Sweet makeover

by Jeff Gelski
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All things sweet and savory are not always so smart and healthy for those who consume them. But research and development efforts are working on improving the ratio.

Projects are focusing on creating healthier fats and oils for baked and fried foods, improving the nutritional profile of chocolate, and fortifying baked foods, confectionery items and even syrup with such elements as fiber, calcium and antioxidants.

Examples and information on many of these research and development projects will be available at "The Best of Food Thinking 2008," the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition scheduled for June 28 to July 2 in New Orleans.

Analyzing saturated fat

Food manufacturers have struggled to reduce trans fat in their products while at the same time not increasing the amount of saturated fat. Both fats are known to affect cholesterol levels negatively.

The I.F.T. session "High-stearate Fats: Opportunities for Product Formulation" will address this issue on June 30. Early research suggests stearic acid may be a cholesterolneutral type of saturated fat. A high-stearic oil, it is suggested, would increase product stability in storage, baking and frying applications without adding trans fat.

One of the presenters, Alison Bodor of the National Confectioners Association, Vienna, Va., will discuss the impact on the industry. It may be significant because about one-third of the saturated fat content of chocolate comes from stearic acid.

"A New Paradigm of Saturated Fats," an I.F.T. session set for July 1, will examine the evidence linking saturated fats to negative cholesterol effects. According to session organizers, new data has emerged to cast doubt on this belief.

Chocolate as a healthy ingredient

Like saturated fats, chocolate in the past has not been associated with health food. Mars Botanical, Rockville, Md., wants to prove chocolate at times may be healthy by focusing on the amount of heart-healthy cocoa flavanols in the ingredient. Mars Botanical, a division of Mars, Inc., seeks to develop science and technologies in the field of phytonutrients like flavanols and has a goal of creating new plant-derived products aimed at improving human health.

At its I.F.T. booth, Mars Botanical will have personnel on hand to discuss its patented Cocoapro process that helps retain more of the naturally occurring flavanols in cocoa.

Recent research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests consuming a cocoa flavanol-rich beverage daily may have a positive impact on blood vessel dysfunction associated with diabetes. Study participants who consumed the beverages experienced a 30% improvement in measured vessel function at the end of a 30-day trial.

"We are still seeing the devastating complications of diabetes with the standard medical treatments available, so we are increasingly looking to lifestyle changes and new approaches to help address risks associated with diabetes," said Dr. Paul Zimmet, director of the International Diabetes Institute in Australia. "While more research is needed, this study shows tremendous potential for future flavanolbased applications."

Fortifying syrup

The exposition floor at the I.F.T. will have its share of healthy chocolate and other fortified snacks and sweets, too.

GTC Nutrition, Golden, Colo., will focus on forms of syrup that involve the company’s ingredients. Nutra-Flora prebiotic soluble fiber and Aquamin calcified mineral source will enrich chocolate syrup for bone health. NutraFlora and BioAgave agave active fiber will enhance caramel syrup for digestive health. NutraFlora Hi-maize prebiotic fiber blend will enrich berry syrup for immune health.

Fortitech, Inc., Schenectady, N.Y., will address a variety of health conditions by promoting its premix solutions at its booth. One prototype, a chocolate bar, may aid in reducing stress. The bar includes dark chocolate infused with a custom combination of nutrients such as gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), magnesium, L-Theanine, L-Tryptophan and Ashwaganda Extract.

Barry Callebaut USA, Inc., Chicago, will promote its probiotic chocolate that provides digestive benefits.

While soy has been used to improve the nutritional profile of snacks and sweets for some time, The Solae Co., St. Louis, plans to use prototypes at its booth to show how soy may combine with other healthy ingredients, specifically antioxidant-rich super fruits. Solae will offer a bar featuring soy protein, dark chocolate and goji berries. A smoothie will feature soy protein, pomegranates and acai.

"These Solae product concepts highlight just a few of the ideas that our applications and marketing teams are working on to help food manufacturers develop innovative and consumer-relevant products," said Jean Heggie, Solae’s director of marketing. "In addition, these products deliver health and wellness benefits, capitalizing on soy’s natural and healthy positioning."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, June 24, 2008, starting on Page 70. Click here to search that archive.

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