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By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., and David Feder, R.D., Technical Editors | 10/04/2011
For many nowadays, it's taking longer hours and two or even three jobs just to make ends meet. And with Newtonian physics decreeing energy balance as a universal fundamental, burning the candle at both ends means stressed consumers are clamoring for new ways to replenish energy. Manufacturers are seizing the opportunity to fill the energy void using a mix of old world ingredients and new world technology.
Nutrient density is the primary goal when creating formulations that get us through those 18-hour days. Pack more nutrients or unique protective ingredients — because everyone wants to feel better about what they eat — per calorie into your bar or drink and it just may catch on as the newest go-to choice to feed the frenzied pace of modern life.
A brief trend in the first decade of the new millennium tried calling sugar "energy" and marketing it as such. Biochemically, it is energy. But informed consumers no longer equate the word "energy" with health, any more than they would make sugar and health synonymous. Protein has replaced sugar as the macronutrient of energy choice, but so have a number of micronutrients and functional ingredients, as our knowledge of metabolism under stress has increased.
Since beverages are keyed to speedy consumption, it was only natural that format became the delivery medium of choice for a fast dose of power for the body. And ingredient makers have been doing their homework.
Animal, vegetable or mineral?
Ingredients for energy generally fall into three categories: chemical stimulants; nonstimulant, non-nutritive compounds, such as B vitamins, certain minerals, probiotics and omega fatty acids; and macronutrients, such as simple carbohydrates and protein.
The most typical of the stimulants are the alkaloid class, specifically caffeine. Sources are usually botanical, such as from coffee beans, tea, guarana and kola nuts.
Among B vitamins, cobalamin (B12) is favored as a proven anti-fatigue compound.
For energy beverages relying on active botanicals, control of the effect is a primary consideration. Most bioactives have a short half-life and are particularly susceptible to extremes of temperature, heat and time, making proper packaging a significant concern.
"We felt great about producing the first certified organic energy shot, but we also noticed similar products on the market were packaged in plastic," says David Karr, co-founder of Guayaki Sustainable Rainforest Products (www.guayaki.com), a Sebastopol, Calif., maker of yerba maté teas, beverages and beverage shots.
"Our ingredients are from whole plants, not synthetics or isolates. When you have valuable ingredients like that you should not package them in plastic. Our beverage shots are packed in amber glass to protect the yerba maté and superfood extracts from UV light and extremes of temperature."
Yerba maté is a stimulant herb from South America. Its active energy ingredients are xanthines, specifically caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. The balance of the three alkaloid stimulants is reported to impart less "jitteryness" than caffeine alone.
Yerba maté also has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant with distinct anti-cancer and anti-cardiovascular disease properties. Guayaki also provides yerba maté as an ingredient for processors, and it collaborates with other makers of yerba maté products.
Food for thought
Among nutrient energy sources, calcium and protein are popular ingredients now being employed for their contribution to energy. An outstanding and versatile choice for providing both is soy.
Calcium has been looked at as an energy nutrient due to its critical role in mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are the powerhouses of cellular energy. Calcium is also vital for nerve conduction and therefore more efficient cognition.
When White Wave Foods Co. (www.silksoymilk.com), Broomfield, Colo., expanded its Silk brand nondairy products to include Pure Almond and Pure Coconut products, it also increased the calcium level in the natural refrigerated products to 50 percent more than typical dairy milk.
Soy often presents challenges due to negative aftertaste in some formulation bases. "The taste issue is a great challenge," says Eran Shani, sales director for Solbar USA (www.solbar.com), St. Paul, Minn. "The answer lies in the many stages of turning the bean into an isolated fine protein powder. In this multistage procedure, we remove ingredients which may have negative impact on the taste.
"Physical parameters such as temperature and pressure are also carefully controlled to minimize exposure of the vegetable protein to harsh conditions. The final product — a 90-percent pure protein — is designed to match sensorial needs such as taste, aroma and mouthfeel in beverage and health bar applications."
Coconut milk fills a different niche than the popular coconut waters marketed as sports drinks due to their low-calorie, high-potassium profile. The milks are low in calories, most of which comes from fat. However, much of the fat in coconut milk is in the form of so-called medium-chain triglycerides, meaning that the fatty acids that make up the triglycerides (stored fat) are relatively short compared to the more common long-chain fatty acids that make up most triglycerides. The shorter fatty acids tend to be more readily used for energy and slightly less likely to be stored as body fat.
Probiotics constitute a new entry in the energy ingredient arsenal. Although their benefit is indirect, the evidence connecting digestive health, immunity and metabolism to a healthy stable of beneficial microbes is mounting.