Voices: Well Noted

The Four Bs of Nutraceuticals

Those of us seeking to add wellness ingredients to our diets have a wealth of choices. Until we get to the actual products, where it seems, with few exceptions, we're restricted to beverages, bars, baked goods and breakfast foods. We need to look at other opportunities processors have to incorporate functional ingredients into the food chain.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

The eager acceptance of nutraceutical-enhanced products has been running parallel with the rapid spread and absorption of at least a general knowledge of nutrition science among consumers. The ability, in just a few short years, really, of manufacturers, marketers and nutrition communicators to teach the average Jane and Joe Sixpack of Des Moines, Iowa about everything from the affects of omega-3 fatty acids on heart disease to the mechanism of antioxidants and other phytochemicals inherent in specific fruits and vegetables has been nothing short of amazing.

I often use this Well Noted column to take advantage of reader attention and try to point out what I feel are the major misconceptions that come along with the flood of nutrition knowledge - "salt causes high blood pressure," "carbohydrates cause weight gain," "glycemic index is a diet tool," and other pseudoscience that can hinder processors from effectively and honestly marketing the healthful foods they make.

This time I'd like to go in a different direction and ask processors to loosen up. No, I don't mean start making wild claims that are deliberately vague and designed to mislead. But I do want to encourage manufacturers to break out of what I call the "Four B" approach to new product development.

Those of us seeking to add wellness ingredients to our diets have a wealth of choices - there are thousands of phytochemicals alone. But as far as actual products, with few exceptions they end up restricted to: beverages, bars, baked goods and breakfast foods.

I'd like to see a real revolution in healthy foods, with processors branching out to incorporate functional ingredients throughout the food chain. As I mentioned, the exceptions are out there. The cover of our December Wellness Trends issue shows some of them, and more are highlighted throughout the issue. But in our search for a variety of nutraceutical foods and drinks we noticed the Four Bs crowding the field by about ten to one or more.

The reasons are varied. From the marketing perspective, the concept of concentrated nutrition has been inseparable from that of convenience. "We don't have time to eat right in this high-stress, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends life we lead in the west, so put as much nutrition as possible into something 'grab-&-go' and it will sell like hotcakes."

Nothing untrue about that. And the beverages and bars, etc., out there are mostly true to their promise and tasty, too. (Personally, I could live on Naked Juice and Odwalla beverages.) But there's another reason, more of a legal matter.

"Functional foods have been around for years. Breakfast cereal is a great example - a conventional food fortified with vitamins and minerals to the point that these products compete with children's vitamins. But conventional foods are limited in the ingredients they may use," says Tony Young. Young, a partner with the law firm Kleinfeld, Kaplan and Becker, LLP, Washington, is general counsel of the American Herbal Products Association. "Nutraceutical and similar ingredients must be 'Generally Recognized as Safe' - GRAS or approved food additives. And FDA has informally advised companies that foods such as breakfast cereals and soups are always conventional foods."

Young explains how this funnels the goodness into the narrow channels of beverages, bars, baked goods and breakfast foods: "When companies want to move to more exotic ingredients, such as soy isoflavones or certain herbal extracts, they choose to put these ingredients in beverages or bars. These can be in food form, are labeled as dietary supplements, cannot make any conventional food claims and cannot be represented as a meal replacement. So you won't see claims like those made for Slimfast, which is a food, on a dietary supplement beverage. Interestingly, at FDA's hearing on Functional Foods on December 5, the food and dietary supplement industry told FDA that this system works well and that no new regulatory regime should be established."

In other words, by sticking to beverages, bars etc. a more comprehensive claim can be made on the label. But I believe we've come far enough with the consumer that we can take the plunge and add more nutraceuticals to more types of processed foods. The ingredient can be its own marketing tool, in other words. Take lycopene, for example. True, it's used in beverages and breakfast foods, but it made its biggest splash in consumer consciousness with ketchup. The proof of this comes from consumer awareness of the seemingly esoteric carotenoid lycopene.

When the International Food Information Council, Washington, conducted its 2005 Consumer Attitudes Toward Functional Foods survey (www.ific.org/research/upload/2005funcfoodsresearch.pdf), the foundation discovered 57 percent of those surveyed were aware of lycopene, its protective effects against cancer (specifically prostate cancer) and 49 percent of respondents were already takig advantage of that knowledge by consuming more foods with lycopene. The study also found "relationships gaining awareness include antioxidants for protection against free radical damage and omega-3 fatty acids and other healthful fats for reduced risk of heart disease."

As mentioned above, there are many exceptions to the Four B "rule:" açai sorbet; eggs, pizza, peanut butter and olive oil with extra omega-3; meat analogs with lycopene. But wouldn't it be great to see frozen dinners with added antioxidants, soups with catechins, egg rolls with EGCG and phytochemical-laced mac and cheese? The only limits to how healthful we can make our processed foods are self-imposed ones.

More from this author...


Report from 2005 IFT Expo

This year's IFT show served up a plethora of new and wondrous ingredients, the wisdom of Malcolm Gladwell, and the announcement of the World Food Prize.


Processors Work to Ease Diabetes Compliance

Editor David Feder discusses how processors are working hard to make compliance easier for persons with diabetes.


What Makes a Snack Good or Bad?

Editor David Feder, R.D., wrestles with the question of what makes a snack -- and snacking in general -- "good" or "bad."


In Praise of Smoothies

Wellness Foods Editor David Feder, R.D., tells tales out of school and the merging of smoothies with meal replacement beverages.


The Trouble with E-Newsletters

Wellness Foods exists to be of service to our readers. The same holds true for the Food Processing website and our e-newsletters. But is that message getting through? Editor David Feder tells why he sometimes feels like Rodney Dangerfield.


Glycemic Index Often Misused

The phrase "glycemic index" - GI - is being tossed about a lot in wellness foods circle lately. We heard a lot about the glycemic index within the patois of the low-carb diet craze. Most of what was said and written about GI was in the form of misguided, misunderstood or deliberately misdirected information.


2005 Natural Products Expo East Report

If it had a health component and could be eaten, imbibed, swallowed, lathered on, rubbed in or even worn, it was on the show floor at the Natural Products Expo East.


Well Noted: Tell Me What to Eat

Where nutrition educators are struggling, manufacturers may be succeeding.


More Ammo Brought into Fight Against Diabetes

Diabetes afflicts an ever-growing percentage of the population. However, creators and manufacturers of foods designed either directly or indirectly to prevent the development of obesity and diabetes, are bringing more and more ammo to the battle every year.


Science Degrees Can Be Used to Mislead

"Vitamin E is harmful", "salt is poison", "organic cookies decimate the endangered orangutan habitat" and "the childhood obesity crisis is a red herring made up by the liberal media." These assertions are just a sampling of the flagrant misuses of science degrees by people who should know better. When it’s expert versus expert, everyone gets short-changed.


Communicating Whole Grain Needs to Consumers

How can food and nutrition professionals best communicate to consumers advice on how to boost their intake of whole grains?


Food Industry New Year's Resolutions for 2006

What resolutions have you made for processing in 2006? Editor David Feder has a few suggestions.


ADA Conference Explores Nutrition Topics

The DNA of diet and other new trends from the American Dietetic Association conference.


Kosherfest 2005 Exhibits Merging Trends

Kosherfest 2005 showed that the merger of the food industry's two hottest trends is no mixed marriage.


Beware of Nutrition Misinformation

Everybody's an expert -- or so they seem to think -- when it comes to nutrition. This myopic egotism opens the door to misinformation and a swarm of nutrition fads and crazes, says Editor David Feder.