December 14, 2009
From Kelly green home accents to sustainability and Going Green, green is hot, and that includes green foods as well. The need for green foods, commonly known as superfoods, is becoming more necessary as consumer lifestyles speed up and their diets slow down, nutritionally, with a lack of essential nutrients.
These days, many do not have time to cook and prepare vegetables for well-balanced, healthy meals, said Ron Udell, president and CEO, Optipure Brand/Kenko International Inc. For people on the go, a greens-food supplement packed with a vast array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients should be considered. Some green foods such as spirulina, alfalfa, wheat grass, barley grass or kelp come in supplement form, making them convenient to take any time of the day. Many prefer to get their nutrients from these highly nutritious greens because of their easy digestibility and natural health benefits.
Finished products deliver nutrients that are lacking in the typical American diet, along with digestive enzymes designed to breakdown the fast food being ingested at high rates in todays society.
Green foods give a tremendous variety and quantity of nutrients to the diet, and have functional benefits in improving health and preventing disease, said Bob Capelli, vice president of sales and marketing, Cyanotech Corp.
What Are Green Foods?
Spirulina, chlorella, wheat grass, barley grass and kelp are just a few of the goods known as green foods.
Their greens namesake comes from the pigment chlorophyll, Udell explained. Using the energy from the sun, chlorophyll provides the green color and produces various phytonutrients. As a natural blood builder and detoxifier, chlorophyll-containing foods offer multiple benefits for human health.
Vincent Hackel, president/CEO, JBSL-USA Inc ., noted green foods are packed with critical nutrients. Basically there are 40 micronutrients required for the human body to function normally and to produce optimal health, he said. Some are vitamins, some are minerals, some are amino acids and some are fatty acids. Green vegetables contain many of these and, in some instances, such as vitamin K2 or fiber, they are some of the best sources. Eating green vegetables goes a long way toward balancing our consumption of these 40 micronutrients.
Chlorella is one of the superstars in the green foods category. Chlorella is a single-celled, freshwater green microalgae, providing a rich source of chlorophyll, Udell said. This green food contains significant amounts of protein, lipids, carbohydrates, fiber, nucleic acids, vitamins and minerals. In particular, heterotrophically grown chlorella contains beta-carotene and other carotenoid molecules, which serve as antioxidants.
In 2008, Japanese researchers at the Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology and Agrochemistry conference presented a study confirming the acceleration of excreted methylmercury (MeHG) from mice in both feces and urine after supplementation of Parachlorella beyerinckii CK-5 chlorella. Eight-week-old female mice were separated into groups and orally administered 5 mg/kg of MeHG or 5 mg/kg of MeHG plus 100 mg of chlorella powder; a third group of animals served as a control. After 24 hours, there was no significant excreting difference between the intervention groups; however, toward the end of the 24 hours, the chlorella group showed dominant excreting compared to the animals that only received the toxin.
Results from a 2008 Korean study indicated bioactive xanthophylls of Chlorella ellipsoidea might be useful functional ingredients in the prevention of human cancers (J Agric Food Chem. 2008;56(22):10521-6).Semi-purified extracts of C. ellipsoidea and Chlorella vulgaris inhibited HCT116 cell growth in a dose-dependent manner, yielding IC(50) values of 40.73 +/- 3.71 and 40.31 +/- 4.43 microg/mL, respectively. In addition, treatment with both chlorella extracts enhanced the fluorescence intensity of the early apoptotic cell population in HCT116 cells. C. ellipsoidea extract produced an apoptosis-inducing effect almost two-and-a-half times stronger than the C. vulgaris extract.
Another popular algae is spirulina. It offers an abundance of carotenoids, including zeaxanthin and beta-carotene, as well as essential fatty acids (EFAs), iron and B12. Results from a recent Chinese study suggest C-phycocyanin (C-PC), such as Spirulina platensis, may offer antihyperalgesic (a lower sensitivity to pain) and anti-inflammatory activity (Anesth Analg. 2009;108(4):1303-10).
