The global market for nutraceuticals and functional foods is driven by increased awareness among consumers about the health and nutritional benefits of foods for enhancing health and preventing disease. Modern-day consumers are aware of the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle. They seek a wider range of food and beverage choices in the market to help them fulfil some of their health and wellness needs. Growing health care costs are placing a burden on public health funds as people live longer. An aging population with significant disposable income is driving the global market for functional foods and nutraceutical products. Providing the general population with a greater choice of foods that maintain health and well-being is an important preventative strategy that improves quality of life while promoting longevity.
Functional foods are foods that provide benefits beyond energy and basic nutrition. Nutraceuticals are substances that may be a food or part of a food that provide health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of diseases. The addition of nutraceutical ingredients to food in sufficient amounts may inhibit the onset of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, hypertension, and obesity.
There are at least two major categories of functional foods and nutraceuticals. The first includes foods that are naturally rich in nutraceutical components, and the second includes foods formulated with added nutraceutical ingredients in efficacious amounts, often with a health benefit or disease prevention target in mind. The second category of functional foods, those with added nutraceuticals, has captured the interest and imagination of consumers looking for the convenience of eating foods that contain supplement-level doses of health-promoting nutraceuticals. This has been the impetus for the food processing industry’s presence in the functional foods market. The consumption of functional foods with added nutraceuticals is an alternative to dietary supplements in tablet or capsule formats. This review addresses the challenges and solutions to incorporation of nutraceuticals into functional foods.
Challenges for Incorporation of Various Nutraceuticals in Food:
Foods and beverages, especially those that are part of a normal diet, are good delivery vehicles for nutraceuticals. The food industry has a growing interest in developing functional foods as consumers increasingly demand healthier food products. A major consideration for food manufacturers is the provision of nutritious foods that are cost effective, convenient, and appealing to consumers. The proven efficacy of a functional food that is linked to a desired health benefit increases its attractiveness as a complement or alternative to dietary supplements.
Researchers have identified many nutraceuticals since the interest in nutraceutical ingredients and functional foods began more than 20 years ago. However, surprisingly few nutraceuticals have been successfully incorporated as ingredients into functional foods, despite significant research and developmental effort in this area. Many technological, marketing, and regulatory challenges still need to be addressed for functional foods to succeed in the marketplace.
Food Formats for Delivery:
Nutraceutical ingredients may be delivered or added into a solid, semisolid, powder, or liquid food format. Researchers consider various factors when developing the product formulation and processing conditions, depending on the final product format. These include the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the nutraceutical ingredients and their impact on the taste, texture, stability, and acceptability of the final product. Fortified, enhanced, or enriched food and beverage products with added nutraceuticals include enhanced dairy products, fortified cereals and grains, fortified gums, functional beverages, energy drinks, snack bars, confectioneries, and spreads.
Complexities of Nutraceutical Incorporation:
The process of fortification, incorporation, or addition of nutraceuticals into food is complex. Fortification or addition of a new ingredient (including a nutraceutical) to an existing product affects the composition, physicochemical, and sensory properties of the original food and beverage formulation and consequently the taste, texture, and shelf life may be compromised. The type, format, and solubility of the nutraceutical ingredient influence the design of the formulation and processing used for its production. This influences the desired characteristics of the food with the added nutraceuticals. Often, the direct incorporation of nutraceuticals into foods is not possible, as many nutraceuticals are susceptible to degradation and may interact with other components in the food, resulting in loss of the bioactivity of the nutraceutical ingredient and reduction in the quality of the food product. Therefore, the successful incorporation of nutraceuticals into foods requires that they are protected by a well-designed delivery system that is specifically designed for the target food application.
Challenges for Incorporation of Nutraceuticals in Foods:
The requirement to deliver an effective dosage of nutraceuticals for a specific health benefit is a major challenge, as it impacts the taste and aroma of the final product. Other challenges include the need to (a) prevent undesirable interactions of the nutraceutical with the environment and components of the food matrix, (b) limit the degradation of the nutraceutical when it is incorporated under conditions used for food processing, (c) stabilize the nutraceutical during the shelf life of the finished product, and (d) ensure the food containing the nutraceutical provides the intended health benefit after ingestion.
As many bioactives are unstable after they are isolated from their natural food source, there may also be a need to encapsulate the nutraceutical to produce more stable ingredient formats before it is used in the manufacture of formulated functional foods. The development of an encapsulation system for an unstable ingredient cannot be divorced from considerations of its suitability for the end food application and desired health outcome.
The bioavailability of a nutraceutical after ingestion depends on its absorption and in part on the changes that occur to it and the surrounding food matrix during passage through the gastrointestinal tract. The preventive or therapeutic action is affected by its pharmacokinetic properties (i.e., absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion). The chemical structure of a compound influences its rate and level of absorption and the nature of the derivatives or metabolites circulating in the plasma. The absorption affects bioavailability, as it has consequences for how much of the nutraceutical (or its active metabolites) ends up in the circulatory system, becomes available at the site of action, and is distributed into tissues and organs following absorption. However, the rate of the delivery of a nutraceutical can have a significant effect on the health outcome, even when the same dose is provided in different food matrices. In some cases, there could be benefits for some nutraceuticals that escape absorption in the small intestine and make their way to the colon.
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