Healthier food and drinks with palm oil vitamins

Fancy a cholesterol-lowering McDonald's cheeseburger? How about Coca-Cola packed with antioxidants to boost your immune system?

This may soon become a reality as Malaysian palm oil vitamins producers are spending US$38,500 (RM134,750) to apply for GRAS status from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to gain access into the functional food and beverage market there.

GRAS is acronym for "generally regarded as safe" while functional food refers to meals specifically made for health use. According to Datamonitor's report, Americans spent US$40 billion (RM140 billion) on functional foods, drinks and supplements last year, 38 per cent higher than 2003.

"MPOB is funding half the cost of GRAS-status group applications," said Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.

"Malaysia is the world's largest producer and exporter of palm oil vitamin E. It is imperative that our producers are able to penetrate deeper into the US market to fully realise their investments here," he told Business Times.

There are five palm tocotrienols producers in Malaysia. They are Sime Darby Bioganic Sdn Bhd, Carotech Bhd, Carotino Sdn Bhd, Supervitamins Sdn Bhd (a subsidiary of Keck Seng (M) Bhd) and Palm Nutraceuticals Sdn Bhd (a unit of Kim Loong Resources Bhd). Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, via its unit Davos Life Sciences Pte Ltd, is producing and exporting palm tocotrienols from Singapore. IOI Corp Bhd's unit Lipid Nutrition in the Netherlands recently brandnamed its palm tocotrienols extracts "VitaTrin".

Each company has its own extraction method. While Carotech and Supervitamins extract tocotrienols from virgin crude palm oil, others distil this antioxidant from palm fatty acid distillate. Carotech currently supplies to 70 per cent of the world's tocotrienol market.

Last year, companies in Malaysia exported RM50 million worth of palm oil vitamins. This nutrient extracts are mainly used in the health supplement and cosmetic markets. Palm oil vitamin usage is still very small in the whole scheme of the US health supplement market and this presents opportunities. The vitamin E market alone is estimated to be US$400 million (RM1.4 billion).

In a separate telephone interview from New Jersey, Carotech Inc vice-president W.H. Leong explained that in the US, dietary supplement is regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act 1994. "We're required to notify FDA whenever we introduce a new dietary supplement to the market," he said.

Another law - Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act - requires manufacturers and distributors who wish to market dietary supplements that contain "new" ingredients to notify the FDA. The term "new" dietary ingredient is meant for those not sold in the US in a food supplement before October 15 1994.

Selling and marketing palm oil vitamins in itself is tough as not many consumers are aware of the unique health benefits of palm tocotrienols over the more commonly known tocopherol vitamin E. Coupled with compounding issues such as palm oil being high in saturates and allegations of oil palm planting not being sustainable, it has been a challenging 15 years for Carotech. But the group persevered and continues to promote palm tocotrienols via scientific research, studies and clinical trials at hospitals in the US and Malaysia.

Carotech is the only tocotrienol producer that has a sales and marketing office in the US. "We constantly have to dispel misinformation about palm oil in the US," Leong said.

Generally, consumers around the world are not aware that tocotrienols is a more potent form of vitamin E with unique health benefits not shown by the regular tocopherol vitamin E. The industry needs to allocate more money to effectively inform consumers on the neuro- and-cardiovascular health benefits of tocotrienols.

Palm oil contains more nutrients than any other dietary oil. Apart from beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lycopene, it contains at least the full spectrum of Vitamin E, Vitamin K, co-enzyme Q10, squalene, phytosterols, flavonoids, Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, phenolic acids and glycolipids." Indeed, palm oil is packed with a host of potent antioxidants and is in many ways, a life-saver," Leong said.

As the largest and the world's leading supplier of palm oil nutrient extracts, Carotech brands its supply of natural palm oil vitamin E, Tocomin and mixed carotene (pro-vitamin A) extracts, Caromin. For now, Carotech is the world's only GMP-certified tocotrienol producer.

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