Better Living Through Food Chemistry

Oct. 25, 2005
Are you familiar with guarana, yerba maté and choline? They and other performance-enhancing ingredients are providing quite a boost - for consumers and for sales of certain foods and beverages.
More and more consumers are eating healthily, trying to be physically active and maintaining a sensible lifestyle - three criteria experts advocate for achieving health. Many consumers are taking things a step further: looking not only for health but for better performance in a number of areas.Whether it's mental acuity, increased immunity, physical performance or just a quick energy boost, consumers believe the solution can come from foods and especially beverages. Consumers increasingly understand that certain ingredients and nutrients can enhance physiological performance.


Performance-enhancement ingredients tend to be expensive, so it is important to know how to protect and maximize utilization of your bioactive ingredient inventory.

Clarify with the R&D group if the phytochemical has one or more of the following functional issues:
  • Does the ingredient alter viscosity? If so, how does one counter it without changing the product or the ingredient functionality?

  • Is it pH sensitive, and does change in pH cause it to change color or flavor? If so, what is the ideal pH range?

  • Is it sensitive to humidity?

  • Will it react adversely with the other ingredients of the formulation - during processing or later, during storage?

  • Does the ingredient need an emulsifier or stabilizer for its functionality and if so, does the order of ingredient addition matter to the quality of the finished product?

  • Does the ingredient have a strong flavor or does it have the tendency to develop a strong undesirable flavor that can be difficult to mask?

  • What is the shelf life of the ingredient - opened and unopened? Is it photosensitive?
Food manufacturers, often taking a cue from sports nutrition pioneers, are creating healthful foods that are not just for athletes. Some processors are reinventing traditional foodstuffs as performance enhancers on the basis of science-supported benefits of their intrinsic components or added ingredients.Generally plant-derived, these phytochemicals may be complex botanical extracts or herbal extracts or further purified single compound nutrients such as vitamins, amino acids and fatty acids. Bioactive phytochemicals tend to have pronounced taste and flavor — not all of which are easily accepted by mainstream consumers. Ingredient suppliers have done a good job of identifying these performance enhancing ingredients and educating R&D and marketing personnel about their benefits. More recent work has focused on creating the appropriate technologies for protecting and delivering the potency of these ingredients in a palatable form.Persuasive and pervasive consumer education by multinationals has propelled sports drinks into the mainstream. As people consume Full Throttle (from Coca-Cola), Sobe Powerline (PepsiCo) and Lucozade (GlaxoSmithKline), they also become familiar with such ingredients as taurine, ginseng, yerba maté and guarana. Once regarded as extreme or even dangerous to one's health, these products now have an edge over soft drinks, which increasingly are being viewed as hazardous to one's health.While the beverage industry pioneered the introduction of a number of performance enhancers, they remain absent from the nutrition bar and meal replacement food segments. A number of formulation challenges prevent ingredients from crossing over among these categories. In general, ingredients with wide application in beverages have not easily transferred into solid foods. Ingredients that have been successful in low-water activity food systems such as bars and cereals have not been as popular in beverage applications. The energy crisisJust as convenience ranks high in consumer polls for food preferences, "lack of energy" is emerging as one of their top health concerns. The American consumer energy crisis apparently is becoming serious, compelling some 15 million annual visits to the doctor, according to a recent Harvard Medical School report. Major concerns are maintaining energy and preventing lack of energy. Energy priorities are not the same across age groups - young adults seek an energy boost out of concerns about daily performance; athletes and older adults seek energy to help extend their quality of life and to avoid certain chronic diseases.Energy seekers, according to Keith Parle, director of functional food sales and strategic development at Kerry Group (www.kerrygroup.com), Kansas City, Kan., fall into two types. One group consists of primarily young folks who seek vitality and an energy buzz from Red Bull energy drink and Frappuccino-type products. The second group are those interested in a more sustained energy level. Seasoned consumers and athletes fall into this category, and they actively replace sugar and simple carbohydrates with high fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates for greater satiety and sustained energy release.The food industry's response is a variety of beverages and energy bars - many with edgy names that promise anything from an extreme burst of energy (such as Airforce Energize Soda from Ardea Beverages, Hopkins, Minn.,) to more sensible and sustained energy (Eat Well Be Well bars from the company of the same name in Hood River, Ore.).The formulator's ingredient palette for quick energy boosts has taurine, caffeine, guarana, ginseng, theobromine (from chocolate) and theophylline (from tea). For sustained release of energy, they reach out to protein, high-fiber ingredients and complex carbohydrates and describe the results as "slow burn," "low glycemic index," or even "complex carbohydrate-rich."
Healthy, but not 'health drinks': The Airforce Nutrisoda line includes (l-r) Radiant, Immune, Focus, Flex, Energize, Calm and Slender.

