Are Functional Foods Nutrition’s Next Frontier?
These days we’re all looking for ways to be as healthy as we can be. Far beyond just getting in shape for summer, the focus is now on cultivating a lifestyle that genuinely enhances our physical wellbeing and protects our health for the future. With so many of us taking a proactive approach to our health, it’s no surprise that food and nutrition brands of all kinds are focused on creating new and innovative products that boast a wide range of benefits.
The initial effects of this widespread interest have been obvious; it’s hard to miss the increase of protein claims in supermarkets in recent years, with Nielsen reporting statements of ‘high-protein’ on packaging have increased a staggering 175% year-on-year. The next wave of products is set to take this even further though, bridging the gap between nutrition and pharmaceuticals to give us even more power when it comes to proactively managing our wellbeing.
Functional foods and nutraceuticals
They’re popping up everywhere, but what are functional foods? In essence, functional foods are any food product developed around a particular functional ingredient, designed to deliver health benefits thanks to said ingredient. This can take the form of fortified foods, say things like breakfast cereals with added folic acid created for consumption in pregnancy, or food products created as a delivery method for ingredients including plant stanols and sterols, prebiotics or probiotics. These types of products provide health benefits beyond the traditional nutrition function and are predicted to comprise about 60 to 70 per cent of the total functional food market.
Nutraceuticals fall into a slightly more specific subcategory of functional foods, with the core difference being they are supplements that are taken rather than eaten but are still derived from foods and focus on delivering the health benefits of a particular functional ingredient. Essentially, they deliver additional or enhanced benefits over the basic nutritional value and can contribute to a varied and balanced diet and help cultivate a healthy lifestyle.
With the wide range of health claims that can be made about functional foods, it’s understandable that shoppers can sometimes be sceptical. While it’s important to read labels carefully and understand the ingredients in anything we put in our bodies, there is legislation in place, both in terms of advertising and marketing claims and ingredient quality, to protect us from misleading claims. In general, manufacturers will undergo stringent product testing to ensure their products really deliver the benefits they claim, measuring things such as whether the substance is absorbed and reaches its proper site of action, that consumption of the food beneficially influences a physiological function and that this has a real impact on health.
In particular, there is significant and growing evidence that a regular intake of probiotics can positively impact our health. These live microorganisms have traditionally been used for the production of fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. However, the range of available probiotics has come a long way in recent years, as research and public interest in the gut microbiome and probiotics has soared. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is a well-studied bacterium which is added to a variety of foods such as yogurts, cheeses, milk and other dairy products to boost probiotic content. Lactobacillus rhamnosus can also be added to dairy for other reasons, for example it plays a key role in cheese ripening which enhances flavor.
Thanks to new science-backed probiotic strains, there are powders, refrigerated tablets and shelf-stable varieties on offer. New strains of probiotics, such as Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 and Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856, are making more shelf-stable applications possible and resulting in incorporation in pantry staples like granola, oatmeal, nut butters, soups and nutrition bars, according to food trend predictions from Whole Foods Market. Kellogg’s, for example, recently launched a new product called HI! (Happy Inside) that includes prebiotics, probiotics and fibre. HI! offers one billion CFU probiotics, which as a general rule is what a probiotic should provide in a daily dose.
While consuming these foods can be good for our gut, most of the bacteria used during fermentation are not robust enough to survive for long, which is vital in achieving the significant health benefits these amazing organisms are capable of delivering. To sustain consumers' confidence in probiotic food products, manufacturers must make sure that a high survival rate of probiotics is maintained at time of production and in the product’s shelf life.
That’s why we are putting significant research into developing products based on the specific bacterial strains that have been shown to survive well in the gut, such as the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, finding ways to truly capitalise on the very real potential of helpful friendly bacteria. OptiBiotix CholBiome®X3 nutraceutical food supplement, for example, has been developed by experts in microbiome science to offer a natural solution that helps reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. CholBiome®X3 combines three key natural ingredients - OptiBiotix patented LPLDLÒ probiotic, Vitamin B3 and red yeast rice rich in Monacolin K as a tri-factor solution that helps to reduce cholesterol levels, promote heart wellness and reduce blood pressure. Taken once a day, its basis in probiotics also provides the added benefit of a more diverse microbiome, leading to a healthier gut.
We don’t just offer and develop probiotic products, we are also involved in the development of prebiotic products too, with our patented award-winning weight management ingredient, SlimBiome®. The ingredient modulates the human microbiome with a patented matrix of natural ingredients. This includes prebiotics, identified and developed by leading specialists in metabolism and nutrition to lower food cravings while helping to burn calories and reduce body weight. You may have also seen that we launched SlimBiome® as a CE marked medical device called SlimBiome® Medical. Available in boxes of 30 single dose sachets, the supplement offers a healthy, hunger-free weight management solution designed for use by itself, or as part of a calorie-restricted diet, to reduce hunger and help users achieve sustainable weight loss. Consumed 30 minutes ahead of a main meal as part of a daily routine to aid slimming, SlimBiome® Medical also supports a diverse microbiome due to its high dietary and prebiotic fibre content.
Functional foods are the next frontier in nutrition, tapping into our deepening desire to proactively take care of our health. Harnessing the power of natural substances like probiotics and prebiotics offers huge potential to improve our wellbeing and ensure we establish a healthy lifestyle that will last for years to come.
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