My Leatherhead nutrition colleagues have been busy these last few months. Each year they organise the Vitafoods Europe Conference in Geneva and they have just completed the 2011 programme, which focuses on functional foods. With barely a pause, they then finished our new 371.6m2 nutrition unit, which is designed to test which functional foods work!
There's a growing focus on foods with health-promoting or disease-preventing properties beyond normal nutrient provision. However, only some food nutrients are absorbed in the body. This portion can vary hugely depending on food structure and degree of processing. A grasp of how foods break down in the gut and deliver desired functionality demands a more rigorous understanding of the digestion, absorption and distribution of functional ingredients.
To deliver health outcomes, the digestibility or bioaccessibility of food components has to be studied using a cross-disciplinary approach to develop and optimise functional foods and ingredients. By understanding how food is broken down during digestion, it will be possible to design healthier foods, and improve health benefits.
The new nutrition unit includes an innovative platform designed to model and understand the human digestive processes. This in-vitro tool can be applied to product development and R&D projects including those concerned with functional foods and bioavailability of active compounds and nutrients. Promising ingredients are then fully evaluated using the extensive human study facilities in the new unit.
For those who can't get enough info on functional foods, a Leatherhead Food Research event on June 9, Delivery of functionality: structuring foods for health, will focus on the science of designing foods for maximum absorption across the gastrointestinal wall. Come and give your gut reaction!
Paul Berryman is chief executive of Leatherhead Food Research.