Athletes also supplement their diets with two varieties of stimulants: ergogenic and thermogenic. Ergogenics help improve performance by eliminating fatigue and increasing capacity for physical or mental labor, while thermogenics help burn fat mass. Green tea is both an ergogenic and a thermogenic aid and, as a result, is seeing a great deal of consumer interest. But Americans tend to shy away from bitter tasting ingredients regardless of their health benefits, and green tea is both bitter and astringent. Winston Samuels, CEO of Maxx Performance (www.maxxperformance.com), Chester, N.Y., finds it striking that novel ingredients today were really traditional ingredients for our grandparents' generation. "The difference lies in the lower tolerance for any undesirable taste or time-consuming preparation," he posits. "To help manufacturers cater to this growing consumer need, we microencapsulated green tea and other bitter compounds to mask their bitterness and astringency for use in beverages and even in film strips for rapid sublingual absorption and immediate effects." Microencapsulation also protects green tea's bioactives from light.There is even an energy jelly bean. Sports Beans Energizing Jelly Beans from Jelly Belly Candy (www.jellybelly.com), Fairfield, Calif., are jelly beans formulated to energize and prevent dehydration. Designed for competitive athletes and sports enthusiasts, the label advises the consumer to "energize with one package before activity" and "use additional beans as needed during activity to sustain energy level." From immunity to serenityPerformance ingredients are not just for energy. Consumers also supplement their diets with foods and beverages formulated to cater to their body's needs in the context of strong muscles, robust immune systems, faster burning of fat and increased metabolism.Just look at the "flavors" in the line of Airforce Nutrisodas from Ardea Beverage Co. (www.airforcedrinks.com) Hopkins, Minn.: Immune, Focus, Flex, Energize, Calm, Slender and Radiant. "Nutrisoda is not a health drink," insists President Joe Heron. "Health drinks are good ideas … for someone else. Health drinks are as different from a healthy drink as a nutritional drink is from a nutrient-enhanced drink. People do not want to drink medicine.""The future of food and beverages," according to Heron, "will be to take advantage of health and wellness and obesity. Sodas will have to work for a living. It is no longer enough to deliver empty calories. Wellness is the best, most obvious space to add value."And if you're not into carbonated drinks, take the enhanced water line from Glaceau (www.glaceau.com), Whitestone, N.Y. There are several fanciful names (Rescue, Defense) as well as traditional flavors (lemon, grape, peach) in the three product segments: Vitaminwater, Fruitwater and Smartwater.Immune support is another emerging trend. Formulators use phytochemicals such as lycopene from tomatoes for their protective effect on cellular health, and polyphenols from pomegranate and olives for their potent scavenging of free radicals.Immune-system enhancement has been a big driver in the success of such recently launched food products as Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice, from the Los Angeles-based company of the same name; acidophilus-loaded Nancy's Yogurt from Springfield Creamery, Eugene, Ore.; and DanActive from Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y. And their success has prompted pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis Group, East Hanover, N.J., to launch beverages such as Boost, Boost Plus and Boost Breeze especially for those recovering from physical illness and those seeking greater immunity.
Kashi, now owned by Kellogg, this year launched Mighty Bites cereal with a "unique blend of ingredients for developing minds." Both the Nutrition Facts panel highlights and the ingredient statement include choline.

