Junk the Junk

Junk the Junk

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The word “Snack” is understood differently by different people. Often described as quick light meals, or as foods consumed in-between regular meals, or simple, small, pocket-energy providers that keeps one going from one meal to the other. However, in common understanding snacks tend to be idle munching options that rarely do good… a belief that most brand custodians try to break through product value addition/ modifications, packaging break-through, or by strengthening product claims.

Nevertheless, one cannot shy away from the reality that snacks form an integral part of food intake and in few cases, these are the only foods consumed on some occasions. Therefore this segment is globally growing and evolving at a rapid pace. Worldwide, the typical snacks universe consists of huge product format ranges like potato crisps, expanded snacks, nuts, chocolate based (filled, enrobed, standalone, wafers, baked matrix), tortilla chips, raw/baked/fried cut vegetable and fruits, formed dough products made out of potato, corn, other cereals and pulses, pellets, direct expanded extruded, pop corn and puffed cereals and pulses, cookies, cracker, cakes, muffins, pastries, bread amd other baked goods, cereal flakes, fruit pieces, fruit filled and enrobed, milk- and yogurt-based snacks. While this could be the classification based on product formats, an alternate way of classification could be based on the type and class of ingredient used, the packaging format used, and consumption occasion etc to further breakdown categories of snacks.
 
Healthy Snacking
 
Today’s consumer is exposed to a never ending stream of information on healthy and eating. In addition to that, Govt bodies, NGOs, health professionals,special interest groups public surveys, reports and studies revealing the benefits and risks of consuming a class of food products and ingredients and leading lifestyles is readily available. Therefore, it is no longer a surprise that the single biggest trend worldwide in the snacks department is orientation towards health.
 
Snacks manufacturers worldwide are looking at every opportunity to improve the nutrition profile while retaining the taste and texture of their products. Equally significant efforts are also being taken to reduce the negative impact some snacks inherit either due to their ingredients or processing. The biggest challenge in the snack food sector is to retain/ enhance the sensory delight while delivering superior health attributes. Clubbed with the improvement in formulation, the innovations in packaging and voluntary/mandatory pack declarations are helping consumers in making ‘healthier’ choices.
 
In the world of processed snacks, a gradual yet substantial change can be observed in the movement towards health orientation. Processors have moved from producing foods catering to basic sensory of consumers, to built-in natural goodness of healthy ingredients such as multigrains, whole grains, oats, olive oil, berries, different types of natural ingredients which are either a rich or good source of specific macro or micro nutrients. This has been further followed by reducing or eliminating commonly understood food negatives like saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, sugar, salt and calories from the snacks. With the better understanding of functionality of specific ingredients or a set of ingredients based on scientific research or clinical evidence, a new category of “functional food” is currently emerging. Of course there already existed a category of Medical Foods, which provides a solution for special food needs in certain health conditions. With the advent of speciality ingredients, the boundary between functional food and medical foods is thinning every day.
 
Here is a closer look at the enumerating trend of incorporating healthy ingredients while reducing negative ingredients in snack foods, with a special emphasis on baked goods, and the relevance to Indian context and Indian baked good offerings in each case.
 
Wholegrain and Multigrain: According to the Whole Grain Council “The medical evidence is clear that whole grains reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Few foods can offer such diverse benefits. People who eat whole grains regularly have a lower risk of obesity, as measured by their body mass index and waist-to-hip ratios. They also have lower cholesterol levels. Because of the phytochemicals and antioxidants, people who eat three daily servings of whole grains have been shown to reduce their risk of heart disease by 25-36%, stroke by 37%, and Type II diabetes by 21-27%, digestive system cancers by 21-43%, and hormone-related cancers by 10-40%.”
 
Multi-grain products, as the name implies, are made using a combination of grains such as wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley, and local grains depending upon availability and health benefits they can offer. Multi-grain provides an opportunity for the manufacturers to develop products featuring new textures and colours apart from providing a cocktail of benefit contributed by each grain. Whole grains when used in multi-grain products provides maximum nutritional benefits.
 
The Indian market has also witnessed the recent launch of “5 grain” products in baked good segment; this combines the goodness of Wheat, Oats, Ragi, Corn and Rice.
 
Fibres: Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested in the stomach or small intestine, but passes through to the large intestine. As fibre moves through the large intestine, bacteria break down much of the fibre. As they digest the fibre, these bacteria multiply and produce butyric acid, which has been shown to give protection against bowel cancer. Therefore, consuming fibre is important for intestinal health.
 
