Another day, another opportunity to discuss food supplement ingredients. And we will get them all! Today I am going to talk about Pectin, which can be found in food supplements e.g. Promax protein bar and others.
Jams, jellies and a French chemist
Pectin is a natural substance. It is a complex carbohydrate which can be found in cell walls of terrestrial plants (mostly in fruits). It was first isolated in 1825 by Henri Braconnot, who was a French chemist and pharmacist.
Pectin can be listed on product labels as E440 (i) for non-amidated pectin, and E440(ii) for amidated pectin. No acceptable daily intake (ADI) has been set by regulatory authorities as it is considered safe to use.
Sources and nutrition
A natural part of the human diet, pectin doesn’t contribute significantly to nutrition. The daily intake is estimated at 5g/day. That’s assuming that you consume 500g of vegetables and/or fruits a day.
It is used in products like jams and jellies, primarily as a gelling agent. Without pectin jams would be just a sweet juice as they wouldn’t have the jelly-like consistency.
In commercial production it is a white to light brown powder. Usually extracted from apples or citrus peels which contain up to 30% pectin. Apples have about 1-1.5%, oranges 0.5-3.5%. Other pectin-rich fruits include:
- and redcurrants
Pectin levels are highest in fruit which is just barely ripe. Then level goes down as it matures from fully ripe to overripe. This is because the polysaccharide is broken down when fruit ripens. Making fruit softer.
Pectin is also found in vegetables like potatoes and sugar beat, and in pears. In this case it’s pectin with acetylated galacturonic acid and methyl esters. A gel is not formed because of acetylation. Depending on application that could be useful as acetylation increases the emulsifying and stabilising effect.
In food supplements pectin is used as a gelling agent, stabilizer, or thickening agent.
High-ester pectins are used in jams and marmalades with high sugar content. For diet products, where less sugar is used, low-ester and amidated pectins are used.
E440 is used as a thickening agent in cooking and baking. It can be also found in other products like fruit juices, and acidic protein drinks where it acts as a stabilizer. Sometimes it’s used as a fat substitute in baked goods.
Heat it up
A pectin gel is created by heating up ingredients. This process dissolves pectin. When cooled below gelling temperature a gel is formed. If it’s too strong then a granular texture is observed. If it’s too weak the gel is too soft.
Commercial extraction is performed by adding hot dilute acid at a pH of 1.5-3.5. After some hours E440 goes from solid state into solution. Next step is filtration and extract concentration in vacuum. The product is then precipitated by adding ethanol or isopropanol.
Collected pectin can be later washed and dried. It is usually standardized with sugar and sometimes with calcium salts/organic acids to make it suitable for different applications.
Stabilize, thicken, and gel
Pectin is categorized as a thickener, which is any substance that can increase viscosity of a liquid without a substantial change of other properties. Stability of a product is increased as thickeners improve suspension of other ingredients or emulsions.
This thickener is a gellant (gelling agent), which dissolves in the liquid phase as colloid mixture that can form a weakly cohesive internal structure. Colloid is a fancy term for a substance where insoluble particles are suspended throughout another substance.
The good: cholesterol, diarrhea, and radioactivity
According to WebMD E440 may be effective for high cholesterol. In particular for lowering levels of the ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. It doesn’t affect ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or triglycerides. It binds cholesterol and slows down glucose absorption. The dose used in studies was set at 15g per day.
Pectin is a source of soluble dietary fiber.
WebMD mentions that E440 could be effective for shortening bouts of diarrhea and vomiting in young children. Another report talks about a modified citrus pectin product called PectaSol-C which might lengthen the time to prostate cancer recurrence. However, there is insufficient evidence to back these claims.
Pectin is safe for use when pregnant or breast feeding. Possibly safe even when used in larger medicinal quantities.
A superhero? Fighting radioactivity
Interestingly, E440 was used after Chernobyl catastrophe to extract radionuclides from people living in Chernobyl area. Up to 50% improvement over control groups was observed.
It has a prebiotic effect as microorganisms in the large instestine and colon release short-chain fatty which have a positive impact on health. E440 adds bulk to the stools by binding substances in the intestine. It increases stool volume and viscosity, so it may help with diarrhea and constipation.
Used in throat lozenges as a demulcent. That’s not a common word, I think. It essentially describes an agent which forms a soothing film over mucous membranes to relieve inflammation. Another commonly used demulcent is honey. Many demulcents can be found in cough mixtures.
The bad: drugs don’t like pectin
This is a very short part of the blog post as, yes you got it right, there are not many risks associated with this common food supplement ingredient. If anything, some minor observations to take into consideration.
Pectin interacts with tetracycline antibiotics, affecting the amount of tetracyclines absorbed by your body and decreasing their effectiveness. E440 is high in fiber, which again could decrease effectiveness of drugs, like digoxin.
As a rule, medications taken by mouth should be taken one hour before or four hours after E440, so that the pectin-drug interaction doesn’t happen. That’s it, a simple fix.
If you experience any other side effects associated with this ingredient let me know. I will add it here.
Have you used Pectin as a supplement? Would you like us to perform a 30-day experiment? Leave a comment below.
Dr Bart Baranowski