Have you ever heard of a food that is capable of enhancing beauty in a person? If you want to believe, the new sensation in the market is a range of processed foods that claim precisely this virtue under the category, 'beauty foods' and in the absence of credible evidence either for or against such claims, the manufacturers are hoping to get the benefit of doubt in their favor when consumers stand before their products in the super market. The marketing strategy is based on the universal perception that women go out more for shopping and they are more concerned about youthful appearance than men, opening up large opportunities for beauty foods. First major player to venture into this virgin field is the French food giant, Danone who introduced their beauty yogurt containing probiotics in a stable form based on the purported properties of lactic acid bacteria to improve skin quality. Is there a rationality in this approach and will the consumer repose any confidence on such products in absence of clear scientific evidence? Looking at the volume of business generated during the last 2-3 years, answer seems to be a conditional yes.
Fancy terms like skinceuticals, nutricosmetics, cosmeceuticals etc are frequently used to promote these products since health claims are very expensive, stringent and time consuming to be established under international protocols. Globally the cosmeceutical market is placed at $ 60 billion and the product range includes food preparations as well as products for external application. Danone which expected to net a business turn over of $100 million for its 'Essensis Yogurt', targeted at skin conscious consumers, could not succeed to cross even $ 50 million mark in 3 years, finally abandoning the product. Japan leads the world in beauty foods and the market there is estimated at $ 300 million per year. Ingredients like probiotic cultures, lycopene, lutein, aloe vera, antioxidants, plant sterols, flax lignans, grape seed extract, omega-3 and 6 oils, vitamins, minerals, hyaluronic acid, soy flavones,collagen, green tea, ginseng, kiwi fruit extract, cocoa etc are some of the most sought after ones by the the beauty food industry for designing such foods as there are scattered reports published supporting some of the claims of health improvement.
If there is really a group of foods that can be called beauty foods, can there be another category which are 'ugly' foods? This is a relevant question because all normal persons who are beautiful or handsome by birth will not be adversely affected by regular consumption of normal foods. There are hundreds of ordinary natural foods which have properties to protect skin, face, nails, color, glow, shapely body, smooth mobility and all other virtues and one need not depend on processing industry to make specialty products for the purpose. Foods like nuts, avocado, most of the fruits and vegetables, especially asparagus, raisins, salmon and tuna fish and many others have constituents that have a role in maintaining and enhancing the inherent beauty!
According to WHO, Probiotics are living organisms which upon ingestion in certain minimum numbers exert health benefits beyond their inherent basic nutrition. These microbes, considered natural and safe, produce many metabolites that are essential to maintain intestinal health and reduce or eliminate ailments like colon irritation, constipation, diarrhea and population of pathogenic bacteria, synthesize B-vitamins, lower blood ammonia level and cholesterol absorption and inhibit tumor development. A minimum of one million live cells per gm must be present in such preparations while the industry standard is one billion live cells per serving and food technologists have been able to develop excellent process technology like microencapsulation, to preserve the live cells till they reach the intestinal system to exert their beneficial action, without any significant damage.
Big players like L'Oreal, Nestle, Danone, Coca Cola and many others seem to be keen to exploit the concept of "beauty from within" and are engaged in diversifying their portfolio into the emerging cosmeceutical food segment. Reported development in Sweden of a product called Tricutan based on Chinese, Indian and Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, macadamia nut oil, turmeric and the medicinal herb Centella Asiatic points to the heightened interest in this area world wide. Tricutan has properties to increase neurotransmitter activities for facilitating facial muscle contraction, causing shortening and tightening of the muscles. 'Circu' from the chocolate giant Mars is reported to contain plant flavonoids considered good for enhancing beauty through their action at multi levels in the body. Major focus of most of the big players is on skin, nails, hair and general appearance. Probably a synergy of cosmetic, food and medical industry sectors only can conclusively establish the credibility of such products amongst the consumers. Food industry can definitely be a tool to provide "beauty without cruelty" to those yearning to enhance their appearance.