A high-fibre diet has been linked to a multitude of health benefits. It can lower blood cholesterol levels, which may decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke, and it may reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancers. Fibre is commonly categorised depending on how easily it dissolves in water. Soluble fibre partially dissolves in water and is found in oat bran, nuts, seeds, beans, apples and pears. Oat fibres have been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol, which can help prevent heart disease. Soluble fibres have been shown to decrease the glycemic index of carbohydrate foods by slowing the release of glucose from food. Insolublefibre does not dissolve in water and is found in wholegrain, brown rice and a range of vegetables, including carrots. It appears to speed the passage of foods through the stomach and intestines and adds bulk to the stool. Insoluble fibre is responsible for preventing and treating constipation. 
 
Most importantly for people with diabetes, fibre triggers less of a rise in blood glucose levels than other nutrients because fibre slows the digestion of food allowing blood glucose levels to rise more slowly. Fibre also fills one up! Fibre actually takes up more space in the stomach and small intestine so a person may eat less and feel full longer (a real benefit if any one is trying to lose weight). In India, has provided the choice through NutriChoice digestive biscuits containing fibres from wheat gain. In recent times, rolled oats, whole grain flakes are also being imported into India.
 
Trans-free snacks: Trans fat has been making headlines across the West and in India recently to make consumers aware of their daily intake. Trans fatty acids (Trans Fat) are commonly found in commercially prepared foods and are formed during hydrogenation of vegetable oils (hardening of the oil with hydrogen) for the production of some margarine and shortening for bakery applications. Small quantities of Trans fatty acids may also form during deep frying. These fats are unsaturated but they increase total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, while decreasing the good HDL cholesterol. It is ideal to provide snacks that contain no-trans fat, yet the challenge is to provide the same texture, flavour stability, product shelf life and affordability; all of which are big factors in our country. To accomplish this task, manufacturers are moving toward the use of oils. Some oil manufacturers have created an innovative solution by increasing the proportion of mono- unsaturated fatty acid (oleic acid) in oils to enhance the stability characteristics of snacks.
 
Many applications, particularly most of the baked goods, need a certain amount of solid fat for product performance. The credible alternative is to utilise interesterified shortening that have no/very low trans-fatty-acid contents. A small amount i.e., less than 0.5 grams of Trans fat per serving can be labeled 0 grams per serving per the USFDA. However, this option in India is very expensive currently and consumer awareness about trans fat is not very high at this stage to command a price commensurate to the cost. Very few baked-good manufacturers have developed process solutions to use oils instead of hydrogenated vegetable fat to deliver the equal sensory delight while removing the trans fat without having consumers bear any extra costs. The products in the market are appropriately labeled in line with International guideline for Trans fat. For example, majority of Britannia’s biscuits are Trans fat free.
 
Zero Cholesterol snacks and Cholesterol reduction ingredients: Perhaps cholesterol is mostly misunderstood and therefore looked upon as an evil. However, cholesterol plays an essential role in the formation of cell membranes, some hormones and Vitamin D. Problems occur when there is too much cholesterol in the body. If cholesterol builds up in the arteries, which carry the blood away from the heart, plaque forms narrowing the arteries. If the flow of blood is slowed or blocks the arteries, this can lead to atherosclerosis, which leads to chest pain, commonly known as angina. If a plaque ruptures, blood clots are formed which can cause heart attacks or stroke. Two main lipoproteins (fat and protein complexes) play central roles in the development of plaques and cardiovascular (heart) disease. The two forms are known as HDL (high density lipoprotein) and LDL (low density lipoprotein). LDL cholesterol, considered the ‘bad’ cholesterol, transports cholesterol from the liver to the rest of the body. If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, then it is deposited in the walls of the coronary arteries. HDL cholesterol carries cholesterol from the blood to the liver for removal from the body and hence is called the ‘good’ cholesterol. When the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood is high, and HDL cholesterol is low, there is a greater risk of heart disease. One of the factors which determine the level of blood cholesterol is the amount of cholesterol consumed in the diet. In most of the cases, our body’s ability to synthesise cholesterol is good enough to cater to the daily requirement, and therefore the diet doesn’t need to supplement cholesterol.
 
Fats of animal origin including milk fat, cream, butter, cheese, and eggs contribute to cholesterol in snacks; therefore manufacturers are looking at options to replace such fats in their products. In the Indian baked good context, manufacturers and consumers are moving from whole milk to skimmed milk, eggs to egg-less in various baked good; with numerous baked snacks sans cholesterol already in the market place. In European and North American markets one can find snacks with phytosterols/ oat fibres/barley fibres/ -3 and -6 enrichment taking the claims of cholesterol reduction on consistent usage clubbed with healthy lifestyles; a trend which would catch up in India in some time.
 
Fat reduction: With the acceptance of new emulsifier, starch derivatives, it is now possible to reduce the fat content of the product by 25-50%. The challenge lies in finding solutions in reaching the same textural characteristics and flavour profile. Although one could see few products in Europe and USA, the concept is expected to catch up in India very soon. A few regulatory changes would be required in Indian context to facilitate adoption of new ingredients for baked snacks manufacturers.
 
