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The magnificent 7: Our ingredient picks for 2011

Want to know what the future holds for functional ingredients? These are the top contenders in 2011.

1. Krill

Why we like it: Smaller dose and capsule size compared to fish oil, without the fish burps. GOED is collaborating with krill oil industry leaders like Aker and Neptune to establish a krill oil composition monograph in order to keep quality high and, perhaps, prevent misleading krill-like products from hitting our shores. Science is supporting the idea that the phospholipid form of omega-3s found in krill is more bioavailable than fish oil's triglycerides. And Enzymotec has crossed the cardio and brain health categories with its Sharp PS Gold ingredient. The one blemish on this feel-good story is the (many would say misguided) ban of krill oil supplements by Whole Foods Market over sustainability concerns.

Science says: Levels of EPA and DHA found in krill oil have similar metabolic effects in the body as those found in fish oil, even though they are nominally lower dosages.1 Another recent study provided a detailed fingerprint of sorts of all the phospholipids found in the Euphasia superba species, which should yield more research tangents in the near future.2 Krill pioneer Neptune is the only player to publish human clinical research, showing human health benefits in cardiovascular, joint and women's health.

Our favorite delivery system: Krill still swim best within gelcaps.

Get it here: Aker BioMarine, Azantis, Enzymotec, Neptune

2. Omega-3s

Why we like it: Omega-3s stand at the pinnacle of the ingredients world. There's consumer awareness, and there is an active and effective ingredient-specific association (GOED) countering misinformation and pushing best practices and good science, which supports cardiovascular, cognitive support and vision-health benefits. Big Pharma is even on board with a prescription higher-dosage fish oil capsule, raising awareness (albeit with a snarky "You can't get this in a health foods store" ad campaign). And new microencapsulation technology has enabled formulators to spring omega-3s out of their gelcap prisons and put them in a variety of foods and beverages.

Science says: Ample literature supports the cardioprotective benefits of omega-3s. But science support for other health benefit claims took a hit recently with no-effect outcomes in trials of a (vegetable source) DHA on patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease and the effect of (marine-derived) DHA on maternal depression.3,4

Our favorite delivery system: Ocean Nutrition's MEG-3 microencapsulated ingredient is turning up in a variety of foods, reaching consumers who don't like swallowing horse capsules.

Get it here: Denomega, EPAX, Ocean Nutrition Canada, Denomega, Martek, OmegaPure

3. Polyphenols

Why we like it now: Polyphenols, and more specifically resveratrol (and more recently its methylated analogue pterostilbene) gained cache at Harvard in anti-aging studies that showed resveratrol in particular could extend the life and performance of a range of creatures from yeast to mice, even primates. That it can be found in red wine (pinot noir in particular) has only helped its sex appeal. That it is easily degraded, on the other hand, has not helped matters. The Harvard researchers who pioneered research can give you 700 million reasons why he likes it, courtesy of GSK, which bought Sirtris for about that much. Pterostilbene contains two methoxy groups and one hydroxyl group while resveratrol has three hydroxyl groups. This is important because the hydroxyl groups make it more easily eliminated from the body, so pterostilbene may have higher potential for cellular uptake.

What science says: Old mice fed resveratrol with their basic diet had marked reductions in a host of aging signs, from reduced cataracts to preserved bone mineral density, increased aortic elasticity and greater motor coordination. However, they didn't live any longer than controls.5,6 A lower-dose study comparing reservatrol to Longevinex (a finished product also containing quercetin and IP-6) showed mimicking of life-prolonging calorie-restricted diet with both, while the blend had additional gene-expression effects.7 In a National Cancer Institute study published in November 2010, pterostilbene showed superior bioavailability and total plasma levels of both the parent compound and metabolites compared to resveratrol.8 The first human clinical on pterostilbene will get under way this year, focusing on cholesterol and blood pressure-lowering effects.

Our favorite delivery system: Reactive by nature, these compounds perform best in supplements.

