Better Living Through Food Chemistry

Are you familiar with guarana, yerba maté and choline? They and other performance-enhancing ingredients are providing quite a boost - for consumers and for sales of certain foods and beverages.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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Healthy, but not 'health drinks': The Airforce Nutrisoda line includes (l-r) Radiant, Immune, Focus, Flex, Energize, Calm and Slender.

Athletes also supplement their diets with two varieties of stimulants: ergogenic and thermogenic. Ergogenics help improve performance by eliminating fatigue and increasing capacity for physical or mental labor, while thermogenics help burn fat mass. Green tea is both an ergogenic and a thermogenic aid and, as a result, is seeing a great deal of consumer interest. But Americans tend to shy away from bitter tasting ingredients regardless of their health benefits, and green tea is both bitter and astringent.

Winston Samuels, CEO of Maxx Performance (, Chester, N.Y., finds it striking that novel ingredients today were really traditional ingredients for our grandparents' generation. "The difference lies in the lower tolerance for any undesirable taste or time-consuming preparation," he posits. "To help manufacturers cater to this growing consumer need, we microencapsulated green tea and other bitter compounds to mask their bitterness and astringency for use in beverages and even in film strips for rapid sublingual absorption and immediate effects." Microencapsulation also protects green tea's bioactives from light.

There is even an energy jelly bean. Sports Beans Energizing Jelly Beans from Jelly Belly Candy (, Fairfield, Calif., are jelly beans formulated to energize and prevent dehydration. Designed for competitive athletes and sports enthusiasts, the label advises the consumer to "energize with one package before activity" and "use additional beans as needed during activity to sustain energy level."

From immunity to serenity

Performance ingredients are not just for energy. Consumers also supplement their diets with foods and beverages formulated to cater to their body's needs in the context of strong muscles, robust immune systems, faster burning of fat and increased metabolism.

Just look at the "flavors" in the line of Airforce Nutrisodas from Ardea Beverage Co. ( Hopkins, Minn.: Immune, Focus, Flex, Energize, Calm, Slender and Radiant. "Nutrisoda is not a health drink," insists President Joe Heron. "Health drinks are good ideas … for someone else. Health drinks are as different from a healthy drink as a nutritional drink is from a nutrient-enhanced drink. People do not want to drink medicine."

"The future of food and beverages," according to Heron, "will be to take advantage of health and wellness and obesity. Sodas will have to work for a living. It is no longer enough to deliver empty calories. Wellness is the best, most obvious space to add value."

And if you're not into carbonated drinks, take the enhanced water line from Glaceau (, Whitestone, N.Y. There are several fanciful names (Rescue, Defense) as well as traditional flavors (lemon, grape, peach) in the three product segments: Vitaminwater, Fruitwater and Smartwater.

Immune support is another emerging trend. Formulators use phytochemicals such as lycopene from tomatoes for their protective effect on cellular health, and polyphenols from pomegranate and olives for their potent scavenging of free radicals.

Immune-system enhancement has been a big driver in the success of such recently launched food products as Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice, from the Los Angeles-based company of the same name; acidophilus-loaded Nancy's Yogurt from Springfield Creamery, Eugene, Ore.; and DanActive from Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y. And their success has prompted pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis Group, East Hanover, N.J., to launch beverages such as Boost, Boost Plus and Boost Breeze especially for those recovering from physical illness and those seeking greater immunity.

Kashi, now owned by Kellogg, this year launched Mighty Bites cereal with a "unique blend of ingredients for developing minds." Both the Nutrition Facts panel highlights and the ingredient statement include choline.

New product development with antioxidants and immune boosters is growing strong with realization from epidemiological studies that plant-based materials are linked to lower incidence of disease in populations that use them frequently. Mainstream juice blend manufacturers are finding that consumers recognize that certain fruits are high in antioxidants and pick blends containing these fruits over others.

Women and children first

There is also a distinct and growing market for foods targeted to enhance the performance of women and another to enhance the physical and mental performance of children. In the women's arena, products with great potential include multivitamins and minerals to support overall health, bone support products to promote bone density and fiber-rich products to benefit gastrointestinal health.

It is important for formulators to note that women's needs are physiologically different from those of men. Women, because of smaller body frame require fewer calories in general than men do - making product development even more difficult because of caloric and portion size constraints.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), iron and other nutrients helpful for pregnancy are in the recently introduced OhMama! nutrition bars from Vincent Foods, Baltimore. Similarly, two Mommy Munchies nutrition bars, from Eating for Two Inc., Pembroke Pines, Fla., provide "the same vitamin and mineral content as top selling prenatal vitamins," the company says.
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