A utopian goal for most societies is that their citizens live long in health and peace, and that their children enjoy the same prospects. The achievement of such an idyllic existence depends on many factors, not the least of which is a well-crafted food supply.

Demographic data and other studies point to the importance of whole foods--grains, fruits, vegetables and judicious protein choices--to help avoid the ravages of cardiovascular disease, cancer and a multitude of other illnesses that plague mankind. However, convenience, taste and even economics lead consumers to choose diets of prepared foods, enhanced with supplements, to meet their dietary and medicinal needs. In response, researchers strive to identify individual healthful compounds that can be added to diets, and companies work to identify compounds--backed by sound science--that will attract customers.

Catering to Cardiovascular

According to a 2003 survey by HealthFocus International (St. Petersburg, Fla.), cardiovascular disease is one of consumers' top three health concerns--not only in the U.S.--but also in regions from India and China to France and the U.K. to Latin America.

Food and dietary supplement companies recognize this. In the 2004 Prepared Foods R&D Trends: Functional Foods and Beverages Survey, marketers and those in R&D ranked cardiovascular health at the top of a list of ingredients and health conditions offering a business opportunity.

In 2004, Mintel International's Global New Products Database (GNPD, Chicago) logged 334 new product records from around the world that referenced cardiovascular and/or heart health. (See chart "Helping Heart Health.") While dietary supplement products frequently use the term "cardiovascular"? to describe their health benefits, foods rarely do so, instead preferring the more simple term "heart health."

Most functional foods offering heart health benefits do so based on being reduced in or free from deleterious components (such as fat), being a healthier alternative (olive oil rather than a hydrogenated margarine) and/or being composed of healthful components (e.g., with fruits, nuts and whole grains). However, some also are formulated with specific extracts or other beneficial compounds.

In the U.S., FDA-allowed health claims heavily guide food manufacturers. As a result, whole grains, dietary fiber, fruit ingredients and soy protein often are the basis on which foods make heart health references. Some supplements base their benefits--in part--on these components as well, such as PhytoCeutical Formulations' (New Orleans) OptiPro S with a "specially formulated blend of soy proteins," and Nature Made Nutritional Products' (Mission Hills, Calif.) B Heart Health supplements. The latter contains a blend of phytonutrients from a variety of fruit (berry) extracts as well as green tea leaf and grape seed. Vitamins B-6, B-12 and folate round out this product's ingredient list.

The use of folic acid (which lowers levels of undesirable homocysteine) in other dietary supplements such as Royal Numico N.V.'s General Nutrition Centers (Pittsburgh) GNC B-12 tablets and Atkins Nutritionals' (Hauppauge, N.Y.) Cardio-Folin with CoQ10 (which also contains folic acid and B vitamins) serve as a testament of how the supplement industry often is one step ahead of a more conservative food industry in regards to tracking and acting on clinical research that supports specific ingredients. The GNPD does not yet list a North American-introduced food claiming heart health benefits based on homocysteine reduction.

Other popular heart-helpful ingredients include co-enzyme Q10, which is found in products such as Rexall Sundown's (Boca Raton, Fla.) CoQ-10 Plus L-Carnitine Dietary Supplement and Twinlabs' (Hauppauge, N.Y.) Twinsorb CoQ10, as well as omega fatty acids and vitamin E. Omega fatty acids and vitamin E also are promoted in a large number of heart-healthy foods. However, while research (and at least one FDA claim) gives a thumbs-up to a bright future for omega-3s, the meta-analysis study on vitamin E by a John Hopkins University (Baltimore) researcher will cause some marketers to pull this component from supplements positioned for cardiovascular health.

Conquering Cancer

The HealthFocus International study shows cancer concerns are nearly as widespread among consumers as cardiovascular health. However, foods and supplements positioning themselves as reducing the risk of cancer are very rare.

