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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Parents everywhere are seeking foods to enhance their children's performance without adding weight or risking development of chronic diseases such as diabetes or allergies. While healthful and nutrient-dense, energy rich foods are valued by parents for sustaining activity levels among children, many are also looking into foods to enhance mental performance.

Choline and omega-3 fatty acids - DHA and ARA (arachidonic acid) are particularly important for neurological growth in infants and young children. In the U.S., infant formula Enfamil Lipil, Similac and Beech-Nut First Advantage all are supplemented with DHA and ARA.

Kellogg subsidiary Kashi Co., (, La Jolla, Calif., provides more than whole grains and basic vitamins in its cereals for children. Kashi Mighty Bites is formulated with choline (35 mg per serving) for brain and memory development. It's also an excellent source of iron and zinc, which aid in brain cell development and are essential for normal brain and thought development, and has a healthy does of vitamin C (25 percent of the recommended daily value) to help increase the body's absorption of iron and aid in the creation of nervous system cells.

Ingredients from nature

Nature has a veritable bounty of ingredients to help this trend toward performance enhancement. The majority of these ingredients - generally plant-derived - fall into three categories: amino acids, herbs and vitamins.

South Beach Beverage as an independent company was at the forefront of making consumers comfortable with ingredients with strange and foreign-sounding names. Muria puama is used in SoBe's Powerline Drive; yerba maté in Lizardline Lizard Fuel Soda; jamaica in the Latin-inspired SoBe Fuerte; and astragalus in the exotic teas and fruit juice blend SoBe Nirvana. Now as part of PepsiCo, SoBe continues that effort as its products reach wider distribution.

South Beach Beverage introduced to consumers such ingredients as muria puma, yerba mate and astragalus. Now a part of PepsiCo, SoBe is making its product lite - and carrying a South Beach Diet endorsement.

For a non caffeine-based energy boost, Naked Juice (, Azusa, Calif., formulates with açai, an antioxidant-rich tropical fruit that is high in fiber, anthocyanins, minerals and vitamin E. Açai, according to Sambazon (, San Clemente, Calif., is showing up in nutritional bars, frozen smoothies, and functional beverages and is generally formulated with guarana in energy enhancing products.

Cupuacu is another rainforest fruit rich in vitamins, minerals, fats and fatty acids, and is currently showing up in functional chocolates and beverages. Cupuacu, valued for its creamy exotic tasting pulp, is an important energy ingredient in Austin, Texas-based Fruta Vida's ( new functional beverage along with açai, and yerba mate.

Guarana (a small red fruit of an Amazon shrub) with guaranine as its principal ingredient is believed to be more potent than caffeine and very popular with the younger generation in products such as Sobe's Adrenaline Rush (with 50 mg guarana per 8.3-fl. oz. serving). It also shows up in Jo Mints and M-60 film strips (for quick energy via sublingual absorption) from Corona del Mar, Calif.-based JoCo Brands Llc. (

Guarana-laced Tibetan Tea from Los Angeles based Tibetan Tea Co., rose to fame as part of the Oscars Gift Basket for Hollywood's A-list. The slightly carbonated canned beverage with guarana in combination with ginger and ginseng may be consumed cold or warm and is becoming increasingly popular as a natural alternative to Red Bull in liquor mixers in bars.

Vitamins of the B family and especially niacin are used primarily to enhance the caffeine effect. Niacin is a vasodilator - it gets the blood flowing and thereby enhances the caffeine effect and sustains energy levels. Carnitine, also known as vitamin BT, is sought for its role in energy metabolism at the cellular level. Cysteine peptide boosts energy by coaxing the liver to produce glutathione - its natural antioxidant that purges free radicals and allows the body to naturally recycle its own store of antioxidants. Cysteine peptide does not boost energy like caffeine-based materials; instead it provides the body with a natural energy that lasts all day long.

Amino acids

Arginine has many physiological roles applicable to energy promotion. It helps remove the ammonia formed during amino acid catabolism (breakdown during exercise) and serves as the precursor for synthesis of nitric oxide - a potent vasodilator.

Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) like L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine, and L-Valine, become a fuel source during muscle activity and help limit protein breakdown, while providing a source of energy for muscle contraction.

Carnitine converts the BCAAs into their keto forms that are more suitable for energy needs when carbohydrate is not readily available. Carnitine is also believed to carry fatty acids into the mitochondria where their oxidation generates energy.

Taurine is a common amino acid concentrating in tissues with high electrical activity (eye, brain and heart). Its contributing mechanism in energy production is not known, but may be attributable to its antioxidant and membrane-stabilizing activities.

Invention and innovation are leveraging the metabolism modification abilities of phytochemicals in a myriad of foods and beverages. Once popular once only with the lifestyle- and appearance-oriented populations, performance enhancing foods are now attracting everyone from sports enthusiasts to expectant mothers.
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