Sugar reduction/ No added Sugar: Alternate sweeteners are nostranger to consumers by now. However the safety, processability of each one has been under debate for some considerable time. Baked goods pose a unique challenge as the heat input to the product during manufacturing is very high and therefore very few sweeteners can be used for baked goods. Since sugar helps in building the texture and complimenting aroma in cookies, matching the taste, texture, flavour in a “no added sugar” product is a considerable developmental task. However, Nutrichoice “Sugar Out” product range in biscuits has been available for quite some time in the Indian market. It is very important to understand that as of today it is not possible to create “SUGAR FREE” product in Snacks as the natural ingredients which forms the base of the snack contributes to sugars.
 
Fruits, Vegetables and Nuts in Snacks: Fruits, nuts and vegetables in snack foods like cookies, centre filled rolls, trail mixes, and crackers are becoming increasingly popular. It is well known that fruits, particularly berries, cherries and raisins, are good sources of powerful antioxidants associated with lots of positive health association. In fact some of the berries these days are branded as power fruits. 
 
Nuts in Indian context have always been perceived healthy, a fact which is scientifically being reconfirmed these days. In addition to being accepted as a healthy alternative snack, nuts provide crunch and flavour.
 
A research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Feb. 2004) shows that a higher-unsaturated-fat, peanut-rich, weight-loss diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 14% compared to baseline.
 
We in Britannia believe that there are many positive ingredient options to choose from when formulating snack foods. Some of these ingredients can be added to current formulations, while others can be introduced to replace “not so healthy” Components.
 
The well informed educated consumers are going to be conscious about reading food lables. It is therefore important for us to engage with nutrition research institutes and professionals to continue exploring the beneficial ingredient and process options to provide choices and alternatives to the consumer.
 
Fortification of Mass Market Biscuits
 
It is unfortunate, but true. As per UNICEF: “Malnutrition is more common in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. One in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India.”
 
Malnutrition limits development and the capacity to learn. It also costs lives: about 50 percent of all childhood deaths are attributed to malnutrition. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) data also enumerates that 46% of children below 3 years are underweight, 38% are stunted (deficit in height for age) and 19% are wasted (deficit in weight for height).
 
Malnutrition in early childhood has serious, long-term consequences because it impedes motor, sensory, cognitive, social and emotional development. Malnourished children are less likely to perform well in school and more likely to grow into malnourished adults, at greater risk of disease and early death. Globally, around one-third of all adult women are underweight. Inadequate care of women and girls, especially during pregnancy, results in lowbirth- weight babies. Nearly 30 percent of all newborns across the world have a low birth weight, making them vulnerable to further malnutrition and diseases.
 
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies also affect children’s survival and development. Anaemia affects 74 percent of children under the age of three, more than 90 percent of adolescent girls and 50 percent of women world wide.
 
Iodine deficiency, which reduces learning capacity by up to 13 percent, is widespread because fewer than half of all households use iodised salt. Vitamin A deficiency, which causes blindness and increases morbidity and mortality among pre-schoolers, also remains a public-health problem. In fact the list of micronutrient deficiency doesn’t end here. Apart from Iron, Iodine, Vitamin-A; children have been found to be deficient on Calcium, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Folic acid and Vitamin B12.
 
To fight malnutrition, one of the possible solutions could be to fortify products which are available to the masses for consumption. Through intensive formulation development programmes, Britannia has developed Iron fortified biscuits and in partnership with GAIN and Naandi Foundation, biscuits were distributed among school children in Andhra Pradesh. Each biscuit was designed to provide 5mg of Iron approx 20% of daily Iron requirement while retaining the appealing taste. 
 
Apart from developing the aforesaid product as part of Britannia, GAIN and NAANDI initiative, Britannia has also have commercially launched following products with
fortification:
 
Tiger Glucose range: Fortified with Iron and Folic acid
 
Tiger Banana: Fortified with Iron.
 
Milkbikis: Fortified with Calcium, Iron, Vitamins B1, B6, B12 and Vitamin D
 
Bread: Vitamins A, D, E, B complex
.
Vitamarie Gold: Vitamins A, D, E, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, Folic acid, Pantothenic acid (B5).
 
In summary, with increased consumer awareness, ‘healthy’ snacks are assuming a big priority worldwide for food manufacturers and this trend would accelerate research and ingredient/ process innovations to enhance the quality of human life in future. In India, while one set of consumers will embrace and grow the advances in nutrition, for the masses there is an urgent need for the partnership among the industry, Govt and NGOs to fight malnutrition through food that would be safe and yet convenient to carry and consume anywhere, anytime.