Using the term "cancer"? to search the GNPD for U.S. consumable products introduced in 2004 that link an ingredient's benefits to cancer risk-reduction, only four products appear. Reasons why so few make the disease connection--compared to heart disease--are that the FDA allows few claims in regards to cancer risk reduction, and the term itself is far from consumer-friendly. Two companies making the association include Maximum International's (Deerfield Beach, Fla.) Aspen Naturally Lycopene Dietary Supplement that notes, "Lycopene is an antioxidant that protects the body against free radical damage. It also supports prostate health and protects against some forms of cancer." Laguna Tuna's (San Francisco) Fresh Seafood Pasta Sauces claim: "Each jar is said to have plenty of heart-healthy lycopene and cancer-fighting omega-3s because of its seafood ingredient properties." If the GNPD search is extended back to 1999 to include all global products, over 100 products making cancer-fighting type claims can be found. Beneficial components frequently mentioned include polyphenols (often contained in wine, grape seed, juice and cocoa); other antioxidants including those in green and white tea and blueberries; soybean-derived ingredients (isoflavones, soy protein); various dietary fibers including chitosan; certain mushrooms; beta-carotene, lycopene as well as carotenoids in general (including those in pink grapefruit); and, finally, Korean ginseng.

Antioxidants to Anti-inflammatories

Communicating an ingredient's health benefits is an ongoing challenge to functional food and supplement marketers alike. The food industry is becoming more comfortable that mainstream consumers recognize the term "antioxidant" and perceive it to be a positive attribute. A plethora of compounds--both synthetic and natural--can function as part of antioxidant systems (inside or outside the body) to squelch potentially disease-causing free radicals.

The reputation of green (and increasingly white) tea continues to grow as a source of potent antioxidants. For example, Ferolito Vultaggio & Sons (Lake Success, N.Y.) introduced a Pomegranate Green Tea for its AriZona line that has "an antioxidant immune formula,"? and Hain-Celestial Group (Uniondale, N.Y.) introduced three extensions to its Rooibos Tea line that include Moroccan Pomegranate Red, Red Safari Spice and Madagascar Vanilla Red, noting that "Rooibos tea is high in health-enhancing antioxidants." Other compounds, positioned in part for their antioxidant capabilities, include grape seed extract, glutathione, carotenoids, and a range of fruit extracts (among others). For example, Wakunaga of America (Mission Viejo, Calif.) introduced Formula 105 Detox & Anti-Aging under the Kyolic brand. The dietary supplement is to provide "antioxidant intervention by reducing free radical toxicity, and it may delay or completely get rid of signs of aging." It contains aged garlic extract, beta-carotene, vitamin E and C, selenium, green tea, milk thistle, L-glutathione, pine bark and grape seed.

As interest in the low-carb category settles, trend-watchers have turned an eye toward one contender for the trendiest health product characteristic--foods with a low-glycemic index. Such products do not peak insulin levels, which, in turn, assists in control of tissue inflammation. Scientists increasingly believe inflammation is related to many Western diseases such as cardiovascular, arthritis, Alzheimer's and Type II diabetes.

Microalgae-derived astaxanthin, pine bark extract taken from Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris), as well as glucosamine and omega-3, appeared in 2004 press releases that touted their anti-inflammatory ability. So, too, did vitamin C and alpha-linolenic acid from walnuts, walnut oil and flaxseed oil, which, research indicates, could reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.

Several dietary supplements sporting anti-inflammatory claims were introduced in 2004. They included Life Extension's (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Arthro Pro System Dietary Supplement, formulated "to offer dual inflammatory pathway blockade" with one compound that inhibits 5-Lox and a second ingredient to inhibit COX-2; and Bluebonnet Nutrition's (Sugarland, Texas) Joint Formula, "a high EPA product which can potentially address the anti-inflammatory needs for those suffering from joint health issues. The only anti-inflammatory food item found on the GNPD database is Zimbo's (Bochum, Germany) Fit For Fun Brokkoli-Lauch (Broccoli-Leek) Sliced Sausage, in which the ham sausage is made from turkey meat with peanuts, and wood garlic and selected herbs. "It is said that wood garlic has an anti-inflammatory effect, prevents vascular diseases, purifies the body and stimulates the metabolism."