Phytosterols, more commonly known as plant sterols, found in broccoli and Brussels sprouts, have an FDA-approved health claim stating, Foods containing at least 0.4 gram per serving of plant sterols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8 gram, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. However, despite the positive reputation plant sterols hold, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition reported long-term use of plant sterols or stanols at recommended intakes of 2.5 g/d did not affect neurocognitive functioning or mood in hypercholesterolemic individuals receiving statin treatment (2009;139(7):1368-73). The double blind, placebo-controlled dietary intervention trial randomly assigned hypercholesterolemic individuals, aged 43 to 69 years, receiving stable statin treatment to an 85-week supplementation with margarines enriched with plant sterol esters (2.5 g/d), plant stanol esters (2.5 g/d) or placebo. Long-term supplementation with plant sterol or stanol esters did not affect cognitive performance (memory, simple information processing speed, complex information processing speed, Letter-Digit Substitution test performance), subjective cognitive functioning or mood.
A less well-known green good is Angelica keiskei. Indigenous to Japan, this leafy vegetable offers diet rudiments such as fiber, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B2 and vitamin K. It also supplies flavonoids, a class of polyphenols that can play an active role in heart health. The sap, better known as ashitaba, has more than 20 flavonoids, chalcones. According to JBSL, human, animal and in vitro studies show chalcones may reduce visceral fat; improve fat metabolism, glucose tolerance and circulation; lower blood pressure; prevent ulcers; and more.
Getting the Goods to the Gut
Ensuring these essentials are delivered to the body, whether through supplementation or diet, can be a challenge. In order to ensure nutrient levels are maintained, exposure to heat and oxygen during manufacturingboth of which will degrade fragile nutrients such as antioxidants, carotenoids and enzymesshould be minimized, Capelli said. Cyanotech uses a patented drying process called Ocean Chill Drying, which dries its Hawaiian spirulina at oxygen levels less than 1 percent and in 3 to 7 seconds, ensuring nutrient retention. Capelli added minimizing oxygen exposure during packaging is also critical.
Basically you want to process the green vegetables into a powder so that they can be delivered in a convenient format, but you don't want to destroy the nutrients, Hackel said.
Specialized growing and production techniques are often developed to ensure the actives remain intact. Common chlorella is produced outdoors autotrophically, Udell said. OptiPure® offers a heterotrophically grown chlorella cultivated indoors in sealed and sterilized containers. Indoor growth eliminates airborne contaminants and allows for maximum growth in a hygienically controlled environment. Chlorella produced by this method of strict sterile control guarantees a nutrient-rich product that is safe and consistently yields a higher-quality product year round. Udell added most chlorella requires a breakdown of the cell wall before its digestible by humans, so the nutrients can be absorbed. However, many important vitamins are oxidized when the cell wall is broken, he said. OptiPure Chlorella has a semi-permeable, very thin cell wall that allows unaltered plant nutrients to be bioavailable.
Testing also ensures not only bioavailability, but also safety. Capelli noted, Sourcing quality green foods is a problem. There are many products that have high levels of heavy metals or have been irradiated to reduce bacterial levels due to poor hygiene during production. When choosing a green food for formulation, it is important to be sure its GRAS (generally recognized as safe) to guarantee the highest possible safety level is attained and also that the supplier operates under GMPs (good manufacturing practices).
Fortunately, once a formulator has found a quality supplier, there is no shortage of applications for green foods. In Japan, our organic ashitaba leaf powder is added to noodles, bread, beverages and health bars, Hackel said.
Hawaiian Spirulina is sold in 40 countries in a variety of ways, Capelli said. As pure spirulina tablets and powder; as a key functional ingredient in a variety of food and beverages; as an ingredient in protein powder products; as a base for multivitamins; in topical products such as shampoos, creams, masks and even toothpaste.
The Grass is Greener
As more green food applications are popping up in the market, manufacturers are on the look out for new ways to boost nutrient content, and consumers are interested in fortified foods offering more than just the basics.
The green food market has been growing very nicely over the last few years, Capelli said. There was a period earlier this decade when the market seemed somewhat stagnant; but, as consumers seek healthier alternatives and with green being in more nowadays in every sense, demand has increased and manufacturers are looking to use green superfoods in more products each year.
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