Go into any supermarket or convenience store these days and you’ll see row upon row of vitamin water. Welcome to the world of “nutraceutical.”
According to 2011 Clemson University study, the nutraceutical industry is an $86 million one in the U.S. alone.
Up to now, only nutrients that dissolve in water, like Vitamin B and C, can be added to beverages without changing their appearance, texture or flavor. Researchers at The Technion-Israeli Institute of Technology believe they have developed a method of adding water-insoluble nutrients (other vitamins and omega-3 oils, for example) to drinks without altering them. The research has applications beyond foods and beverages to the possible delivery of drugs to prevent diseases. The Jewish Week spoke via e-mail to The Technion’s Dr. Yoav Livney of the school’s biotechnology and food engineering department, who headed up the nutraceutical research.
What is a nutraceutical?
A nutraceutical is a food, food ingredient or food supplement that has a beneficial health effect in the prevention or curing of a disease. The word nutraceutical is a molding of the words nutritional and pharmaceutical.
You’ve created a way to add nutrients to clear liquids without changing their taste, color or flavor. Can you briefly explain your research?
We have combined the natural milk protein casein and maltodextrin by the Maillard reaction (the natural browning reaction occurring during baking) in a controllable way so that only conjugation occurred, without formation of melanoidins — the brown pigments. The combination self-assembled into micellar nanoparticles, and we entrapped within their core hydrophobic, poorly water-soluble compounds, like vitamin D. The result was a clear solution, which is the main breakthrough of this work, as apparently no previous studies reported formation of Maillard reaction-based nanocapsules suitable for clear beverages.
Products like vitamin water have exploded on the market in recent years. How come?
There is growing awareness of the importance of good nutrition in maintaining good health. Hence, products enriched with vitamins and nutraceuticals are in growing demand. Practically all vitamin-water products thus far contain only water-soluble vitamins, like the B and C vitamins. Solutions based on natural ingredients only for enriching clear beverages with water-insoluble vitamins, like A, D, E, K, and omega-3 oils, are still very rare. Low molecular weight emulsifiers provide little or no protection against degradation, and polymeric emulsifiers, like gum arabic are expensive and of variable quality and availability. Hence, inexpensive encapsulators made of natural ingredients, which provide protection to the encapsulated nutraceuticals are therefore important for achieving the goal of providing vitamin water (and other enriched foods and beverages) containing the whole range of vitamins and nutraceuticals, not just the water-soluble ones.
Part of your research involves using a component of green tea. What are the health benefits of green tea?
In recent years there have been a vast number of publications demonstrating the many health benefits of green tea. Green tea has been linked with reduced risk of the metabolic syndrome, including cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes; reduced risk of cancer (e.g. colorectal cancer); preventive effects on neurodegenerative diseases; prevention of tooth decay and more. The main nutraceuticals in green tea are catechins, which are polyphenolic compounds, among them, the most potent, and abundant in the leaves is epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG).
Does your research have applications beyond nutrition? Can the capsules also be used to deliver drugs to fight diseases?
Yes. We are now developing Maillard-reaction based combinations for targeted delivery of anti-cancer drugs through the blood circulation. Moreover, as we have found that the combination protected bioactive molecules under simulated gastric digestion conditions, they may be useful as enteric coating for drug delivery to the intestine or the colon.