New product development with antioxidants and immune boosters is growing strong with realization from epidemiological studies that plant-based materials are linked to lower incidence of disease in populations that use them frequently. Mainstream juice blend manufacturers are finding that consumers recognize that certain fruits are high in antioxidants and pick blends containing these fruits over others.Women and children firstThere is also a distinct and growing market for foods targeted to enhance the performance of women and another to enhance the physical and mental performance of children. In the women's arena, products with great potential include multivitamins and minerals to support overall health, bone support products to promote bone density and fiber-rich products to benefit gastrointestinal health.It is important for formulators to note that women's needs are physiologically different from those of men. Women, because of smaller body frame require fewer calories in general than men do - making product development even more difficult because of caloric and portion size constraints. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), iron and other nutrients helpful for pregnancy are in the recently introduced OhMama! nutrition bars from Vincent Foods, Baltimore. Similarly, two Mommy Munchies nutrition bars, from Eating for Two Inc., Pembroke Pines, Fla., provide "the same vitamin and mineral content as top selling prenatal vitamins," the company says. Parents everywhere are seeking foods to enhance their children's performance without adding weight or risking development of chronic diseases such as diabetes or allergies. While healthful and nutrient-dense, energy rich foods are valued by parents for sustaining activity levels among children, many are also looking into foods to enhance mental performance. Choline and omega-3 fatty acids - DHA and ARA (arachidonic acid) are particularly important for neurological growth in infants and young children. In the U.S., infant formula Enfamil Lipil, Similac and Beech-Nut First Advantage all are supplemented with DHA and ARA. Kellogg subsidiary Kashi Co., (www.kashi.com), La Jolla, Calif., provides more than whole grains and basic vitamins in its cereals for children. Kashi Mighty Bites is formulated with choline (35 mg per serving) for brain and memory development. It's also an excellent source of iron and zinc, which aid in brain cell development and are essential for normal brain and thought development, and has a healthy does of vitamin C (25 percent of the recommended daily value) to help increase the body's absorption of iron and aid in the creation of nervous system cells. Ingredients from natureNature has a veritable bounty of ingredients to help this trend toward performance enhancement. The majority of these ingredients - generally plant-derived - fall into three categories: amino acids, herbs and vitamins.South Beach Beverage as an independent company was at the forefront of making consumers comfortable with ingredients with strange and foreign-sounding names. Muria puama is used in SoBe's Powerline Drive; yerba maté in Lizardline Lizard Fuel Soda; jamaica in the Latin-inspired SoBe Fuerte; and astragalus in the exotic teas and fruit juice blend SoBe Nirvana. Now as part of PepsiCo, SoBe continues that effort as its products reach wider distribution.
South Beach Beverage introduced to consumers such ingredients as muria puma, yerba mate and astragalus. Now a part of PepsiCo, SoBe is making its product lite - and carrying a South Beach Diet endorsement.

