suppliers produce them in free or esterified form. During the vegetable oil deodorization process, Mathieu explains, some of the more volatile vegetable oil components, such as fatty acids and phytosterols, are distilled and recovered. The phytosterols are isolated and purified into a 95% free-flowing white powder that can be readily formulated into foods and dietary supplements. Being sparingly soluble in vegetable oil, free sterols are reacted with vegetable-oil fatty acids to produce sterol esters with 10 times the oil solubility for use in high-fat systems. Once in the digestive tract, these esters are hydrolyzed back into their functional free-sterol forms, which then get to work shunting cholesterol out of circulation.

For less than a penny per serving, Mathieu says, one can formulate phytosterols into a high-fiber bread simply by adding the sterols with the other ingredients at the dough make-up stage without any other formulation changes. The free-sterol form is a stable, inert, fine granular powder virtually without flavor. Phytosterol esters, which have a paste-like texture because of their unsaturated fatty-acid composition, require refrigerated storage and heating before use.

Currently, everything from breakfast cereals and ready-to-drink (RTD) meal-replacement beverages to waffles, soymilk, granola, bread, margarine and juices contain sterols.

Roll your bones

As aging women enter menopause, they not only lose the cardioprotection estrogen confers, but its protection against bone loss, as well. Estrogen affects both bone formation and resorption, Mathieu explains. A reduction in estrogen, as happens during menopause, causes bone-mineral-density loss. While pharmaceuticals and hormone-replacement therapies are widely prescribed to stave off this loss, theyre not without their drawbacks or detractors, and menopausal boomers like the idea of using natural alternatives to such treatmentslike isoflavones.

Isoflavones are estrogen-like compounds found in high concentration in soybeans and soy-based foods. Mathieus company extracts soy isoflavone concentrates from soybeans using an aqueous ethanol extraction step, which removes the oligosaccharides and other soluble components, concentrating the protein content up to 70%. (Some of the isoflavones are also extracted in the aqueous ethanol phase.) Following filtration of the solution and further physical concentration, the product is spray dried to roughly 40% isoflavone concentration. As in soymilk, tofu and other non-fermented soy products, these isoflavones are in the glycoside form, which intestinal enzymes hydrolyze to the aglycone forms that are absorbed and most biologically active.

How isoflavones exert their action is not yet fully understood, Mathieu says. We do know that the molecular structure of isoflavones is similar to that of estrogen, and that isoflavones can bind to estrogen receptors at various places in the body, including the bones. Their ability to moderate menopausal symptoms probably proceeds via similar mechanisms, he says.

Mathieu cites a recent Health Canada monograph that recommends 75 to 125 mg per day of soy isoflavones on an aglycone isoflavone equivalent (AIE) basis for bone-loss reduction, and 30 to 100 mg per day AIE for relief from menopause symptoms, with at least 15 mg AIE coming from genistein or genistin compounds. Soy contains three types of isoflavones: genistein, daidzein and glycitein. Genistein, and its glucoside genistin, appears most effective at easing menopause symptoms.

From a formulation standpoint, Mathieu says isoflavones exhibit a long product shelf life, with good stability and resistance to degradation under normal processing conditions, including extrusion. Isoflavones minimal water solubility presents a challenge in clear beverages, he notes; but otherwise, because isoflavones are used at such low addition levels per serving, they generally are very easy to use in food applications.

Another way to keep bones strong is to enhance calcium absorption. One prebiotic dairy-derived galactooligosaccharide claims to do just that. The ingredient is similar to the prebiotic oligosaccharides found in human milk, and according to Niba, more than 60 studies show that, as a fermentation substrate, it increases beneficial bacterial populations in the large intestine. This boosts digestive health and immune functiontwo concerns familiar to boomersand also produces short-chain fatty acids that have been shown to have benefits for mineral absorption, she says.

