By: Dr. Ajit Singh Bhatnagar *
When we talk of natural antioxidants we need not think of some magical powders with herbal or natural written all over it. What I mean to say is that a natural antioxidant is actually natural only until it is present in its true natural form within the confines of its natural carrier. The moment we separate out a natural antioxidant from its pristine Au naturel habitat, it is no longer purely natural; but it becomes a pseudo-natural derived synthetically through chemical or physical means.
Synthetic antioxidants generally added to processed foods and beverages do not deliver the desired health benefits intended for consumers. This is due to the fact that synthetic antioxidants do not efficiently absorb and metabolise in the body and the major proportion of these synthetic antioxidants get excreted out of the body.
Natural antioxidants too, when consumed in isolated forms are found to be less effective in providing desired health benefits to consumers. It has been scientifically established through R&D that when natural antioxidants are consumed along with their natural carriers then only the desired health benefits are observed in an absolute manner because body effectively absorbs and metabolise such natural antioxidants confined in their natural carriers.
Remember, our body needs antioxidants only in nanograms (ng) to micrograms (µg) levels and for that; we need to consume natural antioxidants only in milligrams (mg) levels. Consumption of natural antioxidants in more than milligrams levels may not provide desired benefits, however, it may show adverse effects because there is a good chance that consumption of excess levels of antioxidants may turn out to provide a pro-oxidant effect in the body.
Now, since the definition of a true natural antioxidant has been drawn, let’s have a look at those natural antioxidants in their true and pure natural forms that can be utilised to enrich processed foods and beverages.
Natural Antioxidants for Foods and Beverages
The ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, gravies, curries, sauces, bakery foods, snack foods, pickles, frozen MRE (meals ready to eat) foods, frozen Indian curries etc. can be enriched with natural antioxidants by using sesame oil, rice bran oil, red palm oil, niger seed oil, corn oil, wheat germ oil during the preparation processes. In simple words, they include the above-mentioned oils in the recipes of food preparations to an optimum extent keeping in view the costing and viability of food products.
Health Benefits of Natural Antioxidants
Virgin Sesame oil uniquely contains about 7000-8000 ppm of sesamin, a natural antioxidant that has been scientifically established to have a hypoglycemic anti-diabetic effect. Physically refined rice bran oil uniquely contains about 10000 ppm of oryzanol, a natural antioxidant that has been scientifically established to have a hypocholesterolemic effect and promote heart health. Red palm oil contains about 5000 ppm of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin-A which is essential for eye health. Raw niger seed oil is the richest plant source contains about 1500 ppm of phylloquinone (vitamin K1) that has been scientifically established to promote bone health and also an important co-factor for blood-clotting. Both, corn oil and wheat germ oil have been established as the richest (1000-1500 ppm) plant sources of natural tocopherols (vitamin-E) that scavenge free radicals like reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS). Virgin Olive oil contains natural polyphenols (1000 ppm) like chlorogenic acid that have free anti-inflammatory (pain reducing) effect. Apart from the above natural antioxidants, sesame oil is a good source of gamma-tocopherol (400-500 ppm); rice bran oil is a good source of tocotrienols (250-300 ppm), squalene (100 ppm), tocopherols (200 ppm) and phytosterols (8000 ppm); red palm oil is a good source of tocotrienols (400 ppm), tocopherols (400 ppm) and phytosterols (800 ppm); niger seed oil is a good source of tocopherols (200 ppm), phytosterols (1300 ppm) and polyphenols (250 ppm).
If the above mentioned oils are used in the recipe formulations of food products preparation processes, natural antioxidants can be delivered to consumers directly in the most convenient and natural manner. This is nutritionally and economically far better than fortifying/enriching prepared food products with synthetic antioxidants during the later stages of processing.
The beverage industry can also utilise natural antioxidants like lycopene and ascorbic acid present in tomatoes and amla (Indian gooseberry) respectively. As it is known, lycopene is arguably the strongest natural antioxidant present abundantly in tomatoes, red fruits, watermelons etc. Lycopene’s eleven conjugated double bonds give its deep red colour and its antioxidant activity. Owing to its strong colour and non-toxicity, lycopene is a useful food colouring (registered as E160d) and is approved for usage by United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the European Union (EU) council. Tomato juice contains about 100 ppm of lycopene and can be directly used in appropriate proportions in mixed fruit juices, reddish and dark coloured fruit juices and even in mixed fruit jams, and jellies etc. Amla contains about 10000 ppm of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Natural vitamin C extracts of amla can be added to non-citrus fruit juices to provide natural vitamin C directly to consumers. This is a better and effective protocol for delivery of natural antioxidants to consumers and is certainly better than adding synthetic vitamin C to fruit beverages during later stages of processing.
* Dr Ajit Singh Bhatnagar, M.Sc.
Food Technology, PhD Food Science