Trends in the nutrition industry are as common as cookies at a holiday party. Current trends on display at SupplySide West in October included antioxidants from new sources like corn or olives, gluten-free options, social networks and sustainability throughout the supply chain.
In contrast, one old standby still garners as much attention as the aunt who had too much eggnog at said holiday party: green foods. Green foods, i.e. plant-based nutrition with tons of chlorophyll and health benefits, will always be a topic of interest in this industry for two main reasons: consumers know they need them, and consumers dont get enough in their diets. Despite diet trends consistently changing opinions over the years, all trends ALWAYS agree that green foods are nothing but beneficial and the public has ingested and wholly absorbed this information, said Mike Dewey, marketing manager, AlgaeCal.
While getting greens in the diet is not a passing trend in the nutrition industry, interest in getting greens in the diet in novel ways has increased recently. Interest in green food ingredients has increased dramatically in just the last few years, said Bob Capelli, vice president of sales and marketing, Cyanotech Corp. For example, we had more interest in spirulina at SupplySide West this year than weve had at any show in the last five years.
Product manufacturers want to make green-food supplements and add them to foods and beverages because consumers are more interested. While consumers want more greens in their diets, they have been reluctant to add more snacks of broccoli and cooked spinach. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released in September 2010 reported, in 2009 only 32.5 percent of Americans are meeting the USDA recommended fruit and vegetable intake, said Jeff Wuagneux, president/CEO, RFI Ingredients. Worse yet, consumption is actually down in the past decade, which tells us that even with the media and government telling us we should be eating more fruits and vegetables, we are not. This paradox may explain the interest by consumers in green-food products, which in turn is driving the manufacturers interest.
Consumers would do well to increase their green food consumption, as numerous studies show their health benefits. Population studies suggest a reduced risk of cancer is associated with high consumption of vegetables, like cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage and broccoli; green tea; and asparagus.1 Specifically, intake of folate (found in vegetables) and green leafy vegetables may help protect smokers from gene action that promotes lung cancer.2 And, according to English researchers, increasing daily intake of green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, could significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.3
Many of green foods benefits can be attributed to chlorophyll. In fact, Guinevere Lynn, director of business development, Sun Chlorella calls it the most important ingredient that can be found in all green foods. Chlorophyll, as we all remember from seventh-grade science, is the pigment that gives plants their green color. Its vital for photosynthesis, the process that allows plants to get their energy from the sun. For humans, chlorophyll is known as natures detoxifer because it removes impurities and harmful elements from the body. Studies have shown it exhibits anticarcinogenic activity,4 so much so that, in 2001, a group of researchers recommended it as means to prevent the development of liver cancer as well as other environmentally induced cancers.5
Greening the Oceans
The depths of the worlds waters provide a vast number of green foods found to be beneficial to human health. For instance, Capelli said spirulinas advantages include improving immunity, inhibiting viruses, helping with cardiovascular issues, improving eye and brain health, supporting the liver and kidneys, preventing anemia, improving blood health and reducing the risk of cancer. Among the most researched areas have been immunity, cardiovascular health, cancer prevention and anti-viral properties, he added.
This alga is about 60-percent protein with all the essential amino acids. It contains beta-carotene, gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), B vitamins, minerals, trace elements, chlorophyll, enzymes and carotenoids.
Many formulators see spirulina as a way to provide a kind of multivitamin. Spirulina has become much more interesting to consumers because of the complete nutritionprotein, vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrientsthat it provides, said Rudi E. Moerck, president and CEO, Valensa. Spirulina is a complete food that offers high-quality protein (complete essential amino acids), phytopigments (beta-carotene, carotenoids and phycocyanin), essential fatty acids (EFAs), vitamins and minerals.
