Nutraceuticals are used to create ‘functional foods’, the most commonly known of which are yogurts containing probiotic bacteria. However, many natural food products contain powerful ingredients that could be incorporated into food products to create functional foods.
Dr Nigel Brunton and Dr Hilde Wijngaard describe a number of possible new ingredients in the most recent issue of TResearch, Teagasc’s research magazine.
Waste Not, Want Not
Fruit and vegetable processing in Ireland generates substantial quantities of waste and by-products. However, researchers at Teagasc Ashtown Food Research Centre (AFRC) have found a potential use for this ‘waste’ as a source of antioxidants, which may help in the prevention of degenerative conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
One of their findings is that onion peels, a common by-product of food processing, have a much higher antioxidant activity than their flesh.
Spice of Life
The chilled ready meal market in Ireland is growing at a rapid rate; however, surveys have shown that some ready meals can deliver up to half of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium. This means that these products are at odds with consumer demands for healthy foods.
However, a rapid reduction in salt levels can compromise both microbial safety and taste. In conjunction with the University of Limerick, researchers at Ashtown Food Research Centre are examining a range of herbs and spices as substitutes for flavour and preservative functions lost through the removal of salt.
These herbs and spices also contain potent antioxidant compounds and thus can be used to improve the health-promoting profile of the ready meal.
Dietary fibre has often been reported as a potent protector against diseases like coronary heart disease and diabetes. In particular, soluble fibre is known to positively contribute to human health by reducing levels of blood cholesterol.
To date, in industry, the dietary fibre of choice for use as a functional ingredient is inulin (a fructan extracted from the chicory root). However, for the Irish food industry, oats and barley, may be better sources, since they contain high amounts of another soluble fibre known as ß-glucan. They are currently being assessed at Ashtown Food Research Centre.
Polyacetylenes are an additional group of bioactive compounds, present in certain vegetables that may act as potent anti-tumour agents. At present, the effect of processing techniques such as sous vide, high pressure and canning on the level of polyacetylenes is being tested in AFRC.
AFRC researchers will work closely with their colleagues at Moorepark Food Research Centre (MFRC), where the focus will be on the validation of health claims associated with bioactive components.
Gut Health in the Elderly
Researchers at Teagasc Moorepark Food Research Centre, in conjunction with UCC, are embarking on a project on gut health in the elderly. They will be determining the baseline microbiota of the gut in a large sample of elderly subjects in Ireland.
Professor Paul Ross, Head of the Biotechnology Department, MFRC said “such a platform will not only give us detailed information on what the profile of a healthy gut population looks like in the elderly, but should also inform us of how it may be perturbed in key disease states including obesity, gut infection, irritable bowel syndrome and hypertension. Such research will also explore how diet can positively influence the microflora, and thus provide the food industry with key information for the design and development of future functional foods to target this highly vulnerable and growing population.”
The above articles are featured in TResearch, Volume 2, Number 4, Winter 2007. It is available free for download at: www.teagasc.ie.