Alissa Marrapodi

November 15, 2011

8 Min Read
Nutrition's Emerald City

Green is the new gold. It denotes not only a primary color, but it also connotes sustainability, eco-friendly, wealth and, now, the Emerald City of nutritionfoods fortified with good-for-you greens that boost their nutritional profile.

Many factors are contributing to the growth of green foods and their expansion into new avenues and diverse applicationsfrom GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status and government dietary interventions to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting, "In 2009, an estimated 32.5 percent of adults consumed fruit two or more times per day and 26.3 percent consumed vegetables three or more times per day, far short of the national targets," in its State-Specific Trends in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among AdultsUnited States, 2000 -2009 report released in September 2010.

"Green foods are moving from early adopters and specialty food stores to mainstream consumers and supermarkets," said Rudi E. Moerck, president and CEO, Valensa. "There has also been increased awareness of green foods as a result of celebrity endorsers recently."

Since green foods is such a broad term that blankets several raw materialsfrom algae such as spirulina and chlorella to cereal grasses such as wheat grass, oat grass and alfalfaoffering customization and diversity broadens the fortification and formulation opportunities. "Custom formulating and blending of [green food products] is a large part of our business, so the question we ask our customers is 'What do you want to add to your product?' and we make it happen in our custom green formulas," said Jeff Wuagneux, president and CEO, RFI LLC.

Not only is it important to ask what your customers are looking for, but what are consumers looking for? The good news is this conversation is already happening. Consumers are telling, and manufacturers are responding. "Consumers are looking under the hood of green foods to take a look at the specific types of nutrition they provide," Moerck said. "There is awareness that not all ingredients and formulated products offer the same nutritional value. Spirulina has become much more interesting to consumers because of the complete nutritionprotein, vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients that it provides. Even within the spirulina category, consumers are responding to products that have higher levels of carotenoids, phytopigments, such as phycocyanin and chlorophyll, as well as the essential fatty acid (EFA) gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)."

A Loss of Color

Formulating with plant-based vegetables, algae, cereal grasses and other green offerings poses many challenges in the formulation and manufacturing process. Quality is important across the boardfrom manufacturer to consumer. "Issues of cultivation and quality control are increasingly a concern for consumers," Moerck said. "Organic certification and adherence to standards such as the USP verification program are also increasingly important issues. Due to these trends, marketers are also becoming conscious about the source and quality of green foods with respect to nutrition and contamination limits."

Challenges involving efficacy and quality differ from ingredient to ingredient, and can be encountered at any point in the manufacturing process, including via externals factors such as temperature and light. "Anytime heat is added to the manufacturing of green foods, there is a risk of compromising nutritional integrity," said Guinevere Lynn, director of business development, Sun Chlorella USA.

Wuagneux agreed, adding, "Chlorella can lose nutrients during the process of breaking the cell wall."

Both Sun Chlorella USA and RFI have implemented processes to control the effects of external factors. "We ensure minimal heat is used during the manufacturing process in order to ensure its nutrients remain efficacious and unadulterated," Lynn said. "In fact, so little heat is used during the manufacturing process, that Sun Chlorella is considered to be a raw food." Sun Chlorella cultures its chlorella outdoors in a Taiwan-based plant under strict sanitary measures because the full exposure to sunlight allows them to obtain the useful chlorella nutrients.

RFI produces its Sourcestainable® Organic Chlorella using a proprietary milling process that controls temperature and light. "Efficacy is not only associated with making sure nutrients are not lost during processing, but also with controlling the cultivation of the greens," Wuagneux said. RFI also works with a global network of exclusive growers and manufacturers of raw materials in order to control the manufacturing chain from raw material cultivation and harvesting to processing and extraction.

Another component that can potentially affect the quality and efficacy of green foods is its packaging. "Original research emphasized cereal grass should always be sold in amber glass bottles with the air removed so there was no oxygen present," said Ron Seibold, president of Pines International Inc. "Many manufacturers now use plastic tubs that allow humidity and outside air to devitalize the product. Quality cereal grass is kept frozen until it's ready for packaging and then it's packaged in oxygen-free bottles to prevent loss of nutrients."

And, as many other natural product manufacturers can relate, a major challenge for green foods is taste and odor. "Without argument, green foods are excellent sources of nutrition and wellness in human health; however, in most cases, they are less than appealing in smell, taste and appearance," Moerck said. "With this said, formulating supplements, bard or beverages with green foods is difficult unless the odor and taste can be masked." Valensa tackled this issue by developing Pur-Blue SpiruZan®, a coated spirulina and astaxanthin tablet that uses an all-natural phycocyanin extract coating to mask the flavor of the native spirulina.

The 'Emerald's' New Clot hes

Changes and upgrades in the green landscape have opened new doors for ingredient suppliers, enabling companies such as RFI and Valensa (in partnership with Parry Nutraceuticals) to incorporate their green offerings into foods and beverages, which is important, as the American diet is lacking in color. "USDA has made vegetables the largest group on its MyPlate food recommendations. Most health authorities agree we need more dark, green leafy vegetables in our diets because they provide the chlorophyll, vegetable fiber and phytonutrients that are severely lacking in most diets. Adding cereal grass to any product helps people increase their intake of these very important foods," Siebold said.

Whether fermented or alkalized, Wuagneux sees both of these two green avenues as areas for potential growth. "RFI is custom formulating new green-food alkalizing blends," he said. "Such products help optimize the pH of the body. When your bodys pH level is off even slightly toward what is called acidosis (above pH 7.44), it leads to host of health problems due to loss of enzyme function (enzymes only function at defined pH) and the harsh corrosive nature of the increasing levels of acids. Acidification is manifested as pain or burning in joints, gastrointestinal tract, nerves, urinary tract and in areas where the body sweats the most. There are also health problems associated with the loss of minerals used to neutralize the increased acid levels, which can negatively affect the teeth, bones, hair, fingernails, skin and gums. Acidification also leads to overall fatigue, sensitivity to cold and a weakened immune system. Countering acidification is as simply as reducing the acids the body is taking in and increasing the alkaline foods or alkaline supplements." In addition, RFI is also an advocate of fermented greens, as fermentation, "Breaks down the nutrients in foods by the action of beneficial microorganisms like bacteria and yeast (microflora). The end result is products that are easier to digest, have more nutrients and are preserved longer. Our fermented greens have the added benefit of still containing the probiotic bacteria used to ferment in the product following the fermentation process," he added.

Pines International said dehydrated wheat grass, despite the misinformation surrounding dehydrated wheat grass and its alleged inferiority to tray-grown wheat grass, has large potential for growth. "The truth is, there is very little difference between [dehydrated barley and dehydrated wheat grass] and research often does not distinguish one from the other," Seibold argued. "Instead, research just refers to the product being studied as 'dehydrated cereal grass.'" He also addressed another misconception: wheat grass contains gluten and barley grass does not. "The truth is both grasses are nutritionally equivalent and neither contains gluten, when harvested at the correct stage of growth," he added. "Thus, as this kind of misinformation and myth has been replaced with the truth, many who depended on unnatural indoor-grown wheat grass now have either switched to dehydrated wheat grass or now use both kinds." He noted the growth of wheat grass will also come from the knowledge that barley and wheat grass don't differ from one another, so consumers are interchangeably using the two cereal grasses.  

As misconceptions are cleared up, the breakdown of the American diet is revisited with a larger emphasis on fruits and vegetables, and more companies are obtaining GRAS status, green foods are being incorporated into more foods and beverages, and supplements, in order to steer America's diets and health in a nutrient-dense direction.

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