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Don't forget! Carbohydrates can be functional ingredients too!

Consumer awareness about functional foods was recently studied by the Washington-based International Food Information Council (IFIC) in the US. They commissioned Cogent Research of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to conduct a quantitative study of American consumers' attitudes, awareness and interest in functional foods. Between 10-24 April, 2007, 1000 adults aged 18 years and older were randomly selected to participate in a 20-minute Internet-based survey. Questions were either open-ended or participants were prompted and asked to rate specific responses. Data was weighted by education, age and ethnicity to allow the findings to be representative of the American population. In October 2007, the IFIC published its findings from the study it commissioned. (1)

The majority of US consumers remain confident that they have a "great amount" of control over their own health and also believe that "food and nutrition play a great role" in maintaining or improving overall health. (1) Heart-related and circulatory conditions, including general heart health, blood pressure, stroke and high cholesterol remain the top health concerns of consumers. More than half of all Americans cite heart disease as their top health concern. Although other health issues continue to be consistently less of a concern, nutrition/diet has increased in importance. (1)

Consumers were asked to report specific dietary changes they had made during the past year to improve or maintain their overall health. These changes were categorized as either additions or reductions to the diet. Americans continue to focus on removing foods or food components from the diet, with about half the respondents reporting changes that involve reductions, including trying to consume less fat, reducing calorie intake and eating less sugar. By contrast, only about one in four consumers reported changes that involve adding more healthy foods to the diet, including eating more vegetables, fruits, grains, getting more fibre and drinking more water. When asked about their belief in functional foods, the vast majority of consumers agreed that certain foods have health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition and may reduce the risk of disease or other health concerns. (1) Table I lists the top health concerns highlighted by the study.

Similar to earlier studies, nine out of ten Americans are able, on an unaided basis, to name a specific food or component and its associated health benefit. The top "functional foods" named by consumers in the 2007 quantitative survey were fruits and vegetables (general), fish, fish oil, seafood, milk, whole grains, fibre, oats, oat bran, oatmeal, green tea, meat, red meat, water, herbs/spices, dairy (other than milk), cereal, nuts, and juice. Americans reported being interested in consuming a wide variety of foods for health benefits. Other top food/ food components and health benefit associations include dairy (for bones and osteoporosis), carrots (for eye health), and fibre and whole grains (for intestinal health). (1)

Functional Ingredients

Common sense tells us that for a food to be functional in physiological terms, it must contain an element that has health-promoting properties. A functional food must contain one or more functional or health-promoting ingredients. So what is the market definition of a functional ingredient? Different countries have different definitions: the British Nutrition Foundation's position is: "A functional ingredient can be defined as a dietary ingredient that affects its host in a targeted manner so as to exert positive effects that may, in due course, justify certain health claims." (2) There is, however, a distinction between what is allowed as a health claim and what is a nutritional claim. Most health claims cannot be put on the nutritional panel of food products; yet, on pack communication, it is allowed, provided there is accepted scientific validation of the claims.

The functional foods product category grew strongly through 2007 and is expected to taper off by 2010 as the market matures to a value of $167 billion. The global growth rate for functional foods is likely to achieve an average of up to 14% annually until the end of 2010. After 2010, the functional foods market is expected to comprise approximately 5% of total food expenditures in the developed world. (3) This market is driven by five main drivers; the desire to be fit and healthy, an ageing population, changing consumption patterns, stressful lifestyles and a more knowledgeable consumer. Some products lend themselves better to the functional concept: soft drinks account for 40% of the total market and, following in second place, come dairy products with 37%, followed by cereal products, snacks and ready meals. Processed foods are likely to be the biggest market for functional ingredients as consumer prejudice subsides--as is happening today with the growing interest in fortified foods and beverages. (4)


The types of functional ingredients that are available to food developers is seemingly endless, but ingredients that are sometimes overlooked are carbohydrates (Table II). Carbohydrates, like sugars, are an important supply of energy to the body as well as a carbon source for the synthesis of other components that are needed to sustain life. (5) We therefore innately value sugar and other natural sweeteners because they enhance taste and the enjoyment of a wide variety of nutritious foods. Higher molecular weight polysaccharides that are not digested in the small intestine, along with some polyols, have well studied health promoting benefits. These can be characterized in the areas of gut health, weight management and oral health.


Ingredients, such as Litesse (polydextrose), lactitol and xylitol, were once perceived as occupying a niche market for diabetic or sugar-free products. Today, this is not the case, as the average consumer is much more aware of the benefits of a healthy diet. The consumer may be aware of the nutritional benefits of certain foods, but they still want great-tasting products and to enjoy food. Food is an important part of the enjoyment of life and they are prepared to pay a higher margin for products that deliver taste and health benefits.