For a non caffeine-based energy boost, Naked Juice (www.nakedjuice.com), Azusa, Calif., formulates with açai, an antioxidant-rich tropical fruit that is high in fiber, anthocyanins, minerals and vitamin E. Açai, according to Sambazon (www.sambazon.com), San Clemente, Calif., is showing up in nutritional bars, frozen smoothies, and functional beverages and is generally formulated with guarana in energy enhancing products.Cupuacu is another rainforest fruit rich in vitamins, minerals, fats and fatty acids, and is currently showing up in functional chocolates and beverages. Cupuacu, valued for its creamy exotic tasting pulp, is an important energy ingredient in Austin, Texas-based Fruta Vida's (www.frutavida.com) new functional beverage along with açai, and yerba mate.Guarana (a small red fruit of an Amazon shrub) with guaranine as its principal ingredient is believed to be more potent than caffeine and very popular with the younger generation in products such as Sobe's Adrenaline Rush (with 50 mg guarana per 8.3-fl. oz. serving). It also shows up in Jo Mints and M-60 film strips (for quick energy via sublingual absorption) from Corona del Mar, Calif.-based JoCo Brands Llc. (www.jomints.com). Guarana-laced Tibetan Tea from Los Angeles based Tibetan Tea Co., rose to fame as part of the Oscars Gift Basket for Hollywood's A-list. The slightly carbonated canned beverage with guarana in combination with ginger and ginseng may be consumed cold or warm and is becoming increasingly popular as a natural alternative to Red Bull in liquor mixers in bars.Vitamins of the B family and especially niacin are used primarily to enhance the caffeine effect. Niacin is a vasodilator - it gets the blood flowing and thereby enhances the caffeine effect and sustains energy levels. Carnitine, also known as vitamin BT, is sought for its role in energy metabolism at the cellular level. Cysteine peptide boosts energy by coaxing the liver to produce glutathione - its natural antioxidant that purges free radicals and allows the body to naturally recycle its own store of antioxidants. Cysteine peptide does not boost energy like caffeine-based materials; instead it provides the body with a natural energy that lasts all day long. Amino acidsArginine has many physiological roles applicable to energy promotion. It helps remove the ammonia formed during amino acid catabolism (breakdown during exercise) and serves as the precursor for synthesis of nitric oxide - a potent vasodilator.Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) like L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine, and L-Valine, become a fuel source during muscle activity and help limit protein breakdown, while providing a source of energy for muscle contraction.Carnitine converts the BCAAs into their keto forms that are more suitable for energy needs when carbohydrate is not readily available. Carnitine is also believed to carry fatty acids into the mitochondria where their oxidation generates energy.Taurine is a common amino acid concentrating in tissues with high electrical activity (eye, brain and heart). Its contributing mechanism in energy production is not known, but may be attributable to its antioxidant and membrane-stabilizing activities.Invention and innovation are leveraging the metabolism modification abilities of phytochemicals in a myriad of foods and beverages. Once popular once only with the lifestyle- and appearance-oriented populations, performance enhancing foods are now attracting everyone from sports enthusiasts to expectant mothers.It seems the more research that's done, the more these ingredients are confirmed as having nutraceutical properties. Ingredient suppliers and product formulators are assisting with improvements in the taste and quality of these products.


Pay attention to the following when developing foods and beverages for performance enhancement:
  1. What are the health benefits of the phytochemical, and is it based on sound clinical research?

  2. What is the recommended dosage for the ingredient in a food product, and are there any issues from getting too much of it?

  3. What is the stability profile of the compound and does it require special storage conditions, such as low temperature or controlled humidity? If so, ensure that the plant operators know this. Improper storage of your phytochemicals can destroy them. Both you and your consumers will be paying for nothing or, worse yet, for something that can cause problems with the quality of your finished product.


During food manufacture, phytochemicals - intrinsic or added - can become more reactive and can react with other food constituents and even change in their activity levels. This means that the nutritional properties of the ingredient can change.

Dissipation during processing usually happens due to one or more of the following mechanisms:
  • Water-soluble ingredients
      (such as antioxidants) interact with proteins and other food constituents, changing glycosides and esters into free phenolic derivatives that often form complexes with metals and become essentially unavailable for their primary function. Inactivation of antioxidants with metal chelating compounds can be prevented with citric, tartaric, phosphoric or ascorbic acids - acids that form nonreactive compounds with metals and that do not react with antioxidants.

  • Fat soluble antioxidants
      (such as tocopherols) can be emulsified to accumulate the antioxidants at the water-oil interface in a mono-molecular layer oriented according to their polarity. Such a layer can protect the lipid phase from oxidation by any oxygen dissolved in the aqueous phase.

  • Pasteurization,
      an important step in the processing of many beverages, can minimize many bioactive ingredients. These losses can be compensated for by adding more of the ingredient up front or by processing under reduced pressure. Encapsulation in heat-resistant materials such as compound coating can help prevent loss in functionality of performance enhancement ingredients in heated air (during baking).

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