Vitamin A (retinol and its esters) is a fat-soluble vitamin, with a recommended daily value of 5,000IU, which is equivalent to 2.8mg of vitamin A palmitate. Carotenoids are also a source of vitamin A, with varying activities. Beta-carotene provides 5,000IU vitamin A in 3mg; and apo-carotenal provides 5,000IU in 4.2mg.

FDA provided guidance on nutrient content claims for antioxidants in July 2008, stating that the claims can only be made if the nutrients have an established reference daily intake (RDI), in addition to scientifically recognized antioxidant activity. Just as in other nutrient content claims, “high in antioxidants” can be claimed, if there is 20% or more of the RDI per serving. “Good source” can be claimed with 10-19% of the RDI per serving. “High potency” may be used to describe individual vitamins or minerals that are present at 100% or more of the RDI. Vitamins A, E and C are recognized vitamins that can be claimed as antioxidants, according to this guidance.

There are recommended upper level daily intakes for vitamin A and beta-carotene. The U.S. Food and Nutrition Board recommends no more than 10,000IU of vitamin A daily, while the Council for Responsible Nutrition recommends no more than 25mg beta-carotene daily for non-smokers.

The nutritional functions of vitamin A include vision and cell differentiation. As an ingredient in food, beta-carotene is used as a colorant, but it also contributes vitamin A activity as “pro-vitamin A,” an antioxidant that supports immune function and cardiovascular health. Apo-carotenal is also used in foods for color (primarily for processed cheese) and has a high pro-vitamin A activity level.

John Foley, technical service manager, Food & Beverage Applications, BASF Corporation, explained, “The factors negatively affecting the stability of vitamin A in foods are solubility, density, heat, pH, oxygen, light, interactions, transition metals and packaging,” during his speech, “Coloring Foods with Beta-carotene and Using Vitamin A to Make Products Healthier.” He continued, “Countermeasures can be taken, such as using antioxidants, protection from light, removal of oxygen, EDTA, citrate, encapsulation, emulsification and solubilization.”

Commercial products are available as oily suspensions or solutions of U.S. Pharmacopeia products suitable for foods with high oil content (oil-soluble). Additionally, liquid mixtures of vitamins with a surfactant or stabilizing hydrocolloid (called emulsions and solubilizates) are occasionally used in beverages, since they are water-dispersible. Microencapsulated products are water-dispersible powders with increased stability and a wide range of uses, including fortification and coloration of soups, baked goods and beverages.

Beta-carotene powders or emulsions, at either 1 or 10%, give yellow color and allow for a vitamin A claim. Red-type beta-carotene products are new to the marketplace and allow a much wider range of possible colors. For salad dressings, beta-carotene 22% heat-stabilized or 30% suspension for oily products works well. The addition of vitamin C to the aqueous phase can improve stability. A shelflife study of a soft drink with 4mg beta-carotene per liter was also enhanced with 200mg vitamin C per liter to extend the shelflife of beta-carotene. After 150 days of shelflife, the beta-carotene retention was 100%. Whenever beta-carotene is used in beverages, it is recommended that ascorbic acid be added to protect the decolorization of beta-carotene by oxygen. The wide variety of beta-carotene and vitamin A products offers the food processor a product suitable for most applications in foods and beverages.

“Coloring Foods with Beta-carotene and Using Vitamin A to Make Products Healthier,” John Foley, technical service manager, Food & Beverage Applications, BASF Corporation,,
--Summary by Elizabeth Mannie, Contributing Editor

Health Benefits of Natural Colors
Color additives are convenient to correct for natural variations in the actual color of foods or beverages and for changes during processing and storage. Color impacts the perception of foods, with intense colors evoking stronger tastes and odors. In a presentation titled, “Health Benefits of Natural Colors,” Greg Horn, senior director, Technology and Innovation, WILD Flavors Inc., explained, “The reason that color is important is the fact that ‘we eat with our eyes.’” The human eye can see millions of colors. Color added to foods or beverages enhances visual appeal and helps emphasize or identify flavors normally associated with various foods and beverages.

Natural colors are typically comprised of anthocyanins, which are red pigments belonging to the flavonoids group. Beet juice, turmeric, carotenoids and chlorophyll also provide color to foods. Anthocyanins are derived from grape skin extract, purple potato, grape juice, aronia, red cabbage, elderberry, and black, purple and red carrots. These colors also are rich in other polyphenols or flavanoids.

Polyphenols are excellent, oxygen free-radical scavengers that block oxidative processes. They may prevent or delay the onset of major degenerative diseases of aging, including cancer, coronary heart disease and cognitive dysfunction. Anthocyanins have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and reduce platelet coagulation, as seen in the French paradox, where it is thought that red wine consumption decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Anthocyanins as red pigments provide hues from pink, red, bluish purple and purple, depending on concentration, pH and the source. They are typically used at pH levels of 2.0-4.0 and have good heat and light stability, but, in this case, are negatively impacted by vitamin C.

The main carotenoids used in food and beverages are beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, annatto and paprika. Beta-carotene is a safe source of vitamin A, as it is converted to vitamin A only as the body needs it. Lycopene, a nutraceutical that provides red color, is the most efficient single oxygen scavenger of all carotenoids, reducing the effects of oxidative stress, the main culprit in aging, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Lutein and zeaxanthin, healthy ingredients yielding a yellow color, are derived from marigold flowers and dark green, leafy vegetables. They have applications in pastas, vegetable oils, margarine, baked goods, confectionery, citrus juices, ice cream, yogurts and mustard. Effective in eye, skin and heart health, these carotenoids have been shown to help prevent age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the elderly.

Annatto seeds are used in traditional medicine in South America to promote the healing of wounds and to treat diarrhea and asthma. Bixin, the main pigment in annatto, protects against certain cancers, inhibits oxidation and protects cell membranes. Paprika contains capsaicin, which spurs anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that may lower cancer risk and improve circulation and perhaps even increase the body’s heat production, thereby burning fats and carbohydrates.

Beets may also be a source of cancer prevention. Betanin, the pigment in beets, has been shown to reduce lung tumors in animal studies by 60% and to reduce skin tumors in rats. Turmeric has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, is anti-carcinogenic, fights autoimmune diseases and may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

When applying natural colors, considerations include heat, light, oxygen, pH, cations, oxidizers and reducing agents. During formulation, it is best to add the color before the flavors, because of the taste impact colors can have. Not all colors are compatible together, and regulations must also be

“Health Benefits of Natural Colors,” Greg Horn, senior director, Technology and Innovation, WILD Flavors Inc.,,
--Summary by Elizabeth Mannie, Contributing Editor