Get it here: Chromadex, Draco, DSM, Cyvex, OptiPure, Polyphenolics, Sabinsa

4. Probiotics

Why we like it now: Probiotics share the king-of-the-hill honors with omega-3s with regards to consumer acceptance and scientific backing for efficacy (to some extent). Like omega-3s, probiotics show benefits out of their original sphere as aids to digestion and regularity, and have traction as immune-system supporters. As consumers grow used to the idea of choosing to consume microorganisms, they start to accept finding probiotics in a wider variety of delivery systems. Yogurts and supplements are still big, of course, but now probiotics can be found in oatmeal, teas, snacks, bars – even toothpaste and shampoos! These launches are not without risk, though, as the makers of Kashi cereal found out, to their chagrin.

Science says: A recent meta-analysis showed probiotics shortened hospital stays and lessened diarrhea in infants.9 Another found probiotics benefited the gastro-intestinal health of pre-term infants,10 and a large-scale study published in Pediatrics found that probiotics reduced the incidence of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections in hospitalized children.11 While the results are gratifying, the endpoints come close to disease-use endpoints. There is a dearth of strain-specific studies on healthy populations (especially healthy adults), making it tricky to translate the benefits demonstrated in the studies to claims on the label.

Our favorite delivery system: Still high-quality supplements, which have the most forthright and believable statements of CFUs with proven viability that is unaffected by food matrix concerns.

Get it here: Chr Hansen, Danisco, Ganeden, Institut Rosell Lallemand, Nebraska Cultures, UAS Labs

5. Stevia

Why we like it now: Stevia sales as tracked by SPINS increased more than 150 percent in the August 2009 – August 2010 time frame, and the pace hasn't slackened. Sales support is strong across the board; only the herbal formulas category showed a decline. Stevia-sweetened beverages showed the biggest gains, as it seems formulators are finally getting a handle on how to mute stevia's strident aftertaste notes. Continued innovation with blends and extracts promises an even brighter future ahead, as stevia extracts are starting to show up in breads, crackers and shelf-stable juices.

Science says: Stevia's science bar is set low; safety and dosage studies have been satisfactory and the ingredient is mostly a lifestyle choice. It does have a home in the diabetic-support realm, but no company is claiming a specific health benefit outside of natural calorie reduction.

Our favorite delivery system: Diet drinks, especially citrusy ones, where formulation and dosage can be controlled to keep bitter aftertaste notes in check.

Get it here: Blue California, Cargill, Fenchem, PureCircle, Sweet Green Fields, Wild Flavors, Wisdom

6. Vitamin K2

Why we like it now: Vitamin K2's superior performance to its lesser K sister makes it a standout ingredient and not just in the accustomed realm of bone health. Many say it could be the next vitamin D3. Vitamin K activates osteocalcin in bones, which binds calcium to the surface of bones. The longer-chain menaquinones, MK-4 and MK-7, vie for attention, with research showing the longer-chain MK-7 remains in the body much longer. Also, K2 is cheaper than it used to be, thanks to the cratering of the leading brand, MenaQ-7, which was the only commercial form to have benefitted from published research. NattoPharma switched the brand title from P.L. Thomas to Gnosis, so now everyone knows every brand is the same and it's now just a cost play, which has driven prices down. Manufacturers win!

Science says: A recent study found K2 inhibited bone resorption and promoted bone formation, in this case via the novel action of inhibiting NFkB signaling.12 A recent literature review reconfirmed that higher K2 levels are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular events.13

Our favorite delivery system: Ever tasted that stinky, drippy natto in Japan? We'll go the supp route, thankyouverymuch. At only 45mcg per dose, it's small stuff.

Get it here: Bergstrom, Danisco, Gnosis, PL Thomas, Xsto

8. Vitamin D

Why we like it now: Since 2008, an avalanche of research has shown efficacy for everything from bone health to immunity to cancer prevention and more. Research means doctors respect it. Plus, a letter vitamin is hardly novel, which helps with the Establishment medical community. That means consumers are also hip to the trick. This has been validated with a doubling of sales in both mainstream food/drug/mass market stores as well as early-adopting natural markets. From a product development standpoint, it provides huge bang for the buck since vitamin D is a pretty inexpensive ingredient. The IOM just upped the DRI anywhere from 33 percent to 300 percent depending on the population, though with the typical anti-supp government caveat that mega-doses can be harmful. Pshaw – ask any day-job vitamin D researcher and he'll tell you the IOM was way off base here.

