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Do Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals Mix Like Oil & Water?

Do Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals Mix Like Oil & Water?

by Joel Pettegrew

Adding phyto-nutritional support ingredients to food products requires a fine powder size to aid in dispersion of the plant derivative in the food format. Large granules of a leafy fiber substance probably won't disperse well and may interrupt the taste of the final product, create gritty or unfavorable "mouth feel," and, in the case of powdered drink or sprinkle-on mixes, a questionable appearance that alludes toward contamination. ("What are those pieces of green things in there?") Aminos and usual vitamins and minerals work well in food products and are easily recognized by the consumers as added value.

Some nutraceutical ingredients are available in hydrolyzed, more soluble forms, allowing for better combining with food elements and better absorption in the digestive system. It works. And it adds more "oomph" to the nutritional value of the food, more "oomph" to the label facts, and a lot more value to the end product. That is what the mixture of food and nutraceuticals gives us: Added Value.


Picture the usual formulating for a standard 0 size capsule or a 900 mg tablet and using dosage sizes of perhaps 100 to 200 mg of active herbals per capsule. The bottle reads, for example, that the recommended dosage is two capsules per day.

Now imagine putting the same amount of that herbal into a power bar or prepared drink. The tendency is to add more because the space is available. The consumer ingests all of the food product at once, usually, and gets a larger dose of the nutraceutical element in many instances. More may not be better with some ingredients such as vitamin A or iron. Care must be exercised in not loading the food item because of available space, and consideration must be made for the amount of the food item probably ingested by the consumer at one time.

Where is this leading and why?

Convenience is a key object today of busy households that are fighting for time and leisure, too. That means fast food, microwave foods, fattening--and often nourishment-lacking--foods that kids will eat and adults like to gulp down. We need nourishment in addition to the dietary habits we're supposed to have, and functional foods with nutraceuticals is one way to augment the intake on the positive side.

We are moving from the old standby of orange juice with extra C or calcium to fashion waters with ginseng, sports drinks with electrolyte additives, cereals that children like with added vitamins and/or minerals. The magic word has been "fortified," which is interpreted by many to result in a "fortified" body preventing illnesses and failings.

Big food industry giants such as Kraft, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Quaker Oats, General Mills and Post, as well as smaller specialty foods manufacturers are inserting nutraceutical additives into new products, sometimes as brand-new products, and sometimes as line extensions.

Can you imagine the ad line "New Potato Chips--Now with Vinpocetine so you can remember where you put the dip"? How about "Cowboy Chili with glucosamine to help relieve saddle bruises"? "Colonel Sanders Kentucky bluegrass Algae Chicken in crispy or regular"? "The Godfather's Pasta Sauce with Basil and Casada Sagrada--the sauce you cannot refuse and will quickly lose"? Even mom's meat loaf and apple pie may be better for you with the addition of ginkgo biloba 24/6 and topped with lactoferrin granules.

Could the Coin Flip?

But as the food giants use nutraceuticals, could nutraceutical companies use traditional foods? How about vitamin C with ester, rutin, and bleu cheese granules in each capsule? I like the idea of EPA fish oil softgels with Coca-Cola syrup to kill the fish taste. Molassas cookies iced with colostrum?

To be honest, this whole combination of putting A+B together started when industry formulators realized most nutritional supplements were effective in aiding the health of pets, particularly cats and dogs. Animals rarely take anything strange or new without 20 or 30 sniffs, so companies disguised the additives by putting them into the pet food. Now the industry is doing the same thing for our kids, our friends and ourselves. "Be careful, that iced tea has D-arginine in it!"

Formulating for Fun & Safety

We can have fun putting extra nutrition into foods as fancy wraps and ribbons and bows, expanding the popularity, value and utility use of some dull foods. But we must be aware of nutraceuticals that exhibit toxic tendencies when ingested over recommended amounts per serving. More literature, articles, charts and publicity must be made available to nutritional products and functional food manufacturers--and to formulators in both industries--regarding knowledge of toxicity developments from mega doses of nutraceuticals. We need scientific backup of these reports, not arbitrary judgment. Some good data is available now from Web site and federal government sources. Reliable data on ingredient functions will become increasingly crucial for our tasks of combining foods and nutraceutical additives today, and in the years ahead. 

Joel Pettegrew is a consultant to the nutraceutical industry with a nine year background in formulating and manufacturing with Summa Rx Laboratories in Fort Worth, Texas. His variety of customers and markets gives him a broad view of events in nutritional support product marketing. His prior experiences in retail sales promotion and packaging add to his broad interests in the industry.

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