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Reformulation key to healthier, more sustainable food - nutrition scientists

british nutrition foundation food reformulation
26 Aug 2020
Reformulation to improve nutrient profile, ingredient innovation and diversification of protein sources to include more plant-derived options, will define the future of food, according to contributors to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF)’s new ‘Nutrition Bulletin’ special issue.

It comprises a series of newly-published papers which examine the key public health issues and the technological advancements and challenges that are influencing the future of food products.

A key theme throughout the publication is the importance of reformulation and, in particular, innovation for creating a future food supply that is both healthier and more sustainable.

The publication covers topics such as sugar and sweeteners, protein, saturated fat and fibre, and includes a set of case studies of new ingredient developments.

It also highlights issues surrounding the need to mitigate the environmental impact of food production, the high prevalence of obesity globally and its association with the severity and outcomes of Covid-19 infection, the impact of the pandemic on issues such as food insecurity and food system disruption, and the need to strengthen the future resilience of the food system.

Among the contributors:

Professor Julian McClements, University of Massachusetts, highlights the opportunities the food industry has to address both public health and environmental issues, through clever food processing.

He says: “Just because many of the processed foods currently available are unhealthy when overconsumed, this does not mean that processed foods per se are unhealthy or undesirable. It is possible to create healthier processed foods by the careful application of science and technology.

“Many people do not have the time or resources to prepare foods from fresh ingredients every meal. Instead, many rely on the convenience of processed foods that are relatively quick and easy to prepare. We should, therefore, be encouraging the food industry to create healthier processed foods, rather than demonising all processed foods.”

A paper by Marta Lonnie, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, and Alexandra Johnstone, University of Aberdeen, highlights that diets that are both healthier and more sustainable are a valuable means to improve public health as well as food security, while reducing the impact of the food system on the environment. Healthy eating guidelines globally recommend a diet that is predominantly plant-based.

They explore the public’s perspective of plant protein as part of a more sustainable and healthy diet, and conclude that, in order to facilitate the shift towards more plant-based diets, it is crucial to communicate how to put this into practice effectively. For example, it is key to emphasise that desired health outcomes, such as building muscle and weight control, can be achieved through both animal and plant-derived sources of protein, and that what is particularly important is the nature of the ‘protein package’.

Looking at the technical aspects of plant-derived protein options, Simon Loveday, AgResearch New Zealand Ltd, highlights key challenges, including: physical and chemical differences between plant and animal proteins; the resource-intensiveness of extracting proteins from plants; and issues with sustainability credentials of plant sources.

There is also a selection of case studies from across food industry sectors that respond to health and sustainability trends and challenges with creative solutions. These include innovative ingredients to facilitate reductions in sugars or saturated fat and help to increase the amount of fibre or healthy fats in foods.

One looks at the development of cocoa pulp as a sugar replacer for chocolate. While cocoa pulp is usually a waste product of the cocoa bean, this case study showcases how it can be pasteurised, frozen and dried to create a workable ingredient for chocolate manufacturing.

Another focuses on an emerging sweet-tasting protein as a sugar replacer. This protein is 10,000 times sweeter than natural sugar, with very small amounts needed to impart the same sweetness, making it around 90% cheaper than sugar and with a smaller environmental footprint.

Professor Judy Buttriss, director general of the BNF, concludes: “This special issue illustrates some of the innovations being introduced by the food industry to improve the nutrient profile of food products and thus potentially improve public health, but also showcases the many challenges faced.

“While reformulation, on its own, can only take us so far on the journey to healthier and more sustainable dietary patterns, it certainly has an important part to play alongside innovation, new product development, and reconnection with the principles of good nutrition.

“Looking to the future, ultimately, we all need to play our part in improving appreciation of the personal and wider social and economic benefits of a healthier diet and lifestyle, of the building blocks of good nutrition, and their practical application in terms of meals and overall dietary pattern.”

Nutrition Bulletin Special Issue: Food reformulation and innovation: future solutions for healthier and more sustainable diet will be published in the week commencing August 24th.