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Formulating beverages can be a challenging task, and not every calcium solution that is available on the market will be suitable.
By Hans Schinck, Category Manager, Corbion Purac
Calcium is one of the most important minerals in the human body. Its positive effect on bone health and essential role in a number of vital body functions are widely recognized and supported by various research studies.
Over the last several decades, growing consumer awareness of the health benefits of calcium and its potential to combat osteoporosis has pushed the demand for calcium-enriched foods to an all-time high. While calcium fortification continues to be a major topic within the entire food industry, formulating beverages can be a challenging task, and not every solution that is available on the market will be suitable. This article outlines the main considerations for beverage formulators and identifies various calcium solutions that are suitable for the development of appealing calcium-enhanced beverages.
Calcium: The “Super Nutrient”
The human body contains more calcium than any other mineral. About 99% of the entire body’s calcium can be found as hydroxyapatite in the bones and teeth. Besides being an essential element for the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, calcium also plays an important role in regulating a number of vital biochemical processes in the body, including blood clotting, muscle contraction, cell proliferation and differentiation, and regulation of nerve impulses. Furthermore, calcium controls nutrient absorption, fat digestion, and metabolism. Because human blood only contains a small fraction of the total amount of calcium in the body, maintaining adequate blood levels of calcium is essential to ensure normal cell function. Insufficient calcium intake, on the other hand, will cause the blood calcium level to drop, and the body may start pulling calcium from the bones.
The human body requires quite a large amount of calcium (compared to other essential nutrients) in order to reduce the risks of various chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis, hypertension, and even some types of cancers. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, a typical adult between the ages of 19 and 50 needs 1000 mg of calcium each day, while the recommended amount for children, adolescents, menopausal women, and people above the age of 50 is even higher.
Calcium for Life
Although calcium intake is important throughout life, particular attention needs to be paid during childhood and adolescence. Calcium is vital for a strong bone structure during these critical stages of rapid growth and is absorbed more effectively than at any other time in life. As the human body ages, bone mineral density begins to decline, increasing the daily amount of calcium required. However, if bone mass declines more quickly than the body is able to replace it, bones will get weaker-to the point that even the slightest fall or bump can cause fractures. The decline of bone mass is a natural process; still, changes in diet and lifestyle have caused the number of osteoporosis sufferers to increase exponentially. According to the International Osteoporosis Society, approximately nine million people per year are currently experiencing fractures due to brittle bone structures, with the number of hip fractures expected to increase fourfold by 2050.
Ensuring an adequate calcium intake can help reduce the effects of naturally decreasing bone mass and delay the onset of osteoporosis. While the positive effects of calcium on bone strength are well documented and widely accepted, recent studies also point to a number of other benefits that come with a high-calcium diet. Findings from a recently published U.S. study, for example, indicated that increased calcium intake can reduce the risk of developing hyperparathyroidism, a hormone condition common in postmenopausal women, by 44%.
Fortified Beverages: A Viable Solution
Traditional calcium sources, such as cheeses, yogurt, and most of all milk, are by far the biggest sources of calcium in most diets. Although alternative calcium-rich food sources are available for people who do not consume dairy products or who are lactose-intolerant, they rarely provide the recommended daily amount. As a result, consumers are increasingly looking for alternatives or additional calcium sources that will help them achieve adequate calcium intakes and cater to a broader range of dietary needs.
Rising consumer interest in healthy nutrition is driving growth in the functional foods market, with the world market for functional foods and drinks predicted to reach $130 billion by 2015. While calcium fortification can be found across all types of food sources, beverages have proved to be a good medium for enhancement, as they are convenient and widely consumed across many demographics.
Calcium fortification is possible in nearly all beverage categories, including waters, sports drinks, soft drinks, soya milk, and fruit juices. With various ingredient solutions available, finding a calcium source that will enhance the mineral content of beverages without losing their consumer appeal is not always easy. Depending on the type of drink, its consistency, taste profile, appearance, and health claim, manufacturers will need to consider a number of factors, such as bioavailability, solubility, concentration, and flavor, before deciding which calcium source is ideal for their product. Selecting the right ingredient from the right supplier ensures the perfection of formulation and significantly speeds up time to market.
Calcium’s bioavailability is possibly one of the most important aspects to consider, as it determines how well the body is able to absorb the calcium into the blood. On average, an adult human body is able to absorb about 30% of the calcium consumed, while the rest is discharged, unused.
Although calcium in milk is the most bioavailable, research has demonstrated that calcium absorption from carbonate, acetate, lactate, gluconate, and citrate salts of calcium is similar to that of whole milk. However, establishing the bioavailability of calcium sources is not as straightforward as generally assumed and is highly dependent a number of factors, such as the amount consumed, age and physical state of the consumer, diet habits, and type of food.
While calcium is best consumed with a meal, as the prolonged transport will benefit the overall absorption level, some ingredients, such as sodium and caffeine, can decrease the effectiveness of the calcium source. Vitamin D and some fats, on the other hand, can stimulate its absorption.
Although the most common calcium salts, such as carbonate, citrate, lactate, and gluconate, show comparable absorption levels when consumed with a meal, the same cannot always be said in the case of beverages. One study showed that calcium lactate and gluconate delivered more bioaccessible calcium when consumed with a glass of water, making them the preferred choice for a wide variety of beverages, including sports drinks and clear products such as flavored waters.
Solubility or Concentration?
Besides a high level of bioavailability, beverage manufacturers are also looking for high solubility, a short dissolution time, and sufficient calcium content. While some of the most common calcium sources, such as calcium citrate and phosphate, are less soluble, calcium lactate and calcium gluconate have demonstrated high solubility at both low and neutral pH and dissolve quickly even at low processing temperatures.
However, solubility often comes at a price: concentration. While calcium citrate and phosphate boast calcium contents of 21% and 38%, respectively, they are frequently unsuitable for beverages due to their poor solubility. Calcium lactate and calcium gluconate, which are highly soluble, contain only 9%–14% calcium. As a result, the amount of calcium salt that is required to achieve the desired health claim is higher. Nevertheless, for the majority of beverage formulators, solubility will be the deciding factor, because lactate and gluconate allow sufficient fortification without affecting important features like taste and appearance.
Calcium: The Sixth Taste?
Maintaining the original flavor of the beverage is critical for all manufacturers who are looking to add value to their products. While the importance of calcium in the human diet is widely acknowledged, adding it to beverages has historically been difficult due to its bitter taste profile.
Many consumers are highly averse to calcium’s distinctive taste and avoid high-calcium foods, such as collard greens and kale. Some have even suggested naming calcium the sixth taste due to research indicating the existence of a calcium-sensing taste receptor on the human tongue.
Although less-soluble solutions such as calcium citrate and calcium phosphate are known to be less bitter than most other calcium salts, they can have a chalky flavor and sandy mouthfeel. As a result, manufacturers are increasingly attracted to calcium sources with a more neutral taste profile, such as calcium lactate or calcium gluconate, in order to maintain the palatability of their beverages without the need for masking agents or stabilizers.
Consumers are increasingly looking for beverages that help them maintain the recommended calcium level in order to avoid bone loss or degradation and other related complications in later life. Fortified beverages are regarded as a convenient way to increase the daily intake of calcium, but their development has proven to be a challenge to manufacturers. Although a lot of calcium ingredients are available, not all of them fit the criteria that beverage formulators are looking for. Careful consideration is required in order to develop great-tasting drinks that are high in calcium and offer lucrative and sustainable market opportunities.
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