Beyond basic nutrition, studies have demonstrated spirulinas specific benefits. A Brazilian article noted it has been experimentally proven, in vivo and in vitro, to treat certain allergies, anemia, cancer, hepatotoxicity, viral and cardiovascular diseases (CVD), hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, immunodeficiency and inflammatory processes, among others.6
In humans, Spirulina maxima intake decreases blood pressure and plasma lipid concentrations, especially triacylglycerols and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and indirectly modifies the total cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol values, according to a 2009 review.7
It has also been to shown to be effective in reducing the risk of cancer. Almost half (45 percent) of tobacco chewers who had pre-cancerous lesions in their mouths and took 1 g/d of spirulina experienced regression of the lesions, compared to only 7 percent in a placebo group in one study.8 A Ukrainian study noted the liver-protective properties of spirulina are due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, membrane-stabilizing and immunocorrecting actions, and may prevent chronic hepatitis from turning into hepatocirrhosis.9
Spirulina may also attract athletes, as supplementation induced a significant increase in exercise performance and fat oxidation, reduced glutathione (GSH) concentration and attenuated the exercise-induced increase in lipid peroxidation.10
Also, small in size, yet big in benefits, chlorella is a type of green algae that absorbs large amounts of dioxin, lead, mercury and other contaminants. Only as big as a red blood cell, this one-celled organism contains 50-percent protein, vitamin B6, minerals, chlorophyll, beta-carotene, vitamin B12, and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and GLA.
Dioxins are environmental contaminants that exert a variety of harmful effects, including increasing cancer rates, suppressing immune function and disrupting thyroid dysfunction. However, nursing mothers who supplemented with Chlorella pyrenoidosa exhibited reduced dioxin levels in breast milk and higher immunoglobulin (Ig) A concentrations in their milk.11
Detoxifying is one of the main reasons consumers take chlorella, Lynn said, but there are so many condition-specific benefits chlorella provides due to its rich nutrient content (lutein, vitamin A, folic acid, etc.). Other specific reasons to take chlorella include its heart benefits, with research showing it suppresses the increase of serum cholesterol level caused by a high-cholesterol diets,12 and can decrease high-normal blood pressure and borderline hypertension.13 Chlorella has also been shown to prevent stress-induced stomach ulcers;14 possibly prevent allergic diseases, such as food allergies;15 could reduce body fat;16 and reduced the risk of pregnancy-associated anemia, proteinuria and edema.17
Chlorella used for supplements can be grown indoors or outdoors with manufacturers promoting the benefits of both options. Sun Chlorella is in the outdoors camp. We culture chlorella outdoors because it has been determined that by culturing chlorella outside under strict sanitary measures instead of in tanks, the full exposure to sunlight allows us to obtain the useful chlorella nutrients therefore, there is a reason that chlorella is called Packed Sunlight, Lynn explained. The chlorella produced by the latest technology at our culturing plant is exported to Japan to be processed as Sun Chlorella products under rigid quality control (QC) by Japan's and our own strict standard. Sun Chlorella meets all GMP requirements as established by FDA, which ensures the high standards of our manufacturing and distribution.
However, both Optipure Brand and Solazyme choose to grow their chlorella indoors. While common chlorella is produced outdoors autotrophically, OptiPure offers a heterotrophically grown chlorella cultivated indoors in sealed and sterilized containers, said Ron Udell, president and CEO, Optipure Brand/Kenko International Inc. Indoor growth eliminates airborne contaminants and allows for maximum growth in a hygienically controlled environment. Heterotrophic cultivation results in a clean, pure, and highly active product. 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.
Ken Plasse, senior director marketing, sales and business development, Solazyme Health Sciences, said algae grown outdoors in open pond-type culture may be contaminated due to exposure to air- and water-born contaminants. Solazyme's algae are grown in a nutrient-rich culture medium that is free from PCBs, dioxins, heavy metals, etc., all of which can be introduced in outdoor cultures. Solazymes chlorella ingredients include one combined with omega-3s, -6s and -9s marketed toward heart health (Golden Chlorella ® Omega) and one marketed for its protein (Golden Chlorella® High Protein).
AlgaeCal, on the other hand, markets its algae ingredient for its bone-building properties. AlgaeCal is a USDA-certified organic whole-food marine algae complex that contains more than 70 naturally occurring minerals and trace elements, according to the company. This unique plant naturally contains large amounts of calcium (30 percent) and the remainder is other trace minerals that are also crucial for overall good health, Dewey said. We hand harvest from the beaches of South America after the algae have washed up on shore. If not used, they will die on the beach within a few days. He added, AlgaeCals claim to fame is it is the only calcium clinically proven to increase bone density. Other calciums (that all come from either rock, cattle bone or shell) only slow bone loss. Indeed, alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity was significantly increased with AlgaeCal treatment when compared to control, calcium carbonate or calcium citrate in cultured human osteoblast cells.18 Elevated ALP indicates possible active bone formation. Dewey also noted an unpublished open-label practical clinical trial found subjects who supplemented with AlgaeCal experienced greater mean increases in bone mineral density (BMD) than expected based on age-adjusted national norms.
