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Phytochemical POTENTIAL – Brief Article

Phytochemical POTENTIAL – Brief Article – Statistical Data Included

Linda Ohr

At a recent Texas A&M Nutraceutical and Functional Foods Short Course, speeches ran the gamut from the latest research on phytochemicals and novel applications to extraction and separation methods for nutraceuticals.

Current research into phytochemicals found in common foods has uncovered several promising findings: Betaglucan in oats and barley help lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Fructose polymers in cranberries and blueberries help decrease the risk of urinary tract infections. Carotenoids in certain fruits and vegetables help lower the risk of certain types of cancer. Scientists are now looking for ways to apply this knowledge to the ever-growing functional food market.

At the Texas A&M short course held Feb. 20-24, Feral Temelli, professor at the University of Alberta, Canada, discussed barley [beta]-glucan research. Studies have shown that [beta]-glucan can help control blood levels and has a hypocholesterolemic effect. Beyond [beta]-glucan’s therapeutic functions, [beta]-glucan gum provides viscosity, foam and emulsion stabilizing capability, and gelation in food products.

Based on these properties, Temelli listed potential food applications of [beta]-glucan gum, including functional beverages, desserts of foam, gel or emulsion type, soups, sauces and salad dressings. Temelli’s lab recently created a prototype for a [beta]-glucan beverage. Tested by 109 consumer panelists, the prototype found consumer acceptance and was stable over 12 weeks of refrigerated storage.

Mary Ellen Camire, professor in the Dept. of Food Science & Human Nutrition at the University of Maine, discussed the nutritional and functional considerations of blueberries and bilberries. Health benefits of both include better vision due to a strengthening of vessels in the retina, improved diabetes due to the alkaloids maintaining low blood glucose levels, and reduced risk for atherosclerosis, cancer and aging.

Bilberries are mostly used for their beneficial effects on the eyes, diabetes and radiation protection. Applications for blueberries include beverages, candy yogurt and sauces. The Japanese promote using dried blueberries for improving vision of tired eyes. When using blueberries for the anthocyanin content, stability is key. Anthocyanins are colorless at a pH of 4-6 and are reduced by heat, oxygen, ascorbic acid, light and polyphenoloxidase.

Bhimu Patil, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Citrus Center, examined the various carotenoids, flavonoids and pectin found in citrus fruit. Some of these nutraceuticals are specific to certain groups of citrus, he explained. For example, oranges contain lutein, zeaxanthin and hesperidin, while grapefruit contains lycopene and naringin. He pointed out that breeding and pre-harvest factors can enhance the levels of phytochemicals, making them useful in a niche market. Recently, a Japanese company formulated a test product, designated LG1000, in which the concentration of limonoid glucosides in the mandarin orange juice was increased from 200 to 1,000 ppm.

Nutraceuticals originate from sources other than plants. Two speakers discussed omega-3 fatty acids derived from both fish and microalgae. Texas A&M Professor Ronald Richter detailed nutraceuticals such as whey proteins and conjugated linoleic acid derived from milk.

The Economist estimates the U.S. functional food market at $17 billion, the European market at $14 billion, and the Japanese market at $10 billion. As these markets continue to grow, research will strive to uncover additional nutraceuticals and provide scientific validity to their use in products.

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