Eat, Drink, and Be Functional
Bakeries, organic produce, and specialty prepared items are now de rigueur in Israeli groceries. But some local food manufacturers are now redefining food as something more than just “what people eat.” How? By adding nutrients to increase functionality and pack a powerful nutritional punch.
Israel Goes Functional
Functional foods are “regular” foods that have been demonstrated to have physiological benefits in reducing the risk of illness beyond basic nutritional function. These foods are eaten as part of a regular diet. Already a multi-billion-dollar industry, the global market for functional foods is growing by 8% to 10% annually.
Israeli ingenuity stands at the forefront of this relatively young industry. While most of the country’s dairies have been producing yogurts with healthy bacteria for years, Strauss introduced a line of drinkable yogurts touted as the only one with the exclusive E. casei bacteria, which the company claims improves and strengthens the body. A longstanding alternative to cow’s milk, soy-based products have made their mark in the mainstream of functional foods because their phytoestrogens have been found to prevent osteoporosis and cancers. Soy products now appear in abundance on Israeli grocery shelves and are marketed not just to those who are lactose intolerant. Tnuva recently expanded its standard dairy-case offerings with the introduction of a complete line of soy-based milks and drinks.
Israel’s cutting-edge stance in the functional food industry should come as no surprise. Dr. Harold Wiener, a veteran entrepreneur and consultant in the nutraceuticals arena, believes that several essential factors were already in place: “Israel is world renowned for the high level of research conducted in related fields such as chemistry, biotechnology, medicine, and nanotechnology.” As well, he notes, “Israel has a well-developed food industry that is extremely innovative and ready to test new products in the local market.”
Wiener, who has been involved in the development of natural products for the past 20 years, sees Israel’s multicultural society and willingness to try remedies based on folklore as advantages. Dr. Edward Wein, a Toronto-based food formulator and consultant functional foods, adds that Israel’s innovations stem from the “very close relationship that exists between the corporate world and university researchers.”
Wein observes that “lycopene, encapsulated vitamins, phosphatidyl serine, fenugreek extract, and nanoemulsion delivery systems” are just some of the examples of Israeli-developed functional foods. Earlier this year, Frutarom launched functional natural fruit ice cream products which contain aloe vera or green tea extracts. Two other functional foods that have made their way to the Israeli grocery shelves and kitchen tables are CanolaActive and Phyto Bread, both based on proprietary technology developed by NutraLease. The former is a cooking oil that helps reduce cholesterol, while the latter, another cholesterol fighter, is now part of the baked goods offered by a leading local bakery.
One challenge facing food manufacturers is how to deliver increased functionality. Many bioactive phytochemicals are not water soluble and therefore not absorbed well in the digestive system, passing through the body without leaving any beneficial components.
NutraLease has overcome this obstacle by developing nanoemulsions that absorb a higher amount of active materials from plant sources than conventional emulsions, transporting and releasing them in the body where they are most beneficial. (Earlier this year NutraLease was named one of Israel’s most innovative nanotechnology companies.)
The company’s CEO, Dr. Eli Pinthus, sees “collaboration with leaders in export markets” as one way of spreading the use of Israeli-developed functional foods. He believes that “we will be seeing many more functional foods in the near future. Those likely to go mainstream will be based on well-known ingredients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals.”
Living a Long and Healthy Life
Wiener observes that while medical solutions allow us to live longer, scientists are now focused on ways to live as healthfully as possible. We are already seeing the success of “vitamin-fortified foods, protein-enriched foods, energy drinks, foods loaded with antioxidants, phytosterols, and phytoestrogens,” observes Wein. He and Wiener agree that “the anti-aging trend is here to stay.” “Anti-aging,” in Wiener’s opinion, “is not just about living longer but about improving the quality of the life that we live.”
Wein says to watch for edible “solutions” that address the problems and challenges associated with age-related diseases and preventative medicine such as those that “slow the development of Alzheimer’s, memory enhancers, cardiac protectants, and blood pressure reducers”