B vitamins, such as folic acid (folate), cyanocobalamin (B12), pyridoxine (B6), pantothenate (B5), niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2) and thiamin (B1) serve a variety of important functions in the body. Occurring naturally in numerous plant and animal sources, B vitamins are essential to nearly every body function, including converting food into energy, maintaining red blood cells and creating genetic material.
B vitamins aren’t stored in the body, as with fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. This makes daily consumption of foods with B vitamins important.
It’s been known for decades that folate can help prevent birth defects. Public health officials encourage women who are pregnant or of childbearing age to consume sufficient folate. In fact, since the 1990s, food manufacturers have fortified flour and a variety of other foods with the vitamin.
Baked items have benefited from B fortification in flour for years, but Kashi now adds other B vitamins for heart health.
But folate also may help reduce heart disease and stroke risk. Research indicates that, along with B6 and B12, folate plays a role in the metabolism of the amino acid homocysteine. Elevated levels of this amino acid damage arteries. Folate, B12 and B6 also may help mental function: Patients with dementia show high homocysteine levels and low levels of B12 and folate.
B1 and B12 have been studied for their role in improving athletic performance. The evidence is inconclusive, but it makes sense B vitamins would be required for athletic performance because of their role in energy production and tissue repair.
Pump Up the B
The beverage category is experiencing an upsurge in B fortification. The entire line of Whitestone, N.Y.-based Glacéau’s (www.glaceau.com) Vitaminwater comes with a dose of B3, B5 and B6.
Blue Sky Beverage Co. (www.blueskysoda.com), Santa Fe, N.M., a part of the Hansen Beverage Co. offers Blue Sport, a natural sports beverage fortified with B3, B6 and B12. Flavors include lemon-lime, orange and punch.
“Blue Sport was developed for what we perceived as a gap in the natural food channel,” says Gregg Arends, Hansen’s senior vice president for marketing. “There were no sports drinks in this category [with] no artificial flavors or colors. Active, natural-food consumers want all-natural products that offer hydration solutions and nutrition like B vitamins.”
ZenSoy (www.zensoy.com), Hackensack, N.J., fortifies its organic, lactose- and gluten-free soymilk and soy puddings with B12 and B2.
Desserts fortified with vitamin B are indicators of the value placed by processors on this vital vitamin class.
According to Cheryl Surana, marketing manager for ZenSoy, “Consumers expect foods to be fortified with vitamins and minerals…and for these reasons [we] are meeting new consumer needs.”
Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. (www.kelloggs.com) introduced its Granola Munch’ems, single-serving snack packs providing 10 percent of the RDI for B1, B2, B3, B6 and folate. “People love the taste and nutrition traditional granola provides and want something convenient for today’s increasingly on-the-go lifestyles,” says Kellogg nutritionist Cheryl Dolven.
Kellogg’s Kashi unit (www.kashi.com), San Diego, has a line of heart-healthy products aptly named Heart to Heart. The line includes two cereals and a B vitamin-fortified waffle with 100 percent of the RDI for folate, B6 and B12. “We mostly choose not to do blanket fortification of our food,” says Jeff Johnson, nutritionist and brand manager. “We were very strategic in the B vitamin fortification of our Heart to Heart line. We were interested in heart health from other angles, using soluble fiber as a cholesterol-lowering foundation, then adding folate, B6 and B12 for healthy arteries and blood pressure.”
Even bread spreads are seeking the B-plus grade. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever Corp.’s Promise brand (www.promisehealthyheart.com) butter substitutes tout added B6 and B12 vitamins. Unilever cites research indicating B’s benefits to vascular health.
B vitamins are, to a varying degree, sensitive to heat, oxidation and humidity and can be easily destroyed. Some manufacturers compensate with overages, which can increase production costs and have even generated regulatory interest. However, the FDA requires that fortified nutrients fulfill 100 percent of their content claim throughout shelf life.
Because B vitamins are water-soluble, beverage applications are easily fortified. (Although thiamin can impart negative flavor profiles at high levels, subject to the sensory characteristics of the beverage itself.)
“The only real limitation you have in putting B vitamins in foods and beverages is the regulation on folate,” says James Elliott, Ph.D., director of nutritional science for DSM Nutritional Products (www.nutraaccess.com), Parsippany, N.J. “Folate is not permitted in beverages because of FDA concerns that overfortification of the vitamin could mask pernicious anemia secondary to B12 deficit. Also, since the FDA mandates folate be added to grains, products not made from these grains can’t separately add folate.”
DSM makes B vitamins available in both microencapsulated and crystalline form for a variety of food and beverage applications.
Fairfield, N.J. - based Lycored Natural Products Ltd. (www.lycored.com) also provides microencapsulated B vitamins. Microencapsulation helps make B more heat-stable, which allows the vitamins to be added prior to heat-treatment in the production chain.
“We have worked with leading food manufacturers both in the U.S. and Europe to reduce overages in some cases from 800 percent to only 150 percent,” says Udi Alroy, Lycored marketing director.
Fortitech Inc. (www.fortitech.com), Schenectady, N.Y., provides custom B vitamin premix solutions for manufacturers. Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., senior executive vice president, discusses the special nutrient needs of children and the resultant increase in availability of kid-friendly B vitamin-fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, crackers, breads, tortillas, pudding and donuts.
Although research is ongoing regarding the role of B vitamins in chronic disease prevention, enhanced cognitive function and athletic performance, fortification of foods and beverages with these vital compounds is growing in popularity, providing manufacturers and consumers with healthy opportunities