Grass is Greener
Wheat, barley, rye and oat grasses are commonly consumed for their green-food goodness. While technically grains, when these cereal grasses are cultivated as young plants, they have the nutrient and chemical makeup of green leafy vegetables. Chlorophyll, protein and most of the vitamins found in cereal grasses reach their peak while the plants are still youngbefore they turn into the wheat, barley, rye and oats used to make bread.
At their peak, cereal grasses are excellent sources of beta-carotene, vitamin K, folic acid, calcium, iron, protein and fiber, as well as good sources of vitamin C and many of the B vitamins. Harvesting usually occurs in the spring just prior to jointing, the peak of vegetative development when the plant begins to sprout the grain. Seventy-five years of research clearly establishes the fact that the highest levels of nutrients occur during this period, said Steve Dinneen, marketing, advertising, and design for PINES.
According to the book, Cereal Grass What's in it for you! by Ron Seibold, cereal grasses reduce high blood pressure, the risk of some cancers, obesity, diabetes, gastritis, ulcers, pancreas and liver problems, fatigue, anemia, asthma, eczema, hemorrhoids, skin problems, halitosis, body odor and constipation. Additionally, he said, they support the growth of lactobacilli and other beneficial bacteria; and help block the devolvement of scurvy, which is caused by a vitamin C deficiency.
Alfalfa is widely grown throughout the world as forage for cattle, and is most often harvested as hay, but Cyvex uses it for protein. Cyvexs AlfaPro alfalfa juice protein concentrate is made from young alfalfa plants, free of pesticides, fertilizers and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In addition to containing more than 50-percent concentrated protein, Cyvexs Alfapro provides a rich nutritional source of several essential vitamins, minerals and other nutritionally beneficial properties, said Matt Phillips, president of Cyvex Nutrition. Those nutrients include vitamins B1, B2, B6, B7 and vitamin E; essential minerals, including potassium, magnesium and calcium; 18 amino acids; lutein; zeaxanthin; and chlorophyll.
Angela Dorsey-Kockler, RD, product manager, BI Nutraceuticals, added, Alfalfa has been purported to act as an anticholesterolemic and antiglycemic agent; however, more research is needed in these areas.
Herbs are Green, Too
Dorsey-Kockler noted alfalfas heart-health research may still be green, i.e., not developed, but studies on green botanicals are not lacking, she said. Green tea has some of the most prolific health research behind its health benefits. While it has not yet achieved a qualified health claim, green tea has demonstrated very strong antioxidant protection against certain chronic diseases, may aid in weight loss, and also acts as an energy stimulant. Ginkgo biloba is another popular green herb with widely studied cognitive benefits, including reduction of depression, anxiety, dementia; it has also been found to support memory function. Further, she added matcha is an innovative green-food ingredient that has been showing up in a variety of foods. The allure of matcha, the finest green tea, is the way it is grown (in the shade), harvested and manufactured (using special granite); the fine, jade-colored powder easily blends into foods and beverages. This allows all of the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibers to be consumed versus being whisked away in a regular green tea bag after steeping. Additionally, as the plants are grown in the shade, they accumulate high levels of L-theanine, which binds with the tea caffeine and slows its absorption, allowing for a more steady energy release versus a spike.
Getting the Greens
While matcha may be enjoyed for its taste as well as its health benefits, many consumers dont want to taste green foods; perhaps if they did, theyd eat more spinach. Dietary supplements seem to be the most popular delivery form for green ingredientsthis may be due to the bitter, sometimes less appetizing, flavor of greens, Dorsey-Kockler said.
Udell agreed supplements are popular among consumers. Since green foods are not likely to be included in the daily diet, many find the convenience of a dietary supplement unbeatable, he said.
For those taste-free supplements, manufacturers will want to choose ingredients that are coated rather than the uncoated form, according to Moerck. The coated form is designed for consumers who object to the taste of spirulina and will draw a number of mainstream consumers into the market for this exciting ingredient. He added powder blends are useful for drinks and liquids.
Powdered beverage mixes are the most requested among RFIs customers, according to Wuagneux, partly due to their convenience.
