The Snack Pack: Boomers Eating for Health
Baby Boomers most often are associated with the rebellious 1960s, during which rock and roll, the civil rights and women’s liberation movements and anti-Vietnam War protests took place. As they enter retirement, Boomers may be less interested in lighting a fire under the body politic and more concerned with inflammation within their own bodies.
Inflammation is a part of the body’s normal healing process but, as the body ages, it can become the driving force behind many health problems like obesity, cardiovascular disease and joint pain. Fortunately, organic and inorganic antioxidants such as vitamins, minerals and flavonoids can reduce and/or limit the adverse effects of inflammation. The goal for food manufacturers is to develop these ingredients and incorporate them into snack foods that are attractive to Baby Boomers.
A Hard Knock LifeConsumers know that “the times they are a-changing” when the vivacious and feisty Sally Field, once known as Gidget the surfing teenager, appears on the magazine cover of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and becomes an impassioned spokesperson for the treatment of osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease common among postmenopausal women.
Increasing calcium intake is considered the primary way of delaying and treating the condition, and calcium fortification is sure to become a marketing strategy for products aimed at Baby Boomers. Fortification with soluble fiber also may become more prevalent. In some clinical studies, low digestible carbohydrates such as certain soluble fibers derived from corn and wheat have been shown to improve the absorption and retention of magnesium and calcium, notes one supplier's website. Inulin and some other prebiotics have shown similar characteristics.
Magnesium helps ensure bone strength, and 70% of the magnesium in the body is found in the skeletal system. It has been hypothesized that when large amounts of calcium are consumed, more magnesium is required to combat calcification in joints, blood vessels and brain tissue, which can lead to arthritis, cardiovascular disease and senility (respectively). If this is truly the case, consumers will need additional magnesium in products that have undergone calcium fortification. Similarly, CenterForAntiaging.com reports that patients with a potassium deficiency also will be depleted of magnesium and will require magnesium supplementation.
Baby Boomers have another reason to fear mineral deficiencies. According to a recent analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), intake of calcium and minerals is more important than sodium restriction in reducing blood pressure. Nevertheless, sodium still seems to be public enemy number one among many health care providers.
Signaling Sodium SalutationsFormer President Bill Clinton must have been taken aback when doctors suggested he undergo an emergency bypass heart surgery at age 58. But the prevalence and growth of heart problems in America should probably shock no one. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the cost of hypertensive disease in the U.S. in 2001 was estimated at $40.4 billion, and this figure is expected to escalate dramatically as Baby Boomers age.
“I think there is an increased attentiveness to factors that impact hypertension, blood pressure and cardiovascular disease as it relates to longevity, and Boomers will start to scrutinize traditional snacks with respect to their cholesterol, salt and fat contribution,” says Otis Curtis, a business development manager for a company that supplies yeast extracts.
“Sodium is a critical part of the traditional snack food. When we think of snack foods, we don't tend to associate them with healthy choices,” states Curtis. “There is an opportunity for the snack food industry to target not only fat, but also sodium.”
Curtis is not alone in his assessments. A news release from the American Medical Association (AMA) stated that “most Americans consume two to three times the amount of sodium that is healthy, with an estimated 75%-80% of the daily intake of sodium coming from processed and restaurant foods.” In June 2006, the AMA urged the FDA to revoke the GRAS status of salt and to develop regulatory measures to limit sodium in processed and restaurant foods. The AMA also placed the onus to reduce salt levels on the food industry by calling for a minimum 50% reduction in processed foods, fast food products and restaurant meals; this goal is to be achieved over the next decade.
“Yeast extracts are powerful tools for reducing salt because they enhance the overall flavor impact and increase salty taste,” says Curtis. He insists, however, that yeast extracts are not salt replacers. They enhance salt so that product developers can reduce the salt level. “There is nothing on the marketplace that effectively replaces salt 100%.”
Using potassium chloride (KCl) instead of salt is one alternative. “Potassium chloride seems to function in some ways similar to salt, but there are limitations because it provides bitterness. Yeast extracts deliver mouthfeel and a mouthwatering fullness on the palate, making the flavor impact stronger, and therefore, a more satisfying experience without off-flavors such as bitterness,” reports Curtis.
