Abeautifully baked loaf of crusty bread pairs nicely with salmon steak, which contains long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that benefit cardiovascular health and help combat rheumatoid arthritis. But, should the fish oil be baked into the bread?
Welcome to the era of food as medicine. Health-conscious Baby Boomers are driving this huge food trend that is encouraging bread manufacturers to join the ranks of food fortifiers. While some ingredients truly raise the health profile of baked products, others seem downright odd.
Packaged Facts, a market research firm in Rockville, Md., pegs the market for functional food and beverages–which it terms “phood and bepherages,” indicating the marriage of food and pharmaceuticalsâ€’at $24.8 billion. Packaged Facts estimates that food industry-wide, omega-3 fatty acids will be among the functional ingredients in highest demand for the next few years. Additional functional ingredients for baked products include vitamins and minerals, whey protein, soy isoflavones, lutein, lycopene, phytosterols, fiber and garlic, among others.
Omega-3 fatty acids have recently joined the list of fortifiers. In May 2006, Bimbo, Fort Worth, Texas, introduced Whole Grain & Flax bread under its Oroweat brand. The bread contains flax seeds and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) omega-3 fatty acids from an oily fish called menhaden.
Flax seeds are a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which may help prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil contain EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, for which there is strong scientific evidence supporting the lowering of triglycerides, a reduced risk of death, heart attack, dangerous abnormal heart rhythms and strokes in people with cardiovascular disease, a slowing of the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques (hardening of the arteries) and slight lowering of blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
Omega-3 fatty acids from certain types of oily fish contain high levels of EPA and DHA. Foods containing these types of omega-3 fatty acids qualify for a heart health claim if they meet certain criteria. Plant-sourced vegetable oils, commonly from flax, canola oil and walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA, which does not have an FDA approved heart health claim.
While ALA may be converted to heart healthy EPA/DHA, the conversion efficiency is generally very low. Still, ALA is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, according to the FDA. Essential nutrients are those needed to maintain normal functioning, but are not synthesized by the body. EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are synthesized in the body and are not essential even though there is supportive, but not conclusive, research to show these fatty acids are beneficial in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.
Adding fish oil to bread presents a technical challenge some manufacturers are overcoming by microencapsulating the oils, or coating them in microscopic particles with an inert substance to mask the fishy flavor and aroma, says Mary Ellen Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition, University of Maine, Orono.
Vitamins, minerals in vogue
Flour manufacturers have been enriching flour since 1941, replacing the nutrients niacin, thiamin, ribo-flavin and iron lost during processing. The addition of folic acid, to help prevent birth defects, a legal requirement since 1996, is considered fortification because it is an additional nutrient, not a replacement of a nutrient originally present.
“Folic acid started it all,” says Marcia Scheideman, a dietitian and president, Wheat Foods Council, Denver. “We’ve made a transition from being on the defensive and dealing with eradication of deficiency diseases to using the fortification tool to prevent chronic diseases.”
In April, Bimbo introduced Blanco Integral, a white bread offering 8.5 grams of whole grain per two-slice serving, and 20 percent of the folic acid recommended for an average daily diet. Bimbo is targeting the bread specifically to Hispanic mothers who are less likely to eat folic acid-fortified foods.
Interstate Bakeries markets Wonder® Made With Whole Grain White, which is an “excellent source” of calcium and folic acid, and a “good source” of fiber and eight essential vitamins and minerals. Wonder’s 100% Whole Grain for White Bread Fans is an “excellent source” of folic acid, a good source of fiber, calcium and nine essential vitamins and minerals. Wonder also is marketing Wonder Kids bread, “specially designed for growing bodies” with 100 percent whole wheat, fortified with calcium and a good source of vitamins D, E, B6, B12, thiamin, niacin, iron, folic acid and zinc.
Bulking up with fiber
Many bread products also are now fortified with dietary fiber, Camire says. Fiber-based ingredients run the gamut, including wheat and oat bran, wheat fiber, pea fiber, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and oatmeal. “Virtually any kind of fiber that’s out there commercially has been used in bread,” Camire adds.
MGP Ingredients, Atchison, Kan., makes resistant starches to boost the fiber content of baked products. The company’s Fibersym®RW, a resistant starch launched four years ago, is used in white and specialty breads, tortillas, breakfast bars, cookies, pretzels and pizza dough. The formula has a neutral flavor and color, smooth texture and is easily added without manufacturers having to re-formulate, says Topher Dohl, applications technologist, MGP.
Ironically, Dohl says, even when manufacturers use 100 percent whole grain, enough dietary fiber may not be in the end-product to make the desired health claim, so they fortify with dietary fiber. Whole grains also can dilute the proteins in bread, requiring the addition of other proteins to provide strength and
volume, he notes.
Too much of a good thing
Besides deciding which fortifying ingredients make the most sense for their product and target market, manufacturers also must ensure they don’t overdo it. One hazard is that too much of a healthful ingredient, or in the wrong combination, can be unhealthy. Manufacturers must think about the target segment of the population and the risks of too much of the fortification nutrient, Camire says.
“Too much of any one mineral throws off the absorption of the other minerals,” she says.
Too much folate will mask a vitamin B12 deficiency. Too much calcium can affect absorption of zinc and iron. Camire is the president of St. Paul, Minn.-based AACC International, formerly the American Association of Cereal Chemists. At the AACC’s annual meeting in October, a fortification task force began a year-long study to address these cumulative fortification issues at a global level. The nutritionists’ guidance to manufacturers and the government will likely be announced at the society’s next annual meeting in September.
The other hazard of over-doing fortification is turning off consumers, says Michelle Barry, a wellness trends analyst and president of the Tinderbox Group within the Hartman Group, a consulting and marketing research firm in Bellevue, Wash. Barry recommends that manufacturers focus on the “real food” trend. “Real, whole and naturally functional is going to be a much more compelling and relevant trend for the future,” Barry says. Real foods are ingredients consumers would mix into their own bread, if they were making it.
Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk, Conn., seems to be right on the real food trend Barry describes with a line of breakfast breads with varieties, such as apple and grain, raisin and grains made with whole grains, real fruit and yogurt, and blueberry and grains. Each one is a “good source of calcium” and contains 3 grams of fiber per slice.
“I suspect the bread industry is doing well with this [strategy],” Barry says. “Just focus on making really good bread.”