The importance of ingredients

By Gemma Chope - 20 April 2015

Nutrition, diet and health are currently hot topics for the food industry. With the current trend for more convenient foods that can be consumed on the go or out of the home, altering the composition of processed foods to enhance the nutritional profile offers the opportunity to improve diets and help reduce the prevalence of diet-related diseases in the population. To ensure that consumers will choose healthier options, the products also need to taste great and to be appealing.

There are two main targets when considering what makes a healthier product: the first is to reduce or eliminate ingredients of concern (e.g. sugar, salt, fat or calories); the second approach is to add ingredients (e.g. protein, fibre or other nutritional components) to create nutritionally-enhanced foods or functional foods that may provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Functional foods can also have a role in making nutrients more available by pushing the limits of inclusion in particular products to increase availability while maintaining palatability. Functional foods might be fortified products where the content of existing nutrients is increased, enriched products where the nutrients or components that are added are not usually found in that food, altered products where the existing components are replaced with beneficial components, or enhanced commodities where changes have been made to the raw commodities to alter the nutrient composition.

In developing and producing healthier products there are several challenges to be met. When selecting ingredients for healthier products, it is essential to consider the effect that this may have on processing and handling, and product quality and food safety. When replacing an ingredient it is important to understand all of its functions within the product. For instance, sugar provides bulk as well as sweetness, and salt can reduce water activity and increase shelf life as well as enhance flavour.

Selecting the most appropriate ingredients should be undertaken in the context of the driver behind the reformulation. For example this might be responsibility deal pledges including reducing saturated fat, salt and sugar levels in manufactured foodstuffs, the development of functional foods, which provide the consumer with specific health benefits, or creating products for people with specific dietary needs (e.g. the avoidance of particular allergens). Key trends in food products are alternative proteins to meat proteins, such as insect, algae and whey protein, digestive health and weight management (e.g. fuller for longer).

Specific challenges can arise from changing or adding ingredients. Swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fats means that products can be more susceptible to oxidation/rancidity, and therefore less stable. Adding more fibre to a product can have negative effects on texture, taste and shelf life - partly due to its high water absorbing capacity. Innovations from ingredient suppliers are helping to drive the process forward, but understanding, characterising and manipulating the functionality of ingredients for healthier products is essential to deliver enhanced products with broad consumer appeal.

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