With increased understanding of the interactions of nutrition and genetics, new trends and technologies may evolve.

The Function of Functional Foods

Functional foods may typically increase energy, optimize mental capacity, optimize wellness and prevent disease. However, camouflaging the functional ingredients is important, as many ingredients adversely affect taste, texture and flavor. Functional ingredients may be phytochemicals, zoonutrients, fungochemicals or bacteriochemicals.

Some common examples of functional ingredients are vitamins—organic substances essential in minute quantities in the regulation of metabolic processes that do not provide energy or serve as building units. However, lack of a vitamin results in overt deficiency symptoms. Phytochemicals, on the other hand, are chemicals from plants that may affect health, but are not essential nutrients. Examples of phytochemicals include fiber, carotenoids, organosulfur compounds, phenolic compounds and phytosterols. Functional food ingredients may come in many forms, such as raw chemicals, derivative salts or chelates, ground botanical powders or standardized extracts.

Functional food ingredients may also be natural or synthetically produced. As the basic chemistry of a functional food ingredient can affect the structure or function of the body and affect claims made, it is important to choose the right source or form of the ingredient. Vitamin E is an example of a functional food ingredient that is available in many forms, such as the natural d-alpha-tocopherol, or the various synthetic stereoisomers, of which there are eight.

Although 80% of Americans say that eating a balanced diet is important, only 20% actually do eat a balanced diet (according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition). According to the USDA, vitamins A, C and E, plus calcium and magnesium intakes are especially low in the American diet.

Beyond this basic nutritional understanding of the benefits we can gain from fortification of nutrients in our foods, our understanding of the role of foods and how they affect health and disease is greatly evolving. CoQ10, D-ribose and L-carnitine are all examples of functional ingredients that have demonstrated efficacy in improving cardiac disease. Additionally, the portfolio diet has made headlines for its possible role in improving cardiovascular health and, as a result, prognosis. Beyond understanding how nutrients affect health conditions, scientists are starting to see the effect of nutrients in gene expression, which is predicted to give insight into individual variation between eating behavior and health outcome.

The functional foods are part of the health and wellness industry, today estimated to be a $68 billion industry (according to the Natural Marketing Institute), including such products as functional foods and beverages, organic foods, dietary supplements and personal care products. In the past, foods were mostly thought of in terms of their general dietary value. Today, foods have gone beyond the dietary value and are prized more for what they contribute to our health. In the future, it is estimated that our relationship with our diet will evolve into a sort of personalized nutrition, characterized by a greater understanding of molecular nutrition, biomarkers in foods, home test kits and Internet dieticians. The role of nutrition is forecasted to take on a more community-oriented aspect. Consumer insight surveys forecast that 33% of consumers may be collecting and acting on nutrigenomic information by 2010. We will have a greater understanding of how nutrients affect our DNA, how foods affect populations and be more concerned about diet as primary prevention of disease.

“The Function of Functional Foods,” Hugh Lippman, PhD, Seltzer Nutritional Technologies, hugh@seltzernutritionaltech.com

One green tea catechin, EGCG, helps to prevent the death of heart muscle cells due to ischemia. It prevents certain inflammation-related compounds from causing oxidative damage that kills heart cells

Health Benefits of Green Tea Catechins

As Americans age and look to foods to resolve some of their health problems, Greg Horn, senior director, technology and innovation at Wild Flavors, commented on some of the challenges in the industry in his presentation titled “Health Benefits of Green Tea Catechins.” He quoted Kevin Scott of Kraft Foods as saying, “Health and wellness is the largest issue facing the food industry today.” To this end, green tea has received widespread attention due to its many health properties.

Like all teas, green tea comes from Camellia sinensis, but green tea is the least processed of all teas, typically undergoing only hot air drying and brief steaming (to prevent color change). Green tea also has the highest antioxidant level of all the processed tea forms. Next to water, green tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world. Its health benefits include cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, liver health and brain health. In addition, green tea can help promote fat loss, increase exercise endurance and is thermogenic. In fact, green tea benefits five of the top 10 health concerns in the U.S., reported by “HealthFocus Trend Report,” including cancer, cardiovascular disease, tiredness/lack of energy, high cholesterol and hypertension.

The main active ingredients from green tea are caffeine, theanine (an amino acid) and the polyphenols. Among the polyphenols, especially important are the green tea catechins: catechin (C), gallocatechin (GC), epicatechin (EC), epicatechin gallate (ECG), epigallocatechin (EGC) and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).

Drinking five or more cups of green tea daily has been found to cause a 16% reduction of risk of coronary heart disease. One explanation of its mechanism of action is that the green tea catechins inhibit enzymes involved in free radical formation in the endothelial lining of the arteries. Green tea is also known to thin the blood and help prevent blood clots. The formation of pro-inflammatory compounds (derived from omega-6 fatty acids) that cause platelets to clump together is prevented by green tea.

One of the green tea catechins, EGCG, can help prevent the death of heart muscle cells following an acute cardiovascular event (ischemia) by blocking the activation of inflammation-related compounds that play a critical role in promoting oxidative damage that kills heart cells. Green tea also lowers cholesterol, as its catechins help break down cholesterol and increase its elimination through the bowels. Green tea lowers blood pressure and helps hypertension—in fact, among those consuming more than two and a half cups daily, the risk of developing high blood pressure is 65% less.

Green tea has also been found to fight cancer in the same way as some cancer drugs. Specifically, EGCG inhibits the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase, which cancer cells need to grow. Additionally, green tea may improve the efficacy of cancer drugs. Green tea polyphenols have been shown to cause drug-resistant cancer cells to retain the cancer drug doxorubicin. Additionally, theanine from green tea has been found to reduce the negative side effects of doxorubicin by increasing the internally produced antioxidant, glutathione.

Green tea has been clinically shown effective against different types of cancer such as prostate, ovarian, lung and skin cancers. EGCG not only inhibits the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), but also the polyphenols in green tea help prevent the spread of prostate cancer by mobilizing molecular pathways that shut down the proliferation of tumor cells. Drinking one cup or more of green tea daily lowered the risk of death among patients with ovarian cancer by 56%. EGCG also has been shown to suppress the growth of ovarian cancer cells and to induce apoptosis in cancer cells by affecting various genes and proteins. Green tea has been shown to affect lung cancer by increasing the cellular triggers for apoptosis in abnormal cells, as well as decreasing the DNA damage from smoking cigarettes. Green tea consumption significantly reduces the effect of radiation and chemical-induced skin cancer.

Another one of the biggest health concerns facing Americans is weight control, with a reported 66% of adults who are overweight or obese and 71% of Americans who say that maintaining weight is important. Green tea promotes loss of visceral fat (those areas lining the abdominal cavity), which is associated with increased risk of metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. There are several mechanisms by which scientists believe green tea is able to do this: by inhibiting gastric and pancreatic lipase (the enzymes that digest fats), inhibiting fatty acid synthetase (an enzyme that enables fatty acids to be stored in the body) and by increasing thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure (having a synergistic effect with caffeine and inhibiting the degradation of noradrenalin, a strong inducer of fat oxidation). Green tea has been shown clinically to result in a 4.6% average weight loss.

“Health Benefits of Green Tea Catechins,” Greg Horn, Wild Flavors, ghorn@wildflavors.com