Short-chain fatty acids lower the pH of the colon, and this lowered pH is thought to improve the solubility and absorption of calcium, Niba explains. Nobody has yet to settle on an effective dose, but human studies show bifidobacteria stimulation with doses ranging from 1 to 15 grams. She notes her company recommends about 5 grams per day, with a typical per-serving dose working out to about 3 grams. Available as clear syrup and instantly dispersible soluble powders, the ingredient is easy to formulate into food and beverage applications, with clear drinks, dairy products, bars, desserts and mixes among the most-popular applications. Stable to heat, pasteurization, low pH and storage, it doesnt react with other ingredients, and its GRAS, too.

Joint efforts

As boomers remain active into their golden years, the wear and tear that bedevils even younger joints can strike with more-debilitating ferocity. An active lifestyle, participation in impact sports and aging can wear down joint cartilage, says Mike Fleagle, product manager, Cargill Corn Milling/Regenasure, Minneapolis. Glucosamine provides a cushioning effect for our joints and is a key building block of joint cartilage and joint fluid.

Glucosamine is an amino-sugar naturally produced in the human body from carbohydrates and amino acids. What we make ourselves is never enough, says Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., senior vice president and chief scientific officer, R&D, Fortitech Inc., Schenectady, NY. When you have wear and tear, especially in the joints, you need this material as a building block for the glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans that are a part of joint health. Fortification of functional foods, he believes, is essential for optimum effect. As for effective levels, I would start off somewhere around 500 mg or so and go up even to 2 grams, because its nontoxic and has no undesirable flavor, he says.

Brent Rogers, technical services manager, Cargill Corn Milling/North America, advises a similar approach, citing the many human clinical studies on glucosamine that show benefits for taking 1,500 mg daily, including reduced cartilage degeneration, as well as reducing symptoms such as pain.

Glucosamines ready water solubility and high acid stability make it a perfect ingredient for functional foods, says Shari Ruble, technical services specialist, Cargill Corn Milling, which markets GRAS, vegetarian-source, allergen-free glucosamine in both glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulfate forms. Fruit and vegetable juices, functional waters, sports drinks, flavored teas, smoothies, yogurts, and even baked goods and beauty products are all viable applications, to which she advises adding the ingredient along with the other dries. It is perfectly suited to be stable through heat-process steps and to achieve excellent shelf stability, she says.

It almost makes formulating for boomer health sound easy. As we learn more about nutrition and its role in aging, such product development is certainly shedding its mystery. Our knowledge of nutritionof better health, of medicine, of how to live a healthy life through diet and exerciseis so much better than it was 30 years ago, says Matt Pikosky, director of research transfer, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), Rosemont, IL. You can start doing things now to ensure that when youre in your sixties and seventies youre still able to play golf, to do yard work, to play with your grandkids and bike-ride and be active.

Kimberly J. Decker, a California-based technical writer, has a B.S. in consumer food science with a minor in English from the University of California, Davis. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys eating and writing about food. You can reach her at [email protected].

Big Spenders

The sheer size and economic clout of the boomer generation has marketers of everything from skin creams to sports drinks salivating. According to the Department of Labors Consumer Expenditure Survey, baby boomersgenerally defined as those born between 1946 and 1964outspend all other generations on consumer goods and services to the tune of an estimated $400 billion each year.

Heart Help

Since 2004, FDA has authorized a qualified health claim for the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. While no official daily value for the fatty acids yet exists, somewhere between 500 mg and 5 grams is the recommended daily amount, depending on the need and health condition of the consumer, says Sharrann Simmons, senior marketing manager, Cognis Corporation, La Grange, IL. Some authorities advocate consuming even more, she adds, and there have been no established negative concerns at higher levels.

And while the health claim for omega-3s is qualifiedmeaning that FDA deems the related research supportive, but not conclusive, plant sterols and sterol esters enjoy an unqualified FDA health claim for their heart-health benefitsthe gold standard of health claims, Simmons says.

Per that claim, foods with at least 0.65 grams per serving of vegetable oil sterol esters (or 0.40 grams sterols) eaten twice a day with meals for a total of 1.30 grams of sterol esters (or 0.80 grams of sterols) per day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.


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