Figuring Out the Future

Beyond inflammation-controlling components, other trends that bear watching include probiotics and the impact of parental diets on children's health. For example, a recently released study by University of California-Berkley researchers indicates that women with pre-pregnancy diets rich in carotenoid-containing vegetables, fruit and protein (the latter's health benefits possibly based on glutathione) may lower the risk of having a child who develops leukemia.

There will be a slow but steady movement of certain components popular in dietary supplements into the food industry. Lutein-, grape seed extract-, lycopene- and omega-3-containing ingredients have led the way. Other food-derived components to bet on include whey fractions with high levels of glycomacropeptides or glutathione and plant-derived extracts of various purities such as sulphoraphane or AITC. AITC is derived from sinigrin, a chemical compound found in brassica vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage and horseradish) that Institute of Food Research (Norwich, U.K.) scientists are investigating (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/ health/3700433.stm). Also keep an eye on L-carnitine, chromium picolinate, glucosamine, co-enzyme Q10, and other highly popular supplements with a significant industry push, and that assist with health conditions such as obesity or aging (e.g., arthritis and dementia). NS

Much of the information in this article was derived from Mintel International's Global New Products Database, www.gnpd.com, 312-932-0400.

On the Web: Ingredients for Health


  • www.NutraSolutions.com -- Type "functional futures"? into the LINX keyword search field for result of the 2004 PF R&D Trends: Functional Foods & Beverages Survey. Type "antioxidant" into the LINX keyword search field for references to antioxidants and health




  • www.PreparedFoods.com -- Type "buying into bioactives"? into the LINX keyword search field for the 2004 new product trends article; type in "delivering heart health"? to reference FDA claims in regards to cardiovascular health

    Sidebar 2: Going Global

    Noting functional foods and dietary supplements in other parts of the world provides clues to trends to watch for the U.S. and Canada. For example, prebiotic-containing products, now making a beachhead in North America, long have been popular in the rest of the world. Most are dairy-based, primarily yogurt. Other examples introduced in 2004 include Iper's (Milano, Italy) Formaggio Fresco Spalmabile con Probiotici Cheese with lactobacillus and bifidobacterium and Kanro's (Tokyo) Live Lactic Acid Bacteria Yogurt Soft Candy.

    In another example, fortification has declined in most segments except for soft drinks and dairy, says David Jago, director, GNPD Consulting Services (London). However, fortified waters, juices and carbonated drinks are at the forefront of worldwide beverage growth, with energy drinks forming the largest share of fortified beverages, followed closely by fortified juices. Jago notes that trends often emerge first in the soft drinks market. The dairy category also may become an area to watch. Japan's food industry has a history of creativity with product ideas being picked up elsewhere. The concept of the "little bottle" or daily dose of a food, popular in Japan, may expand, he adds. One example is Valio's (Seinäjoki, Finland) Evolus Tehojuoma Mets marja daily dose functional "milk"? drink with bioactive peptides in 100ml Tetra Top carton bottles containing "the exact daily requirement of the active ingredient," as well as added folic acid, B6 and B12, and seaweed-derived calcium. It claims to control blood pressure.

    However, unique factors also come into play that may make an ingredient more popular in one country than another. For example, VGZ, a Dutch health insurer with some 2.1 million customers, announced its policyholders could claim up to 40 euros ($54.41) a year in refunds it they purchased cholesterol-lowering Becel branded margarine, yogurt and milk products, which are made by Anglo-Dutch consumer products group Unilever NV/Plc. The products contain vegetable sterols. VGZ says this was the first time an insurance company would be subsidizing food, saying it hoped to cut drug and hospital costs. One CNN website may have found this amusing, according to its web address: http://money.cnn. com/2005/01/05/news/funny/margarine.reut/.