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Health versus wealth: balancing the needs of consumer and producer

1st April 2013


Recent innovations on the market definitely favour the health of the consumer rather than acting as a new product simply to maintain the producer’s market share.

One rich source of research is milk, which Finnish-based company Valio points out is an ample source of functional, healthy components. It is packed with nutrients just as it is. But degrading it into its constituent parts: fat, lactose, proteins and minerals, opens up brand new opportunities for new products.

Milk proteins are much more than just a source of necessary amino acids and nitrogen, it says. Milk contains more than 60 enzymes and other biologically active proteins that have a positive effect on health. Milk proteins such as casein and whey proteins can be degraded, fermented, isolated and concentrated using a range of techniques.

Valio has also been researching probiotics, dietary supplements containing potentially beneficial bacteria. Probiotic bacterial cultures are intended to change the balance of bacterial species in the digestive tract in favour of beneficial types such as lactobacillus, as found in yoghurt. Claims are made that probiotics strengthen the immune system.

They work because human bodies contain a miniature ecology of microbes. This can be damaged and thrown out of balance by a wide range of circumstances including the use of antibiotics, use of other drugs, excess alcohol, stress, disease, exposure to toxins, or even the use of antibacterial soap. When this happens, the bacteria that work well with our bodies decrease in number.

The introduction of probiotics theoretically provides a larger number of symbiotic bacteria to reinstate the natural flora and

re-establish the body’s healthy ecology.

This not only aids digestion and boosts the immune system but also prevents constipation, reduces insomnia and is believed to have beneficial impacts on stress related illnesses. It may also help to reduce the risks of colorectal cancer.

The results of this research has led to Valio’s partner in China, Yili Group, launching a plain sweetened yoghurt containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG). Yili LGG yoghurt is available in a range of packages and fruit varieties will follow.

Yili is the largest dairy company in China. Turnover in 2005 was approximately E1.2bn. Mainland China is probably the world's fastest developing yoghurt market with 40 per cent growth in 2005.

Bacterial development

LGG is a bacteria strain that was isolated from humans in the early 1980s by Drs Sherwood Gorbach and Barry Goldin and is named after the first letter of their family names.

It tolerates the acid conditions in the stomach and the bile acids in the small intestine. Unlike most other probiotics, Lactobacillus GG is able to survive the passage through the gastrointestinal tract to effectively colonise the digestive tract and balance the intestinal microflora.

Lactobacillus is a genus of gram-positive facultative bacteria and a major part of the Lactic acid bacteria group, named as such because most of its members convert lactose and other monosaccharides to lactic acid. They are common and usually benign inhabitants of humans and other animals.

Species are used industrially for the production of other fermented foods such as sauerkraut and pickles. Sourdough bread is made using a starter culture which is a symbiotic culture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria growing in a water and flour medium.

Valio licenses its patented probiotic bacterium LGG, as well as its Evolus technology to lower blood pressure, and the technology for producing lactose-free milk products. It says LGG Lactobacillus is the world’s best researched probiotic strain with more than 300 studies published.

Evolus fermented milk drink reduces blood pressure, an effect based on bioactive peptides from milk protein. Peptides are generated when L. helveticus bacterium decomposes casein. Fermentation is a normal dairy process and the L. helveticus bacterium is generally used in cheese-making.

The company says information on the health benefits of lactic acid bacteria was scattered until the 1980s. There had been no systematic research to scientific standards. Then it started a comprehensive research programme and product awareness has risen since.


Tomato benefits

Clinical research conducted at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, shows that Lyc-O-Mato tomato lycopene complex, a tomato extract, reduces blood pressure in patients with mild to moderate hypertension.

In a random double blind, placebo controlled crossover trial the University evaluated the effect of tomato extract on blood pressure, endothelial function and plasma lycopene levels in grade I hypertensive patients. A daily intake of Lyc-O-Mato in soft gel capsules was linked to a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure after eight weeks of supplementation of a normal diet. This new research helps confirm earlier studies.

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant abundant in red tomatoes and processed tomato products. It is a terpene assembled from 8 isoprene units. Terpenes are a large and varied class of hydrocarbons produced primarily by a wide variety of plants.

Dr Ester Paran, lead scientist, says: “The results of this study are particularly important because our subjects had previously been unsuccessful at lowering their blood pressure using one or two drug methods. We attribute the reduction in blood pressure to the antioxidant activity of the tomato extract and the increase in nitric oxide. Eating a diet rich in tomato products and other antioxidant-containing fruits and vegetables is certainly a smart move, but, a person would need to consume about five tomatoes to get the nutrients that are contained in one tomato extract capsule.”

Earlier research has also showed that the carbohydrate-rich pizza could be associated with a reduced risk of cancer due to its tomato content.

Researchers at the Mario Negri Institute in Milan found that in a study of 8000 Italians, regular pizza eaters were 59percent less likely to contract cancer of the oesophagus, and 26percent less likely to get cancer of the colon.

Heart disease

A spokesman said: “We knew that tomato sauce was protective against certain tumours, but we certainly didn’t expect that pizza as a whole would provide such strong protection.”

And a high intake of lycopene may also be protective against heart disease, suggests the study, the first to investigate association of lycopene levels and cardiovascular disease exclusively in women.

Women who consumed seven servings or more of tomato-based foods like tomato sauce and pizza each week, reduced their risk of heart disease by nearly 30percent compared with the group with intakes of less than one and a half servings per week. Women who ate more than 10 servings per week had an even more pronounced reduction in risk, 65percent, for specific cardiovascular disease outcomes such as heart attack or stroke.

While not statistically significant, the strongest association of dietary lycopene with heart disease protection was seen among those participants with a median dietary lycopene intake of 20.2mg per day. These had a 33percent reduction in risk of the disease when compared with women with the lowest dietary lycopene intake, 3.3mg/day.

The findings add to a growing body of research linking lycopene to lower risk of heart disease. The antioxidant has also been shown to improve other risk factors for the condition, such as reducing the marker

C-reactive protein in the blood.

Super fruits

Some new food items coming on to the market needed research not to produce them but to find them. This has revealed products that have been in existence for hundreds of years but which are new to consumers. These are the super fruits such as pomegranate, mangosteen, acai and noni, which are all being marketed on their antioxidant content and associated health benefits.

There has been increasing popularity of berries and berry flavours in recent years and this could have a knock-on effect into other sectors. Market researcher Datamonitor recently said that, in per cent per cent for the European organic food industry between 2001 and 2004. The US market looks to be following suit.

Market intelligence database company Innova says that berry flavours have been popular for a number of years, with initial interest in summer fruits, such as strawberries and raspberries. This has gradually given way to fruits marketed more strongly on a health platform, such as cranberries and blueberries.

The company also said that more exotic and less well-known fruits are starting to come to the fore, with over 100 product launches containing pomegranate tracked over the year, for example.

Scientific research to date has centred on the antioxidant and related heart-health properties of pomegranate.

Another new star on the super fruit horizon is acai, a purple berry from Brazil. It claims a long list of benefits, including greater energy and stamina, improved digestion, better mental focus and improved sleep.

Asia’s so-called queen of fruits, the mangosteen, is also seeing activity in the form of drinks, moving from network marketing to traditional health food distribution in the US, and from there perhaps to the mainstream market. Meanwhile, noni, a tropical fruit found primarily in the South Pacific and traditionally used by Tahitians for its health benefits, is also one to watch.

Netherlands-based Innova is primarily an online new product development tracker using a network of international field researchers to report on new food and drink launches from around the world. It also provides in-depth analysis on new products and trends.





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