Science says: The sunshine vitamin modules immune and inflammatory responses. A 2010 Georgia study found greater vitamin D levels reduced colorectal tumors, especially when combined with anti-inflammatory agents.14 A 2010 Israeli study found vitamin D deficiency — which was present in “the entire study population” of nearly 35,000 Israelis age 18 and older — was significantly linked to hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, obesity and peripheral vascular disease for women and all the above except hypertension in men.15 The IOM – this must be said – asserted that the entire population of Canada and the U.S. – from the Yukon down to Florida – had adequate D levels. Laughable on its face given the season of winter. D researchers will tell you anybody north of Tennessee doesn't get enough sun exposure in winter.

Our favorite delivery system: Tincture bottles in an olive oil base providing 2,000 IU per drop – not dropperful but drop. Even if users are confused and take a few megadoses, toxicity requires extended doses of tens of thousands of IUs per day.

Get it here: AGD Nutrition, Amax Nutrasource, BASF, DSM, Fortitech, Maypro, Soft-Gel, Wright Group


1. LUlven SM, Metabolic Effects of Krill Oil are Essentially Similar to Those of Fish Oil but at Lower Dose of EPA and DHA, in Healthy Volunteers. Lipids. 2010 Nov

2. Winther B, Elucidation of Phosphatidylcholine Composition in Krill Oil Extracted from Euphausia superba. Lipids. 2010 Sep 17. [Epub ahead of print]

3. Quinn JF, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation and cognitive decline in Alzheimer disease: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2010 Nov 3;304(17):1903-11.

4. Markides M. et al. Effect of DHA supplementation during pregnancy on maternal depression and neurodevelopment of young children: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2010 Oct 20;304(15):1675-83.

5. Pearson KJ, et al. Resveratrol delays age-related deterioration and mimics transcriptional aspects of dietary restriction without extending life span. Cell Metab 2008 Aug;8(2):157-68.

6. Barger JL, et al. Short-term consumption of a resveratrol-containing nutraceutical mixture mimics gene expression of long-term caloric restriction in mouse heart. Exp Gerontol 2008 Sep;43(9):859-66.

7. Mukherjee S. Effects of Longevinex (modified resveratrol) on cardioprotection and its mechanisms of action. Physiol Pharmacol. 2010 Nov;88(11):1017-25.

8.  Kapetanovic IM, et al. Pharmacokinetics, oral bioavailability, and metabolic profile of resveratrol and its dimethylether analog, pterostilbene, in rats. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol 2010 Nov 30.

9. Bernaola, AG, et al. Probiotics for treating persistent diarrhoea in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Nov 10;11:CD007401.

10. Braga TD, et al. Efficacy of Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casei oral supplementation on necrotizing enterocolitis in very-low-birth-weight preterm infants: a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Oct 27. [Epub ahead of print] 

11. Hojsak I. Lactobacillus GG in the prevention of nosocomial gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections. Pediatrics. 2010 May;125(5):e1171-7.

12. Yamaguchi M, Weitzmann MN. Vitamin K2 stimulates osteoblastogenesis and suppresses osteoclastogenesis by suppressing NF-?B activation. Int J Mol Med. 2011 Jan;27(1):3-14. doi: 10.3892/ijmm.2010.562. Epub 2010 Nov 11.

13. Rees K, et. al. Is vitamin K consumption associated with cardio-metabolic disorders? A systematic review. Maturitas. 2010 Oct;67(2):121-8.

14. Ahearn TU, et al. A randomized clinical trial of the effects of supplemental calcium and vitamin D3 on markers of their metabolism in normal mucosa of colorectal adenoma patients. Cancer Res. 2010 Nov 17. [Epub ahead of print] 

15. Steinvil A, et. al. Vitamin D deficiency prevalence and cardiovascular risk in Israel. Eur J Clin Invest. 2010 Oct 18. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2362.2010.02403.x. [Epub ahead of print]

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