Innovation is occurring mostly in the food and beverage markets, as noted by Dorsey-Kockler who said These companies are continually looking for new ways to differentiate themselves and many are now considering non-traditional GRAS (generally recognized as safe) botanical ingredients. Innovations will include the addition of vegetable powders to foods (spinach potato chips), or green extracts to beverages (guarana-based energy drinks).
Levine added while tablets and powders are still the most popular, some food bars and smoothies have successfully incorporated greens. Some companies offer their green products in newly designed single serve packages, and we've seen a seltzer-like large tablet in a tube at a recent show, he said. The new forms offer a new path for the uninitiated to be introduced to the benefits of greens, so it's all good for the category.
But even the most convenient, innovative delivery wont keep consumers interest if the products dont work. A major hurdle in green-food bioavailability is low digestibility. To address this issue, RFI ferments its ingredients before they are formulated into capsules, tablets or drink mixes. Fermentation breaks down the nutrients in foods by the action of beneficial microorganisms like bacteria and yeast (microflora), Wuagneux said. The end results are products that are easier to digest, have more nutrients and are preserved longer. He added, Fermented foods introduce helpful probiotics into our gastrointestinal (GI) tract such as lactic acid bacteria. The health benefits of lactic acid bacteria include improved nutritional value of food, control of intestinal infections, improved digestion of lactose, control of some types of cancer, and control of serum cholesterol levels. These benefits may result from growth and action of the bacteria during the manufacture of cultured foods or from growth and action of certain species of the lactic acid bacteria in the intestinal tract following ingestion of foods containing them.
Udell said Optipure Chlorella has a semi-permeable, thin cell wall that allows unaltered plant nutrients to be bioavailable. Most chlorella requires the cell wall to be broken down before it is digestible by humans, so that the nutrients can be absorbed. However, many important vitamins are oxidized when the cell wall is broken.
Plasse noted Solazyme also ferments its chlorella ingredients. Sun Chlorella uses DYNO®-Mill, a patented process that provides pulverization of chlorellas tough, indigestible cell wall, allowing for maximum absorption and digestion, according to Lynn.
Maximum absorption of nutrients is great, but no consumer wants to digest toxins that may be found in environments surrounding green-food ingredients. Many consumers are concerned with heavy metal contamination. Stefano Scoglio, Ph.D., N.D., said, It is well known that aquatic products, from fish to algae, have a natural content of organic arsenic significantly higher than that of other animal and plant species, in an unpublished paper, On the Issue of Arsenic in Microalgae. He added algae, in particular, are a primary accumulator of arsenic in the marine environment. He noted it is generally accepted by the scientific community that only inorganic arsenic is toxic.
But, as Moerck said, Consumer Reports recently did a study of a wide range of greed foods looking at contamination of heavy metals, with some of the products showing levels that are considered unacceptable.
Product manufacturers can look to certification and processing techniques to determine which ingredients are less likely to contain contaminants, Moerck continued. Organic certification and adherence to standards such as USP verification program are also increasingly important issues. Quality control for Parry Organic Spirulina includes HACCP (Food Safety Standards), ISO 14001 (Environmental Management Systems) and ISO 9001 (Quality Management Systems) certified by Bureau VERITAS, he said.
PINES takes a number of steps to ensure safety of its cereal grasses, according to Levine, including direct cutting so that the leaves never touch the ground, using a low-temperature dehydrator, in-house quality control testing on every 1,000 kilogram batch and storing methods that decrease oxidation.
And, BIs trademarked process, Identilok®, involves the following tests: Thin Layer Chromatography, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), Microscopic Image Analysis, Organoleptic Testing and Macroscopic Taxonomy. Then, the company uses Protexx Steam Sterilization to reduce microbial content while at the same time preserving the active/desirable characteristics of the ingredient.
Addressing safety is a constant issue in the natural products industry, just like consumers will always desire more green foods in their diets. Product manufacturers can stay on top of this dependable stream of consumer interest by providing safe, digestible and convenient green-food products with proven health benefits like spirulina, chlorella, grasses and herbs.
References are on the next page...
References for "Perennial Greens"
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14. Tanaka K, et al. Oral administration of a unicellular green algae, Chlorella vulgaris, prevents stress-induced ulcer. Planta Med. 1997 Oct;63(5):465-6.
15. Hasegawa T, et al. Oral administration of hot water extracts of Chlorella vulgaris reduces IgE production against milk casein in mice. Int J Immunopharmacol. 1999 May;21(5):311-23.
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