Weight management: A major benefit of these materials is the direct reduction of calorie intake that can help maintain a healthy body weight, coupled with a reduction in glycaemic load. All of Danisco Sweeteners' ingredients--xylitol, fructose, Litesse (polydextrose) and lactitol--have been shown to have a low glycaemic response. Lactitol and xylitol contribute 2.4 kcal/g (EU) and Litesse (polydextrose) provides only 1 kcal/g. (6)

Gut health: A relatively newly discovered, but very important, physiological effect of some of the undigested polysaccharide bulking agents is their function as prebiotics. Humans are host to billions of diverse species of micro-organisms that inhabit the skin, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, urogenital tract and mouth, conveying either a beneficial, neutral or negative effect on health. Beneficial bacteria, termed "probiotics" from the Greek expression "for life," act in a number of ways to improve digestive health and promote general physical well-being. (7) It is now well accepted that it is important for good gut health to maintain saccharolytic fermentation rather than putrefactive fermentation in the colon.

Litesse is a sustained prebiotic and it has been shown that as little of 4 grams per day of Litesse has a measurable prebiotic effect. (8) Fermentation in the large intestine yields short-chain fatty acids (including butyrate) and the growth of intestinal Lactobacillus and Bifidus is enhanced, giving improved gastrointestinal function with no adverse effects. Lactitol is also a prebiotic because, as a direct consequence of the fermentation of lactitol in the colon, intraluminal pH is reduced, probiotic bacteria are increased and potential pathogens are significantly reduced. A daily dose of 10 g would be recommended to produce a prebiotic effect. (9,10)

Oral health: The success of sugarfree mints and chewing gum products is due, in part, to the tooth-friendly properties of polyols, especially xylitol. Xylitol is well regarded among dental health professionals globally. A very special polyol, xylitol exhibits a unique combination of high solubility, sweetness and a very high negative heat of solution. These factors combine to produce a distinct cooling effect as xylitol dissolves. This makes xylitol ideal for mouth refreshing products, such as mints and chewing gum. Some of the many benefits of xylitol, especially in confectionery products that spend a long time in the mouth, are the dental benefits. The oral bacteria are unable to utilize xylitol as an energy or carbon source, so there is no acid production following consumption. The oral and plaque pH remains neutral, demineralization does not occur and, therefore, there is no caries formation. The oral bacteria do not adapt to utilize xylitol as an energy or carbon source, even following habitual consumption. As a result we see the inhibition of streptococci, lactobacilli, candida and reduced adhesion properties of Streptococcus mutans. (11)


We are currently discovering more and more about the health-promoting benefits of everyday foods and more exotic food ingredients, but, we should not forget the important role that carbohydrates can have on our enjoyment of food and health.

For further information

Geoff O'Sullivan

Application Manager

Danisco Sweeteners

41-51 Brighton Road

Redhill, Surrey RH1 6YS, UK.

Tel. +44 1737 773 732

Fax +44 1737 773 117


(1.) IFIC 2007, Consumer Attitudes towards Functional Foods/Foods for Health (

(2.) M. Blades, "Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals," Nutrition & Food Science 30(2), 73-76 (2000).

(3.) Research and Markets, "Global Market Review of Functional Foods--Forecasts to 2010," available from

(4.), Publication ID: AQ1080567 (December 2004), pp 91.

(5.) The Natural Food Hub, "Natural Food-Fruit," online publication at (May 2000).

(6.) S.A.S. Craig, et al., "Polydextrose as Soluble Fiber; Physiological and Analytical Aspects," Cereal Foods World 43(5), 370-376 (1998).

(7.) J. Hunt, "Gut Health, Good Health," online publication at (October 2005).

(8.) J. Zong, et al., "Studies on the Effects of Polydextrose Intake on Physiologic Functions in Chinese People," Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1&2, 1503-1509 (2000).

(9.) A. Drakoularakou, et al., "Lactitol, An Emerging Prebiotic: Functional Properties with a Focus on Digestive Health," Food Science and Technology Bulletin: Functional Foods 3(7) 71-80 (2007).

(10.) Danisco Health and Nutrition, Internal Report (Kantvik, Finland, 2002).

(11.) C. Pierini, "Xylitol: A Sweet Alternative," online publication at
Table 1: Top health concerns.

Health Concern                 Ranking

Heart and circulatory issues   53%
Weight                         33%
Cancer                         24%
Diabetes                       17%
Nutrition and diet             16%
Exercise                       11%
Lung and respiratory           7%
Arthritis                      5%

Table II: The major dietary carbohydrates
(DP = degree of polymerization).

Class (DP)             Subgroup                 Components

Sugars (1-2)           Monosaccharides          Glucose, galactose,
                       Disaccharides            Sucrose, lactose,
                       Polyols                  Lactitol, xylitol,
                                                  sorbitol, mannitol

Oligosaccharides       Malto-oligosaccharides   Maltodextrins
  (3-9)                Other oligosaccharides   Raffinose, stachyose,

Polysaccharides (>9)   Starch                   Amylose, amylopectin,
                                                  modified starches
                       Non-starch               Cellulose,
                         polysaccharides          hemicelluloses,
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Title Annotation:functional ingredients
Author:O'Sullivan, Geoff
Publication:Nutraceutical Business & Technology
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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