CHICAGO — A boost of calcium, vitamin D and potassium turns a yogurt smoothie into a bone-building beverage. Vitamins A, C and E, also known as A.C.E., are antioxidants. When added to a better-for-you beverage like green tea, the product may appeal to those trying to boost immunity.
Looking for energy? Load up on a ready-to-drink cold-brew coffee with B vitamins. If rehydrate and refuel are the goal, include potassium, magnesium and vitamin B12.
Today’s consumers expect more from their beverages. They are looking for nutrient blends that enhance health and wellness and help them perform at their best. Formulators are designing beverages with noteworthy amounts of vitamins and minerals, with or without other functional ingredients, to stand out in the crowded marketplace.
In some instances, vitamins and minerals are being delivered through whole fruits and vegetables. This is exemplified in the growing category of cold-pressed juices and smoothies. Other times beverage bases — everything from carbonated and still water to brewed and fermented drinks — are being formulated with fortification in mind. With either approach, formulators need to craft the product in order to ensure stability (color, flavor, flocculation and sedimentation) throughout shelf life.
Bridging nutritional gaps
The Dietary Guidelines emphasize nutritional needs should be met through eating nutrient-dense whole foods and beverages. Such products, when consumed in a balanced and moderate manner, should provide the nutrients one requires daily and at the levels and ratio for optimal health.
Poor food choices may result in low intakes of essential vitamins and minerals. That is because the body cannot synthesize the 13 vitamins and multitude of essential minerals the body requires to function.
The micronutrients, therefore, need to be obtained either through fortified foods and beverages or supplements. The exception is vitamin D, which the skin produces from sunlight. Because vitamin D is naturally found in few foods and only in minimal amounts, most consumers rely on fortification to meet their needs.
Careful crafting for a cause
There is a history of adding vitamins and minerals to all types of beverages. The practice started as a public health intervention about 100 years ago in the United States and proved to be an effective approach to eradicating nutrient-deficiency illnesses. The bone-debilitating disease known as rickets, for example, was suppressed through the addition of vitamin D to milk in the 1930s. Today this purpose continues in beverages designed for target populations in developing countries.
The addition of vitamins and minerals to beverages presents several technological challenges. A good knowledge of the chemistry of the base beverage, the micronutrients and other ingredients, including colors, flavors and functional nutrients such as protein and fiber, is necessary to prevent ingredient interactions.
Vitamins are complex organic substances composed of carbon and other elements and are essential to normal metabolism. They are inherently unstable, and this instability may be exacerbated by environment and processing, including exposure to heat, light and oxygen. Further, of the 13 known vitamins, four (A, D, E and K) are fat soluble. This presents a challenge in water-based beverages unless the vitamins are properly stabilized.
Minerals, on the other hand, are pure inorganic elements, meaning they only contain atoms of the same element. Unlike vitamins, minerals have simple structures and are stable. They do not break down like vitamins. They are present in all body tissues and fluids and are necessary for most physicochemical processes that take place in the body.
While several vitamins have similar functions, and many often work together to perform functions, most minerals are very specific. Iron is required for heme synthesis, which is involved with transporting oxygen from the lungs to body tissues to maintain basic life functions. Lack of it may lead to fatigue and more serious health problems. Iodine regulates growth while fluoride is involved in the formation of bones and teeth and helps prevent tooth decay.
Some minerals do work together. Calcium, magnesium and potassium, for example, assist with heart health by helping control blood pressure.
Recognizing these interactions and the specific roles of vitamins and minerals in the body is important when fortifying beverages. In many instances, it is important to identify the target consumer and clearly communicate nutrient addition. That is because a nutritional beverage designed for a 20-something athlete may be dangerous to a toddler. Likewise, a geriatric meal replacement may lack important nutrients for a pregnant or menopausal woman.
“Different age groups and lifestyles have different nutrient requirements, so it’s important to know who the target consumer is before developing a concept,” said Nathan Pratt, research and development scientist — nutrition, Kerry, Beloit, Wis.
Adding vitamins and minerals to beverages increases costs; therefore, it is paramount that only the right nutrients in the most effective form be added to the formulation.
“In general, vitamins are more sensitive to stress factors that occur during processing,” said Annette Bueter, product developer, Sternvitamin, Ahrensburg, Germany. “This means vitamins can lose some activity. Losses in activity can be compensated by adding overages, which means we are adding higher vitamin levels than what is required on the label of the final product. Minerals are less sensitive than vitamins.”
Mel Mann, director of innovation, Wixon, St. Francis, Wis., added, “Bioavailability should also be considered. There may be solubility issues because of nutrient interactions.”
Ms. Bueter said, “Encapsulated forms of ingredients delay or prevent interactions. In the end, it all depends on the levels and the combinations of micronutrients in the final product.”
Labeling the addition of specific vitamins and minerals as well as known benefits or related health claims are an important way for beverage manufacturers to differentiate.
“Segments can be based on age, gender, lifestyle considerations, health conditions or even time of day,” said Sam Wright, chief executive officer, The Wright Group, Lafayette, La. “The permutations are endless, and each segment would require a different combination of nutrients in order to support the market positioning.”
Beverage manufacturers typically rely on premixes. Suppliers combine micronutrients at specified levels to ensure the quantified dosage is delivered to the consumer through the end of the product’s shelf life.
“Premixes generally come from suppliers skilled in manufacturing and verification of content, including overages needed to account for losses,” Mr. Mann said.
Addition levels of vitamins and minerals are often very low. Measuring each one separately presents a lot of room for human error.
“Premixes contain all ingredients in the right amounts and can be diluted with carriers to become more homogeneous and get to a dosage level that is manageable,” Ms. Bueter said.
Moira Watson, vice-president of marketing and communications, Watson Inc., West Haven, Conn., said, “The optimum point at which the fortification should be added during the manufacturing process also needs to be determined.”
Premixes allow beverage manufacturers to reduce inventory of many individual components. These would otherwise have to be approved, sourced and tested prior to use.
“Premixers have economies of scale in purchasing, testing, manufacturing, packaging and logistics,” Mr. Wright said. “This yields lower overall cost-in-use where vitamins, minerals, botanicals and other nutrients are concerned.”
Even with premixes there can be taste and texture challenges.
“Flavor challenges can be overcome through techniques like encapsulation and flavor masking,” said Matt Patrick, technology, applications research and technical services, Delavau, Philadelphia.
Then there’s always the question of how much to add. What amount will have the most appeal to the targeted consumer?
While vitamin and mineral addition to all types of beverages has become quite common, it is important that formulators be careful in the amounts added. Carefully crafted beverages may have a positive impact on health and wellness, but when certain micronutrients are consumed in excess, they may have a negative, even dangerous effect.