Fortifying beverages to fill nutritional gaps

by Donna Berry
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Tea is used quite often to fortify a variety of beverage applications.

CHICAGO — Hydrate and quench thirst — these traditional beverage traits are no longer the primary selling points in the beverage aisle. Consumers want more and through the innovative use of fortifying ingredients in today’s beverages, nutrition may be added to the beverage category’s list of top traits.

Food and beverage fortiļ¬cation dates back to the early 1930s when dairy processors started adding vitamin D to fluid milk to prevent rickets, a bone-debilitating disease that was prevalent at the time and linked to a deficiency in the fat-soluble vitamin. This is one of the first examples of a functional food, as the vitamin D was added to provide a benefit beyond basic nutrition. It was added to mitigate a disease.

Since then, manufacturers have been fortifying foods and beverages with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as a means to provide a public health benefit by preventing nutrient deficiency. All fortified foods, therefore, are functional foods. But not all functional foods are fortified foods, as a night-time drink containing ingredients to promote relaxation and drowsiness is not filling any nutritional gaps. It’s solely providing a function.

Beverages are a convenient and efficient delivery vehicle for many essential nutrients, those associated with specific bodily functions, as well as those that enhance overall well-being by enabling the body to function at its best. The most common approach to the latter is to fortify with ingredients classified as antioxidants, either in the form of a whole food, usually a juice, or an added nutrient, such as a plant extract or isolated vitamin.

Understanding antioxidants

Antioxidants help the body fight damage from free radicals, which may cause cells to grow and reproduce abnormally. Free radicals result from oxidation, a natural process that occurs when we digest food, exercise or simply breathe. Living in environments with pollution, radiation and cigarette smoke also increases free radical production. The more free radicals in the body, the more opportunity there is for illness and premature aging.

Once formed, the reactive radicals may start a chain reaction, damaging healthy cells, which in turn may contribute to the development of a number of illnesses, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and such age-related conditions as Alzheimer’s. Antioxidants terminate the chain reactions by being oxidized themselves, thus preventing free radical damage.

Vitamins C and E are both well-known antioxidants frequently added to beverages, as are plant concentrates and extracts high in known antioxidants such as carotenoids and polyphenols (e.g. anthocyanin, flavonoids and resveratrol). Many of the latter possess additional benefits besides functioning as an antioxidant, which further blurs the line between functional foods and fortified foods.

For example, green tea is a concentrated source of the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (E.G.C.G.), which has been shown to have a positive effect on immunity and chronic inflammatory disease. Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine, which aids in the production of germ-fighting compounds from T-cells.

Brewed green tea makes a great beverage base as well as matcha, which is a finely milled powder made from shade-grown green tea leaves. It is often used in smoothies and “super” drinks, because in addition to being a concentrated source of antioxidants, matcha has been shown to provide a natural energy boost.

Flavorless green tea extract makes it possible to provide many of these health and wellness benefits in non-tea beverages. Such extracts are typically quantified by their concentration of E.G.C.G. and inclusion enables a content claim of the polyphenol.

Suppliers also offer antioxidant ingredients extracted from highly pigmented grapes. For example, resveratrol has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that are believed to potentially reduce the risk of heart disease and certain
cancers. Resveratrol also has been recognized as an aid in youth maintenance, promoting skin longevity.

Grape seed extract is another. The proanthocyanidins found in grape seed extract have been shown to be 20 to 50 times greater than vitamins C and E at scavenging free radicals. Further, studies have shown that grape seed extract helps promote the structural strength of blood vessels, which in turn helps promote healthy blood pressure levels, heart health and a proper inflammation response.

Coffee fruit, also known as coffee berry, is the fruit surrounding the coffee bean. Previously discarded as a byproduct of coffee production, coffee fruit has been scientifically recognized as an antioxidant with robust wellness qualities. This includes healthy energy, immune support, weight management, joint support and cognitive function.

Similar to a vitamin, coenzyme Q10 functions as an antioxidant. It is used by cells to produce the energy that the body needs for cell growth and maintenance and helps sustain heart health and blood pressure.

The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with eye health and vision. They have been shown in human studies to enhance contrast acuity, reduce glare disability and protect against damaging effects of short-wave light.

Vitamins and minerals

Though fortification with antioxidants is increasingly prevalent, fortifying with vitamins and minerals is more established. Most notably, the mineral calcium and vitamin D are associated with healthy, strong bones. Both were identified as nutrients of concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and are expected to make the list again in the 2015 edition.

