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The potent_punch_of_antioxidantsWhile some manufacturers are interested in capitalising on the novelty factor of health and wellbeing – particularly the ever-elusive anti-ageing principle – others have concentrated on delivering honest health and wellness to consumers.

The art of food is changing. What a plate contains these days is a far cry from the past. The familiar food pyramid (introduced in 1991) has given way to Michelle Obama’s MyPlate. Consumer perception of health and wellness is undergoing a change from purely personal nutrition and fitness to a view that considers self in relation to environment and the broader world. As such, local, organic, natural and sustainable are important attributes within the broader context of health and wellness.

While there’s been a massive cutback on salt, sugar and fats, some of the biggest return-generating products contain ingredients rich in antioxidants: polyphenols have demonstrated to be powerful allies against harmful free radicals and cell oxidation in fighting diseases and minimising the daily decay of ageing. Research house Euromonitor International reports the global market for plant extracts will surge from about 2.1 million tonnes in 2012 to 2.55 million tonnes in 2016. Green tea, superfruits and other extracts, like bilberry, grape seed and olive, are all packing a punch when it comes to the popularity stakes among health-conscious consumers.

‘Fruit and superfruit extracts are the second biggest category after green tea, such as Acai, pomegranate, apple, citrus extracts, grape, blueberry, goji, mangosteen,’ comments Paul Janthial, food and beverage business unit director at one of the world’s biggest plant extracts suppliers, France-based Naturex. Green tea and grape seed are currently the best supported in the scientific literature.

Baobab FruchtBaobab – the African superfruit packing an unparalleled nutritional punch – is attracting all the big guns. Baobab is the pulp of seed pods from the eponymous tree, a species that grows across southern and eastern Africa. The ingredient is rich in fibre, has six times more vitamin C than orange juice and is high in antioxidants. It’s reportedly lower in sugar than other dried fruits and also one of the few plant sources of calcium. Afriplex, a SA manufacturer of plant extracts, expounds its ability to keep its antioxidant load in the face of heat. It’s naturally high in acidity, which helps retain antioxidants when exposed to heat. There’s no significant impact of heat affecting potassium, magnesium or calcium levels. Currently, it’s being tested by a major player in the cereals sector and could soon be seen as an ingredient in everything from granola to trail mixes to chocolate-covered fruit snacks.

Reality check

Researchers warn against the hype of the so-called miracle food. ‘Stories of miracle food sell magazines and advertising space; food industries often sponsor research to show that their products are superior, and supplement industries look to boost sales,’ comments Maki Inoue-Choi from the University of Minnesota. ‘In real life, however, we don’t live on one single food item. We eat meals that consist of a considerable variety of foodstuffs, several times each day.’

Also, some marketing terms are incorrectly used, such as the claim that a certain brand of olive oil is cholesterol- free when, in truth, all olive polyphenols can help reduce LDL cholesterol. Several types of extracts also contain naturally-occurring vitamin C, like acerola, rose hip, and sea-buckthorn.

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Image attribution: Lix at the German language Wikipedia

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