Insights from Positive Nutrition Summit

Future foods programme: collaborating for functional food success

By Olivia Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Future foods programme: collaborating for functional food success

Related tags Functional food functional beverage Vitamin Polyphenols bioactives

The leader of the Welsh government funded Future Foods programme at Aberystwyth University, discussed his mission to collaborate with brands to optimise food functionality, during the Positive Nutrition Summit last week (March 30th)

Officially launching in 2018, the future foods programme involves planning and implementing collaborative R&D with food and drink companies, utilising food intervention trials.

Explaining what the programme offers to such companies, John Draper, leader of the programme, described: ​If you try to go to EFSA to ask for a claim to be assessed, the first thing you’ll have to do is test the stability and shelf life of your product and prove bioavailability in humans.

“These are the two things we focus on offering. We discuss what needs to be done in the future, to ensure [the company’s] understanding of the complexity, the technology, the timeframes, and cost of this,​he highlighted.

Draper spotlighted examples of ‘new to market’ products that have been targeted in the programme, including a vitamin-optimised wholefood shake, a high polyphenol ‘antient grain’ bread product, and kombucha products using modified fermentation to optimise bioactive content.

He emphasised the strong current interest in the programme, noting ten companies just that week going forward with GRAS applications following their successful collaboration with the university.

The journey to launch

Draper explained how the university recognised the strategic importance of diversifying into food-related research, which led to the subsequent need for food-grade research facilities for this venture. Following this, the Welsh government then initiated the strategic partnership with Aberystwyth university, understanding this need and the economic importance of agriculture and food within Wales.

“More recently, we have gotten support from the UK research councils to set up an innovation centre. We have about 42 million invested in this new build,” he added.

“We now have a centre with several units that specialises in analysing food materials...Companies can come and work in the food centre to make products and have collaborative ventures with the team. We have about 30 team members involved.”

He continued: “We are hoping to understand the features of our foods that we are exposed to, that help us to understand things about nutritional quality and functionality.”

The process

Draper described the innovation pipeline utilised.

He explained: “What we’re interested in doing, using our investment in our scientific technologies, is to address two really important things: nutritional quality assessment and bioactive identification and assay.

“The important thing to realise is that what appears on the label of foods in terms of content isn’t always relevant when it comes to nutritional quality. For example, you can have a very high protein product, but the digestibility and bioavailability of the amino acids needed for muscle growth and maintenance can be very different,” ​he stressed.

In addition to the importance of the overall content of the food product, Draper drew attention to the importance of intra- and inter-variabilities in bioavailability within human bodies, which can ultimately influence the final benefit of the functional ingredient.

“You need this type of background before you can make any progress,” ​he emphasised, with regards to reaching a final health claim or GRAS certification.

Along with external collaborating companies and with the use of the AberInnovation food grade facilities, Draper explained how the product then passes through the development stage. Finally, through food intervention trials, the product is assessed for health claim potential before it is concluded to be a novel functional food.

Example projects

He highlighted a recent project, in which dairy was used for the delivery of the plant-based bioactive iminosugar; a compound present in specific types of cucumbers which has been noted to exhibit health benefits including blood glucose and inflammatory regulation.

“We conducted taste panels, bioassays, HPLC assays to show the bioactive compound was stable through the whole process, shelf-life tests, and also feeding trials to show the compound gets into the blood. What’s also important, is to have conformance compliance methods in the health claim strategy to prove the people are actually eating the product.”

The food intervention trials conducted in the programme demonstrated that blood levels of anti-inflammatory cytokine Interleukin 10 (IL-10) elevated significantly after exposure to the iminosugars within the food.

Following this joint venture, it was established that to ensure future health claims, there were requirements for urinary tests to determine consumption compliance during food interventions, blood tests for bioavailability of the iminosugars in humans, and clinical assays for health and well-being assessments.

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