Products such as Nature’s Way’s (Springville, Utah) Alive! multi-vitamin supplement incorporate a variety of fruit, vegetable, grass and algae powders for an increased range of nutrients.

The whole and "super"? foods movement is building, and it may be just the paradigm shift needed to give direction to the burgeoning functional food market. Today, a new wave of consumers wants to supplement their diets with super foods that are rich in nutritional components such as beneficial phytochemicals, fiber, and antioxidants. According to Jay Levy of Wakunaga of America Co., Ltd., Mission Viejo, Calif. (makers of Kyolic and Kyo-Green), these foods are booming.

"Full-spectrum" foods possess their inherent range of nutrients. They are offered to consumers packaged in a convenient form and may be either a food or supplement. They consist of basic vegetables and fruits that are known to contain solidly-researched phytochemicals, as well as other green foods.

Whole Foods

The fruits and vegetables used in these products not only are generally accepted as nutritious and healthful, but are recognized as sources of interesting phytochemicals. Propelled forward by both a steady stream of published clinical research and the surge of mainstream consumers who are interested in natural health and a diet packed with super nutrition, the extracts and supplements made from time-trusted foods are positioned to be the next wave in supplementation.

Whole food supplements are made from common fruits and vegetables or GRAS botanicals, including apples, broccoli, carrots, artichokes, blueberries, garlic, coffee, and chocolate.1 Dietary supplements positioned as sources of whole foods are currently on the market, but, according to Jeff Wuagneux, of RFI Ingredients, Blauvelt, NY, many large functional food players are looking at these products and trying to formulate food products that feature them.

Wakunaga’s Kyo-Green offers a blend of green foods including young barley and wheat grasses, chlorella, and kelp.

Beyond Vitamins

So, just what components make whole foods new and intriguing? As valuable as their vitamin and mineral content is, their lesser-known nutrients put them on the radar screen of product developers looking for an edge. Here's a few that are attracting the most attention.

Quercetin. Widely distributed in many foods, quercetin is a supplement claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of allergies (as an antihistamine), and to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

Chlorogenic Acid. This compound has been in the news, recently, for its strong antioxidant properties and for its ability to inhibit the N-nitrosating reaction. It is found in artichokes, coffee, pomegranates, and apples. Chlorogenic acid may be good not only for preventing oxidative damage, but also in inhibiting mutagenic and carcinogenic reactions.

Ellagic Acid. This phenolic compound occurs in high levels in red raspberries and is present in pomegranates, strawberries, and walnuts. There have been numerous studies showing it is a potent antioxidant, and an anti-carcinogen, anti-mutagen, and an anti-cancer initiator.

Cynarin. Although cynarin is not yet widely known, it promises to become an important phytochemical. The growing epidemic of Hepatitis C, coupled with elevated levels of alcohol abuse and environmental and lifestyle toxins, should allow this GRAS source of a liver-protecting phytochemical to find a growing market. Silymarin from milk thistle has had a steady following as a supplement for this purpose, however, it does not have GRAS status. Cynarin is found in artichokes, which also contain chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and luteolin.

Phloridzin. Apples could be the flagship of the whole foods movement, as they have long been recognized as a symbol of health. Apples contain phloridzin, which has antioxidant benefits.2 They also benefit cardiovascular health, blood sugar balance, women's health and inhibit cancer. Additionally, apples contain other beneficial phytochemicals including phloretin, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acids, rutin, quercetin, and pectin.

Theobromine. This compound belongs to the same class of chemicals as caffeine, the methylxanthines, but it is reported to have some important differences in activity. New research indicates theobromine has potential as a weight loss stimulant ingredient, or ephedra alternative. It is present in chocolate and coffee, and several chocolate-based ingredients feature theobromine. According to Paul Altaffer, of Nat-trop, San Leandro, Calif., chocolate and coffee not only contain theobromine, but other phytochemicals that should expand in the functional food category.

Carotenoids and Anthocyanins. Whole food supplements are good sources of the "Old Faithfuls,"? carotenoid and anthocyanin antioxidants. Antioxidants are in many of our healthy fruits and vegetables, and the public is increasingly aware of their importance in our diet.

Green Acres

Also called "super foods,"? green foods refer to their green color due to chlorophyll content. They can be broken up into two main categories: the cereals and the micro-algae. The green foods often are promoted as the "original vitamin and mineral supplements" because some were used as dietary supplements in the early 1900's, before synthetically produced and purified vitamins and minerals became available. They often are used today as a kind of alternative multi-vitamin, but with additional antioxidants and beneficial phytochemicals.

Cereals. There are few clinical studies that support or refute the therapeutic use of the cereal super foods, however, they do appear to be good, safe sources of overall nutrition. Popular green cereal ingredients include wheat grass and barley, alfalfa and wild oats, among others.

Alfalfa (meaning "father of all foods") is high in protein (up to 50%), B-vitamins, minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron and potassium). Claims for alfalfa include: detoxification, liver support, joint pain and arthritis, increased energy, cholesterol and blood sugar level reduction, and reduction of menopausal effects. There is not yet much clinical evidence to confirm or deny its actions. Alfalfa also contains saponins and isoflavones (phytoestrogens), which may account for some adaptogenic or stimulant actions on the cardiovascular and nervous systems, and a balancing effect on the hormones.

Common oats that are found on your breakfast table also come from the same plant that is used to make wild oat supplements, Avena sativa, but "wild oats" supplements are usually from the green young plants, not the oats produced during reproduction. Wild oats have been used as a food supplement to decrease cholesterol levels, and for nicotine withdrawal. The clinical evidence for using oats to decrease cholesterol is favorable and its activity is attributed to its soluble fiber content.

Blue Green Algae. The idea behind using blue green, or micro-algae, as a supplement is that it is a whole organism and, therefore, contains a wide spectrum of nutrients, including all the essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.3 In addition, they contain a good amount of chlorophyll and carotenoids, and are high in protein while being low in fat. Spirulina and chlorella seem to be the most popular of the micro-algae green foods, but others are gaining popularity.

Spirulina refers to a genus of blue-green unicellular algae used in food supplements. They are native to salty lakes in Africa, South and Central America, and have been used there since ancient times as a nutritive food. Today, people supplement with spirulina as a general wellness ingredient, or for a specific reason, including losing weight, increasing energy, improving mood, preventing heart disease, preventing colds and flu, boosting the immune system, and inhibiting oral cancer. For this last benefit, there have been some relatively strong studies in spirulina's support.

Quality Assurance Questions

In regards to quality specifications, full-spectrum foods straddle the conventions of the supplement and food industries. Because they are “full-spectrum,� they are not the best candidates for single-ingredient standardization.

In regards to whole foods that contain phytochemicals, standardization common to the herbal industry may be possible. However, assuring quality through good agricultural practices and a solid raw material quality control program should also be important to retain the full-spectrum of healthful ingredients that gives these foods their name.

On the Web: Green Foods