Nutrition Meets Food Science

Introducing the Nutraceuticals

In present scenario, our lifestyles have changed drastically with increased work pressure and insufficient nutrition intake which leads to many lifestyle related diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases. So, people are interested in finding solutions that are less expensive and effective without side effects. So, one such solution can be “Nutraceuticals”. What are they? Let’s find out.

In simple words nutraceuticals are the products which provide health benefits other than nutrition. Hippocrates (460-377 B.C) stated “let food be thy medicine and medicine be the food” for predicting the relation between food, health and therapeutic effects (Bagchi, 2006). Nutraceuticals is a hybrid of nutrition and pharmaceuticals and this term was coined by Dr Stephen De Felice in 1989 (Nasri et al., 2014). So, the substances that are food or a part of food which provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of diseases are called as “Nutraceuticals” (Kalra, 2003). Recently nutraceuticals have gained a lot of attention due to the health benefits they provide. Some other terms like dietary supplements or functional foods are often used interchangeably with nutraceuticals. When dietary supplements and functional foods provide health benefits they can be considered as nutraceuticals. Nutraceuticals is a very broad spectrum. How broad? Well keep on reading.

Categorizing nutraceuticals-

Nutraceuticals can be categorized in several ways depending upon chemical structure, functional groups, mode of action, food availability etc. Figure 1 shows the classification of nutraceuticals-

Figure 1- Classification of Nutraceuticals

(Source– Chávarri, M. (2020). Nutraceuticals – Past, Present and Future.)

Many chemical components classified as nutraceuticals are present in foods we are quite familiar with. Here are some examples (Das et al.,2012 & Roy et al., 2019 )-

1. Prebiotics and probiotics-

Probiotics are the microorganisms which help in improving the intestinal microbial balance and thus improving the gut health. They are the good bacteria. Prebiotics act as food for the probiotics. They beneficially affect the gut microbiota. These are the short chain polysaccharides and have unique chemical structure that cannot be digested by human.

  • Fructo-oligosaccharide- Banana, Tomato, Chicory
  • Raffinose- Celery, Broccoli, Radish
  • Stachyose- Beans, Peas

They help in improving health conditions like lactose intolerance, intestinal immune system, reduction in constipation, neutralization of toxins, blood cholesterol levels.

2. Dietary fibres-

These are the non- starch polysaccharides that cannot be hydrolysed by enzymes secreted by the digestive tract. They are digested by the microflora in intestine improving the gut health. It includes cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, pectin etc. Fruits, oats, barley, beans are great sources of dietary fibres.

3. Vitamins-

Vitamins are essential micronutrients required by our body. They can contribute to our health. Vitamin A helps in improving vision and maintaining mucosal lining of gastrointestinal tract and respiratory tract. Vitamins E, vitamin C and carotenoids have antioxidant properties. Oxidative reactions can lead to several diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, cataract etc. Some carotenoids like beta-carotene, alpha-carotene act as precursors of Vitamin A. They can be converted to vitamin A by our body. Below are some food sources of these vitamins-

  • Vitamin A- They are found in citrus fruit, bell pepper, carrot
  • Vitamin E- These are found in corn oil, cod-liver oil, hazelnuts, peanut butter, safflower oil, sunflower seeds
  • Vitamin C- These are found in Oranges, blackcurrants, kiwifruit, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, capsicum and strawberries
  • Carotenoids include lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin that act as oxygen quenchers and complement the antioxidant properties of vitamin E very well. Carrots, papaya, sweet potatoes, tomatoes are good sources of carotenoids.

4. Polyphenols-

These are the phytochemicals produced by plants for protecting them from photosynthetic stress. The polyphenols have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cardio-protective and prevent against neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes mellitus (Scalbert et al., 2005). Polyphenols include flavonoids, phenolic acid, anthocyanins etc. Here are some of the commonly used polyphenols –

  • Catechin– apricot, beans, cherry, grape, peach, green tea
  • Quercetin- onion, tomato, apple, citrus fruits
  • Resveratrol– peanuts, grapes, blueberries, dark chocolate
  • Caffeic acid– coffee, artichoke, berries, pears
  • Curcumin– turmeric
  • Gallic acid– gallnuts, grapes, berries, walnuts, apples, flaxseed, coffee

5. Spices-

Spices have been used for thousands of years for enhancing the flavour, aroma and colour of food. They contribute to the sensory qualities of the food. But apart from providing flavour spices have great medicinal value due to the chemical compounds present in them. Spices, their extracts and essential oils have been used in Ayurveda for various health benefits. Spices have antioxidative, chemo preventive, antimutagenic, anti-inflammatory, immune modulatory effects on health and help improve the metabolism.

e.g.- Turmeric (Curcumin), Cardamom (Limonene), Onion (Polyphenols), Clove (Eugenol), Ginger (Gingerol).

6. Polyunsaturated fatty acids-

These are the essential fatty acids as they need to be included through diets. They can be of two types –

  1. Omega-3-fatty acids– It consists of α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
    Sources are tuna, mackerel, salmon, walnut, soybean, flax seeds and canola.
  1. Omega 6 fatty acids– It consists of linoleic acid (LA), γ-linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (ARA).
    Sources- corn, sunflower, soybean, eggs

These omega 3 fatty acids show anti-arithmetic, hypolipidemic and antithrombotic effects. Also, they are beneficial for infant’s health, asthma, bipolar and depressive disorders.

Other than the compounds stated above there are many other chemical compounds like terpenes, phenolic acids, tannins, proteins, saponins which can act as nutraceuticals.

Well it has been known to the mankind for a very long time that food and nutrition plays a very important role in our life. The ancient Indian medicinal sciences emphasize greatly on the importance of nutrition in disease prevention and treatment. Nutraceuticals function by providing the important compounds to the body and thus reducing the signs of diseases and contributing to the health of an individual (Dudeja & Gupta, 2017). Due to these therapeutic effects nutraceuticals have gained a lot of attention. Indian Nutritional market is estimated to be USD 1 Billion (Shelke et al., 2020). With further research in the field scope for nutraceuticals will continue to grow.

Ms. Prerana Patil

Food Technologist, PFNDAI

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