Fortification Opportunities Flourish

December 20, 2006

7 Min Read
Fortification Opportunities Flourish

The heightened interest in health is driving sales of functional foods, a category without an official definition, but generally accepted to mean foods that provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. As the market grows, product designers need to understand the fortification options.

A super market 

“The functional food field is moving faster than we want to admit,” says Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president, chief scientific officer, Fortitech, Inc., Schenectady, NY. He explains that it is consumer driven, especially by baby boomers living in Europe, North America and Asia. This segment of the population wants to stay younger and continue its active lifestyle, rather than slow down as it ages.

Functional foods’ sales (including enriched cereals, enriched breads and baked goods, enhanced dairy products and juices, sports drinks, tea, nutrition bars, baby foods, bottled drinks and prepared foods) reached $20.8 billion in 2004, according to Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), Industry Report, 2004. NBJ also predicted functional food sales would outpace supplement growth by 4% in 2004 and 2005.

Jennifer Cooper, president, Lead Point Solutions, American Fork, UT, says the rapid growth of functional foods over supplements is due to: negative press on supplements, whereas foods feel safe and familiar; consumers are more savvy about making healthy food choices; and consumers want to believe that, even when they are indulging, they might also be doing something positive for their health. What’s more, functional foods are being developed for a wide range of specific health conditions.

Weight control 

The increasing obesity rate drives consumers to look for foods to help them control weight. On any given day, 44% of women and 29% of men are trying to lose weight, points out Cooper.

Nonnutritive sweeteners, fat replacers and reduced-carbohydrate formulations have all been used in low-calorie foods. These reduce calories, but typically don’t provide many other benefits, so product designers need multifunctional ingredients that combine nutrition and functionality. For example, one product that can add moisture, reduce fat and add fiber in nutritional bars is Citri-Fi™, an ingredient made from fresh citrus pulp, notes Brick Lundberg, vice president of Technology, Fiberstar, Inc., Willmar, MN. The highly expanded citrus fiber consists of approximately 70% total dietary fiber, about half soluble and half insoluble.

Another route to take is one taken by SoBe® Lean® beverages, which offer reduced calories plus 30% of the daily value (DV) for chromium. FDA has recommended a daily chromium intake of approximately 130 mcg. The more common forms are niacin-bound chromium and chromium picolinate. Chromium picolinate has been promoted extensively as a weight-loss aid. Studies, however, have proven inconclusive about chromium picolinate’s effectiveness in significantly aiding in weight loss. Studies do show that it does have a positive effect on insulin function and blood sugar and therefore might help fight carbohydrate cravings.

Stress reduction 

As fast-paced lifestyles become more prevalent, stress increases. Chaudhari sees a high interest in functional foods that offer a calming effect.

Research in Japan on L-theanine, found in green tea, is showing promise as having a calming effect. The study was conducted by Ito K, et al., and published in Nippon Nogeikagaku Kaishi (1998, 72:153-7). In this study, alpha wave generation in the brain—which is considered to be an index of relaxation—increased in females given 50 mg or 200 mg of L-theanine solution.

Another study done in 1999 at the University of Shizuoka, Japan, published in Trends in Food Science and Technology (1999, 10:199-204), found several other properties of L-theanine, such as improved learning performance, mental clarity, concentration and immunity. Unlike other antistress herbs, such as valerian root, kava kava, skullcap and passion flower, L-theanine does not cause drowsiness.

Heart health 

One of the biggest functional-food growth areas is fiber and heart health, notes Pam Stauffer, marketing programs manager nutraceuticals, Cargill Foods, Minneapolis. Most notable to formulators is the oat and barley beta-glucan soluble fiber heart health claims approved by the FDA.

One popular category is pastas enriched with whole grains, vitamins, minerals and proteins. Wholegrain pasta sales were $19 million in the 52 weeks ended June 22, 2002; growth in successive years was 68% to $32 million; 26% to $41 million; 34% to $54 million; and 26% to $68 million, according to ACNielsen Strategic Planner and ACNielsen LabelTrends. During the latest four years, whole-grain-pasta dinner sales leaped from under $1 million to more than $20 million; with growth of 1,634% in the latest 12 months, ACNielsen reports.

FDA has not officially defined whole grains. However, The Whole Grains Council offers the following definition: “Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, lightly pearled and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.”

Foods labeled “high fiber” must contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. The Whole Grains Council cautions us that “Most foods must have added fiber (extra bran, resistant starch or other fibers) in addition to whole grains, to be considered high fiber foods.” Except for some specially developed varieties, the fiber content of whole grains ranges from approximately 3.5% (brown rice) to less than 20% (barley and bulgur wheat).

One ingredient shown to reduce LDL cholesterol are plant sterols, or phytosterols. These are a class of fatlike plant compounds with chemical structures similar to cholesterol. FDA has approved the following health claim for plant sterols: “Foods containing at least 0.65 grams per serving of plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 1.3 grams, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

An innovation by Cargill has allowed plant sterols to be added to food products, with no adverse impact on taste or texture, notes Stauffer. She adds that consumers are evaluating ingredients’ functional characteristics more, but they also want products that taste good.

Taste is essential 

Cooper concurs that good taste is critical for product acceptance: “We have abandoned the premise that we can create any functional product and consumers will choke it down just because it is good for them.” Many nutrients do not taste good, limiting the amount that can be added to a food while still maintaining an acceptable taste. For example, guarana—a natural source of caffeine—has a bitter taste. When developing functional foods, the company tests the concept first, then tests the sensory profile against a reference point that consumers expect, she explains.

Appearance is also extremely important, notes Copper. If consumers are given a product that is red and has a peach flavor, they will call the flavor fruit punch, she explains. Many functional ingredients are yellowish, greenish or brownish and, therefore can negatively impact the final product. Some designers of sports and energy beverages have created brightly colored products to mask the ingredients’ color.

Encapsulating nutrients is one way to improve a product’s flavor. Coating an ingredient with another material can lock off flavors or colors within the matrix. This can be as basic as a spray-drying process or involve something more elaborate, such as a fluid-bed system. Encapsulation can also protect lessstable nutrients from environmental factors, such as oxidation.

A recent innovation that provides fortification to beverages without the concern of interaction or discoloration is Freshcan® Technology. Developed jointly by Ball Packaging Europe (BPE), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bell Corp., Broomfield, CO, and Degussa FreshTech Beverages, Milwaukee, WI, new Freshcan Wedge technology is a patented delivery system that enables dispersal of dry ingredients, such as vitamins, into a canned beverage when the can is opened.

Research on functional-foods fortification is moving rapidly making, it an exciting field, Chaudhari says. However, he cautions that when nutrients are added to food and beverages, it is necessary to consider safety and toxicity. There is a need to use moderation and not overdo fortification. He recommends adding 20% to 35% of an ingredient’s RDI, rather than 100% in a single serving. If too much is added in one serving, you could have problems with color or cost or toxicity, he warns. 

Ann Przybyla Wilkes is a freelance writer and communication consultant with more than 20 years experience writing about the food industry, environmental topics and chemical issues. She has served as the vice president of communications for the Snack Food Association and has an M.S. degree in food science. Her e-mail is[email protected]. 

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