Yeast extracts are able to deliver an enhanced taste impact because they contain free amino acids, peptides and nucleotides. In a free form, glutamic acid (GA), along with nucleotides, peptides and other free amino acids, have an impact on taste referred to as umami. The umami taste is present in tomato, soy and fish sauces, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms and some meat products. Salt content cannot easily be reduced without taste loss unless manufacturers understand how various ingredients contribute to the overall umami taste.
High nucleotide yeast extracts are used as flavor enhancers in minute amounts to enhance salt perception. The challenge for snack food manufacturers is to disperse them evenly as a topical blend with salt on plain potato chips. However, the yeast extract can be plated onto the salt with a pre-blend. “Formulators can get more creative and consider other ingredients such as KCl, custom blends of salt, or KCl together with yeast extracts, as well as other ingredients that can give an overall salt enhancement,” suggests Curtis.
“Aging Baby Boomers will begin looking at not only their own health and the food choices they make around snacking, but also their snacking will continue to grow in parallel with convenience and availability [of the snacks] in the marketplace,” remarks Curtis.
Becoming Cognizant of Choline's BenefitsAnother nutrient that Boomers will have to become aware of is choline. Choline is critically involved in several key metabolic pathways and affects DNA methylation, which is related to the control of cell growth and intracellular messaging. It also is a precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and an important component of phosphatidylcholine, (a key constituent of lecithin) a critical element of cell structure and communication. Additionally, choline has a role in fat transport, which promotes better liver health. Choline also serves as a complement to folate in its role in reducing levels of plasma homocysteine, which may be implicated in cardiovascular disease and neurological problems.
“As you age, you may not be able to rely on naturally occurring nutrients in the diet alone for complete nutrition,” says Kristine Lukasik, PhD, manager of the applications group for a manufacturer of encapsulated food ingredients and nutritional products. She points out that some foods that naturally contain high levels of beneficial choline, such as egg yolk and liver, are sometimes also high in fat and cholesterol. Thus, fortification of ready-to-eat foods, particularly healthy snacks, is an excellent application for choline.
“Choline is a very cooperative material, as compared to other vitamins and minerals. You can subject it to the high temperatures of UHT treatment, retorting, baking and extrusion. It can be very simply incorporated into many types of foods and beverages,” opines Lukasik. Choline's stability means that processors do not need to add expensive overage to meet label claims, and the nutrient remains stable over time. “It is easier to fortify with choline in the form of a salt, which is extremely water soluble, than as a natural component of lecithin. Lecithin only delivers low doses of choline at the levels at which it can practically be used in many formulas,” informs Lukasik.
A prime example of choline's usefulness is in the way it provides neurological and cardiovascular benefits that are similar to those of omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fatty acids. It delivers this value without ingredient instability and the off-notes often attributed to marine oils.
Reduced Intake Without EncapsulateEncapsulation of ingredients in fortified snack products is extremely important because many snack products are extruded, a process that involves high shear and high temperatures. Encapsulation is especially beneficial for omega-3 oils, because encapsulated oils can better survive extrusion and pasteurization. Moreover, it keeps neutraceuticals from interacting with other ingredients.
Encapsulation helps to ensure that an added nutrient is not destroyed during harsh food processing operations, and that it is present in the finished food product at the levels promised on the label. At certain levels, the addition of ingredients such as caffeine, potassium and other fortifiers can be taste prohibitive. By using encapsulation, manufacturers are spared the expense associated with adding flavor to mask undesirable bitter notes, says Lukasik.
Fiber ProviderIncreasing fiber intake has become a goal of health-conscious consumers, and manufacturers have responded by marketing products as being “high in fiber.” The focus on fiber is a result of its role in the digestive process. When fiber is added to the diet, it helps to modify the rate of gastric emptying and influences the absorption of glucose. In short, fiber reduces the glycemic index (GI) of a meal.
Fenugreek extract is a suitable ingredient to consider if a manufacturer wants to create low-calorie foods by increasing the fiber content. It can be added to confections, nutrition bars, baked goods and cereals, and it has hydrocolloid and stabilization properties.
“Fenugreek keeps a drink that has high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) 'steady,' so that the body does not experience the sugar spikes,” says Rodger Jonas, business development manager at a company that specializes in functional ingredients and dietary supplements.
Adding fiber to a product does have its drawbacks, however. A crumbly texture often is an issue with high-fiber products. Flavor impact, moisture absorption, texture and label claims must all be taken into account when a product is enriched with fiber. At high levels, even fenugreek, which tastes similar to maple syrup, can produce a bitter note.
