Panacea for lunch, anyone?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2011, 12:00am


It used to be that eating healthily meant restricting one's diet to food low in fat, carbohydrates and sugar. These days, good nutrition means incorporating functional foods with health-promoting ingredients.

With heart health, for example, a few decades ago it was about eating fat-free products. At the turn of the millennium, it was about avoiding certain types of fat. Now, says Katrina Diamonon, consumer markets analyst with Datamonitor, heart health is focused on the inclusion of certain fats that are good for you.

Two in three consumers in the Asia-Pacific region now make conscious attempts to eat healthily, 13 per cent more than in 2009, according to Datamonitor research.

The modern, hectic yet sedentary lifestyle fuelled by convenience foods has seen waistlines expand. Coupled with health issues experienced by an ageing population, Diamonon says consumers are taking a more holistic approach to health. 'They want longer, happier and healthier lives, and they're using nutrition to try to achieve that,' says Diamonon, who addressed the Vitafoods Asia conference in Hong Kong this month.

According to New Hope Natural Media, organisers of the Natural Products Expo Asia, held last month in Hong Kong, the global nutrition industry had an estimated US$310 billion in sales last year, more than double that of 10 years ago.

Datamonitor research shows that on the mainland, 72 per cent of people say they are more interested in hearing about what to eat, rather than what not to eat. As lifestyle-related diseases continue to prevail, 'consumers are becoming disillusioned and disappointed by [conventional] approaches to dieting', says Diamonon. 'They're starting to think more positively.'

In Asia, consumers are predisposed to the idea that foods can have medicinal properties. Functional foodstuffs include those that address the immune system, bone and joint health, energy, heart health, appearance, ability to concentrate or appetite control.

The three-day Vitafoods Asia turned the AsiaWorld-Expo into a vast pantry of newfangled health ingredients and products. Here are some trends coming your way.


If you've overdosed on yogurt because you read that probiotics were good for you, it seems not all probiotic strains are equal. Manufacturers have now come up with various probiotic concoctions. For example, British-based Protexin Healthcare's Bio-Kult capsules are a 'unique 14-strain probiotic expertly formulated to help the digestive and immune systems', and Taiwan's GenMont Biotech has a patented ADR-1 probiotic strain which it claims is proven to reduce blood glucose as well as cholesterol.

Blood management

Keeping your heart healthy used to involve eating foods or taking supplements that could lower LDL (or 'bad') cholesterol and/or raise HDL (or 'good') cholesterol - think fish oil, flaxseed oil or garlic extracts. Now, manufacturers have added blood management as an important aspect of heart health.

One of the highlights of Vitafoods was Fruitflow, an extract from the jelly around the seeds of the tomato that has shown to have antithrombotic ingredients - that is, the ability to prevent blood platelets to clump, which is a known cause of heart attacks, stroke and venous thrombosis.

Olive extracts

Inspired by the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, manufacturers have come up with a range of supplements made from the humble olive plant. Hytolive, an olive fruit extract, claims to help in the prevention of brain deterioration and LDL cholesterol oxidation. Benolea tablets, meanwhile, contain oleuropein, a substance in the olive plant that has been shown to lower blood pressure. Opextan, an extract from the olive pulp of a specific Italian variety, has a phytonutrient called verbascoside and is said to be able to reduce UV-light induced damage to skin, as well as control blood sugar levels.


With increasingly stressful lives, manufacturers know relaxants, especially natural ones, are in demand. Lactium, for instance, is derived from milk protein and claims to help regulate chronic stress symptoms (such as weight gain/loss and sleep disorders), help one face stressful periods and optimise general well-being by boosting immunity and energy. Neuravena, meanwhile, is a patented wild green oat extract that is said to help with one's mental fitness and stress-coping abilities.