Wellness Foods: Healthy Beverages offer Health in a Can

Consumers are guzzling antioxidants, fruits and vegetables and other good-for-you ingredients – but formulation hurdles remain.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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Building healthier beverages once was a matter of swapping sugar for cyclamates or saccharine and then developing a new marketing campaign. For decades the only thing that changed in that paradigm was the name of the substitute sweeteners — cyclamates were banned, saccharine had its troubles, so aspartame – with or without acesulfame K – and to some extent sucralose took over as the zero-cal options.

Then the idea of energy drinks hit with a jolt. Jolt Cola, that is. And the idea that a cold beverage could do more than slake thirst flung open the doors to using liquid refreshment as a vehicle to more energy or a “trimmer, slimmer, better you.”

On the heels of energy — first from ginseng and caffeine, then from such exotic botanicals as yerba maté and guarana — came concoctions with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutraceuticals.

Today’s healthy beverage is built with any of several different ingredient aspects in mind — sweeteners, vitamins/minerals, natural ingredients (i.e., naturally derived flavors and colors), antioxidants and other bioactive compounds — and more often than not a combination of several of these. The goals have expanded too, to target not just weight control and energy needs but any number of different conditions, including cognition, mental health, digestive health and even social and ecological health.

Neuro Drinks
Neuro Drinks “quench the modern consumer’s need for optimal living by providing nutritional, healthy benefits and Hollywood chic, in a sporty, sexy package.”

“We anticipate continued double-digit growth in most segments of the beverage industry with the greatest increases coming from cognitive, anti-stress, digestive health and the kids nutrition segments,” says Chris Noonan, health coordinator for NeuroBrands Beverages (www.drinkneuro.com), Santa Monica, Calif.

“More and more ingredients are being successfully adapted for beverages, providing consumers convenient ways of maintaining healthy lifestyles,” adds Noonan. “Consumers no longer have to sacrifice taste for nutrition, and the next decade will see even greater improvements in the sensory characteristics of healthy beverages as growers, suppliers and manufacturers all focus on the beverage category.”

Despite being primarily a maker of carbonated soft drinks, Christopher Reed thinks “the future of healthy is in probiotic drinks,” says the owner and CEO of Reed’s Inc. (www.reedsgingerbrew.com), Los Angeles. Reed’s was using a stevia extract even before the December 2008 FDA approval.

“But I also see the fad of heavily caffeinated, so-called energy drinks eventually proven to be detrimental, replaced by more herbally rich drinks with (specific) flavors,” he continues. “And calming or rejuvenating beverages will take off, too.”

Reed also sees health-related growth for products and ingredients that target specific conditions, such as antioxidants that reduce risk of cancer, heart disease and “numerous other conditions,” citing the company’s own line of natural sodas, which contain powerful antioxidants derived from ginger.

“The hot categories for beverages — energy and antioxidant/tea drinks — will continue to be popular,” says Jocelyn Mathern, technical specialist-health unit for Frutarom North America (www.frutarom.com), North Bergen, N.J. “And we’ve also seen increased demand for ingredients that can promote ‘beauty from within,’ as this category is just starting to take off in beverages. But ingredients for cognitive function, such as mental fitness, concentration, and stress, have also been sought after for beverage applications.”

Frutarom offers nutraceuticals in combination with an extensive portfolio of flavors. She calls it a novel, higher level of customer support. An example of a non-antioxidant based “beauty” ingredient is Frutarom’s Collactive, a marine collagen and elastin ingredient shown to reduce wrinkles, while the company’s Neuravena, wild green oat extract, has been shown in clinical studies to promote mental fitness and alertness while relieving stress via affecting brain activity patterns.

Fruit flavors

We devote plenty of discussion to the sweetener stevia and its extract rebaudioside-A in our cover story this month. The same key attribute of stevia – a natural, plant-derived sweetener – applies to fruit extracts and flavors.

“Obesity concerns have led consumers to pursue alternative sweeteners with a perceived health benefit -- such as fruit juices as a replacement for more traditional sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup,” says Jeannie Curry-Swedberg, director of business development for Tree Top Inc. (www.treetop.com), Selah, Wash.

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