Additionally, manufacturers should be cautious when adding high amounts of fiber to products marketed for Baby Boomers because when the body takes in too much fiber, the body can lose nutrients, warns Jonas. Because fiber reduces fat absorption, it is also possible that it reduces the intake of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. “Even when considering how much fiber the person consumes, it is still hard to determine how much vitamin fortification the consumer is really receiving. It's a double-edged sword,” says Jonas.
Weighting on SatietyWeight loss is another top priority of the Baby Boomer population. “Their basal metabolic rate decreases,” informs Jonas, and a sedentary lifestyle after retirement creates more reason to reduce their calorie intake. It is safe to conclude that Michael Jordan no longer requires the high-energy diet that sent him to six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls.
“Baby Boomers realize that, at their age, weight is important not so much for appearance, but because of how weight affects health,” says Nico Bevers, business development manager for a company that provides value-added dairy ingredients. Many Baby Boomers are looking to fat-free products as a way to control obesity, but fat-free products do not necessarily provide satiety, the feeling of fullness that encourages a person to stop eating. It is the high fat content in ice cream, for example, that provides flavor and texture satiation.
Proteins, fats, oils and complex carbohydrates like fiber can be incorporated to provide satiety using a mechanism within the body called the “ileal break.” The ileal break occurs when undigested nutrients make their way into the distal part of the small intestine, thus signaling the body that it has had enough to eat.
“Normally when you eat fat, enzymes are secreted to break it down,” explains David Jobse, product manager for an ingredient that helps to reduce overeating. The ingredient is made of droplets of an aqueous emulsion composed of palm oil coated with galactolipids derived from oat oil. The oat coating prevents the enzymes from doing their jobs. Eventually, the droplets arrive in the ileum, where the palm oil is released as undigested fat.
The fat profile of this specific emulsion is said to be as healthy as dairy fat, but without the trans fat. “An oil-in-water emulsion of this kind provides a 10%-30% reduction in food intake with only 2g of fat. Afterwards, the 2g of fat is fully digested like normal fat, just a little delayed,” explains Jobse. “It is a normal body mechanism, which is designed to prevent overeating.”
However, this ingredient is not considered a fat replacer, because it will contain 2g/fat per serving and thus cannot be used in a 100% fat-free product, says Bevers. “It can be positioned as a satiety-increasing product that will start to affect hunger three to four hours after consumption. This is a completely different approach, because it has nothing to do with portion size or calories, but with reducing calorie intake at subsequent meals.”
Getting consumers past their hesitancy may prove easy once they have tried the product. Panelists found that 1% of a palm oil-in-oat emulsion tastes creamier and has a fuller mouthfeel than 1% dairy fat. The slight oaty note it contributes can be easily masked in dairy applications.
Muscling the CompetitionAlong with bone loss and weight gain, aging individuals also should be concerned with the loss of muscle mass. “For many older persons, age-associated changes in body composition (i.e., increased body fat and decreased fat-free mass) increase the risk for sarcopenia, the loss of muscle strength and mass,” reports Wayne Campbell, PhD, of the Food and Nutrition Department at Purdue University. Sarcopenia contributes to diminished muscle function and increases the risk of physical frailty and age-related morbidities.
Inadequate dietary protein is one contributing factor that leads to sarcopenia. Whey protein has been touted as a means to achieve weight loss, but Campbell's research suggests it also can be considered an appropriate source of protein to prevent sarcopenia.
Every aging consumer may not be as famous as those celebrities previously mentioned, but the age-related diseases they face have been and will be receiving star treatment. However, each Boomer will be different. “There is a big difference in how some people snack. There are 60-year-olds that look like 40-year-olds, and vice versa. What is normal for one isn't normal for someone else,” observes Jonas. Nevertheless, there are common concerns facing all Boomers, and snack manufacturers know they will be the ones who help find the answers. “The food industry is looked to more and more for the solutions to these issues, because people don't want to take pills, and they would prefer to ensure their health with their diet,” opines Jonas.
Website Resources:www.plthomas.com -- Information about fenugreek
www.dsm.com -- Functional and savory ingredients
www.centerforantiaging.com -- News about healthy aging
www.balchem.com -- Encapsulated and nutritional products
www.innovatewithdairy.com -- Dairy products and nutrition