Also on the list is potassium, a mineral linked to heart health, as it protects blood vessels from oxidative damage. It is also associated with proper kidney function.

Eight vitamins constitute what has become known as the vitamin B complex. These are essential nutrients for growth and development and in recent years have become associated with slowing the aging process. Specifically, vitamin B1 (thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin) help the body produce energy and affect enzymes that influence the muscles, nerves and heart. Vitamin B3 (niacin) has a role in energy production in cells and in maintaining the health of the skin, nervous system and digestive system. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) influences normal growth and development. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) helps the body break down protein and helps maintain the health of red blood cells, the nervous system and parts of the immune system, while vitamin B7 (biotin) helps break down protein and carbohydrates and helps the body make hormones. Vitamin B9 (folic acid) helps the cells in the body make and maintain D.N.A. and is important in the production of red blood cells. And, last but not least, vitamin B12 (cobalamin) plays a role in the body’s growth and development. It also has a part in producing blood cells, the functions of the nervous system and how the body uses folic acid and carbohydrates.

Folic acid is an interesting vitamin because before the turn of the century, it was identified as a nutrient of concern, as its deficiency in pregnant women is associated with miscarriage and neural tube defects in infants. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, every year in the United States an estimated 1,000 more babies are born healthy since mandatory folic acid fortification of enriched cereal grain products went into effect in January 1998.

The same year that folic acid fortification became mandatory in the United States, The Institute of Medicine, Washington, identified choline as an essential nutrient. It, too, is critical for fetal and proper child development. Unfortunately, many Americans are unaware of choline, which is not an official vitamin, yet is often grouped with the vitamin B complex because it has similar functions in the body.

In addition to impacting development, choline is critical to cognitive function throughout life. It promotes heart and liver health and has been shown to help optimize athletic performance by improving stamina, promoting muscle recovery and more.

According to 2013 Gallup research, just 15% of Americans are aware of choline. In addition, data from the 2007 to 2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey determined that 90% of the U.S. population currently does not consume adequate amounts.

“Choline may well represent one of the largest untapped nutritional opportunities of recent times,” said Elizabeth Sloan, spokesperson for The Choline Information Council, Escondido, Calif. “Rarely, has a nutrient recognized by I.O.M. as essential, and with such a widespread deficiency in the U.S. population, gone unaddressed by the nutraceutical and functional food industries.”

Another nutrient often overlooked is zinc. Classified as a trace mineral, which means people require less than 20 mg per day, research shows that nearly 65% of the population is zinc deficit.

Zinc functions as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes in the body, making it essential for many bodily functions. This includes proper growth and development, neurological function and immune response.

Omega-3s and fiber

In addition to calcium, vitamin D and potassium, fiber is identified as a nutrient of concern in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is expected to keeps its status in the 2015 edition. Fiber has been shown to protect against heart disease, as well as maintain basic gastrointestinal health by functioning as a laxative. Scientific evidence shows a link between consuming a high-fiber diet and an array of other health and wellness benefits, including immune system support, regulation of normal blood sugar and blood lipid levels, weight management, satiety, bone health, mineral absorption and cancer prevention.

Thanks to fortification and supplementation, Americans have made strides with increasing their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular eicosapentaenoic acid (E.P.A.) and docosahexaenoic acid (D.H.A.). D.H.A. contributes to the development and function of the brain and nervous system. Specifically, it is essential for brain development in infants and toddlers, as well as visual function and cognitive health throughout life. E.P.A. plays a crucial role in promoting cardiovascular health and safeguarding the body’s cells and joints.

Though both fiber and omega-3 fatty acids may be added as isolated food ingredients to beverage formulations, some ingredients are a source of these essential nutrients and others. For example, stabilized rice bran is an inherent source of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, or simply A.L.A., which gets converted in the body to D.H.A. and E.P.A.

“Bran is about 10% by weight of the rice kernel,” said Mark McKnight, senior vice-president of marketing and sales, RiceBran Technologies, Scottsdale, Ariz. “This is also where 80% of the nutrition resides. We’ve patented a process to stabilize the bran to prevent it from oxidizing, and thereby are able to provide an ingredient loaded with many nutrients lacking in today’s diet.” It readily dissolves in water or other liquid, with some versions dissolving clear and others providing desirable opacity with or without viscosity.

Mr. McKnight believes that beverage marketers have barely touched on the opportunities that exist to fortify and help consumers bridge the essential nutrient gap.

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