Work Phytochemicals into Your Food Products

The scientific and marketing imperatives mount for working phytochemicals into your food products.

By Frances Katz, Senior Technical Editor

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Lycopene is available in a concentrated form by several companies, including LycoRed, an Israeli company that recently received FDA approval for the use of the product as a food coloring. "Tomat-O-Red is produced with lycopene extracted from a proprietary variety of non-GMO, lycopene-rich tomatoes," according to Morris Zelkha, CEO of LycoRed (, which has a U.S. office in Fairfield, N.J. "LycoRed's is produced using a unique, patent-protected production that produces a taste-masked product that is pH stable." It's considered generally recognized as safe by FDA.

Tomatoes are also a major source of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants found in a variety of colorful vegetables including spinach, squash and romaine lettuce. Both have shown great promise in improving eye health.

Improving eye health

Lutein acts as a filter against the blue light spectrum, protecting the eye from macular degeneration and cell damage. In particular, lutein may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss among older Americans. While lutein still does not have a government-accepted health claim, more than 300 peer-reviewed studies have connected lutein with benefits in eye, skin and heart health, as well as for different types of cancer, immune problems and diabetes.

The Lewin Group, a healthcare consulting group headquartered in Research Triangle Park, N.C., evaluated studies on the effects of lutein on vision health. Results announced last November estimated a five-year (2006-2010) net savings of $2.5 billion from the reduced incidence of adult macular degeneration (AMD) through the daily intake of 6-10mg of lutein combined with zeaxanthin. Across the five year period, 98,219 people could avoid costs associated with advanced AMD, Lewin Group estimated.

"We believe this study is a significant addition to the large and growing body of science supporting lutein's important role in human nutrition," says Rod Ausich, president of Kemin Health Products (, Des Moines, Iowa. Kemin's lutein product is made from marigold petals.

Zeaxanthin is a yellow-colored lipid-soluble xanthophylls - an oxidized hydroxy derivative of beta-carotene. Zeaxanthin also can be derived from paprika. Such a product made by Kalsec Co. (, Kalamazoo, Mich., is used by ZeaVision LLC in nutritional supplements for ocular health with a dosage of 4 mg or less, according to Gary Hainrihar, Kalsec's vice president of sales and marketing.

Flavonoids are worth noting also. They include quercetin, xantholumol, ispxanthohumol, genisten, and a couple of pro-oxidant flavonoids, chalconaringenin and naringenin.

Different kinds come from a wide range of plants, from the isoflavones in soy and other beans to the quercetin in red fruits to types found in herbs and spices. They contribute to an antioxidant defense system, providing activity that may be like vitamin E, as chain-breaking antioxidants in liver microsomal membranes.

How effective flavonoids are depends on the position of hydroxyl groups and other features in the chemical structure. Quercetin, the most abundant dietary flavonol, is a potent antioxidant because it has all the right structural features for free radical scavenging activity. Apples, onions and other vegetables contain significant quantities.

Other flavonoids include epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), a component of green tea, which has been shown in some tests to have activities against certain cancers. ECGC is as much as 100 times more powerful an antioxidant as vitamin C, and 25 times more powerful than vitamin E. This may explain the popularity of green tea and its use as a beverage base in a number of products. ECGC also may account for the antibacterial properties of green tea.

Chocolate contains many of the same flavonoids found in tea. The darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids present. Cocoa includes a number of phytochemicals, including several different flavanols, catechins, and cyanadins. But current interest is in the polyphenols in cocoa, which appear to have a clinical effect on cholesterol and cardiovascular health.



Keeping these plant components in the final product may require some tuning of your processes. Recent studies of the effect of processing techniques on the antioxidant quality of vegetable ingredients indicate it's important for the plant guys to understand the chemistry of these products.

In studies reported at the Institute of Food Technologists' 2005 annual meeting, garlic processed by dry heat, boiling and steaming before drying showed large differences in the electron-donating ability of the final garlic product. Electron-donating ability measures the effectiveness of the antioxidant effect. It's believed other vegetables are similarly affected.

Antioxidants can enhance the effectiveness of certain vitamins (such as folate), so it's important that the antioxidant effects not be lost by steam, extra moisture or metallic ions from processing equipment. Check for exposed surfaces, wear on stainless steel piping and inadvertent addition of steam in order to retain the effectiveness of natural antioxidants.




Products that include phytochemicals may or may not be permitted a health claim. There are just 12 FDA-permitted health claims, and only one (plant sterol/stanol esters and heart disease) directly mentions a phytochemical. But many more health claims generally suggest a connection by recommending fiber or specifically the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

However, with or without a health claim, products that label with phytochemicals will get noticed by interested consumers who have a growing understanding of their benefits.


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