Newsletter: February 13, 2018

Researched and written weekly by the editorial team of Food Technology magazine, the IFTNEXT Newsletter explores what are, arguably, the next big things in the science of food through original reporting of scientific breakthroughs, leading-edge technology, novel food components, and transdisciplinary R&D.

New oat variety boasts potential health benefits
Kowari OatA newly developed oat variety with high levels of beta glucan may help assist in the battle of reducing cholesterol. 

Researchers at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) developed the oat variety called Kowari to produce more beta glucan than other oat varieties. Beta glucans are sugars naturally present in oats that have been shown to help decrease blood cholesterol re-absorption. What’s more, the new oat variety is higher yielding and has better disease resistance. 

To achieve these traits in the Kowari plant, the researchers used classical plant breeding, says Pamela Zwer, principal plant breeder with the National Oat Breeding Program at SARDI. At its most basic level, classical plant breeding involves a series of crossing and selection to achieve the desired traits. Seeds will be available to farmers this year, but only in Australia. However, Zwer says that Kowari grown in the country will be exported for use in food products overseas.  


Tomatoes may protect against skin cancer
TomatoesResearchers at Ohio State University (OSU) recently determined that consumption of tomatoes may protect against skin cancer. Using an animal model, the researchers conducted a study investigating whether diets containing tomatoes would protect skin from tumors while the animals were exposed to a dose of ultraviolet light that induced mild sunburn.  

The researchers fed the animals two different varieties of tomatoes: conventional red tomatoes and tangerine (orange) tomatoes. Both tomato types are rich in lycopene and other phytochemicals. The researchers found that regardless of tomato type, the animals consuming tomato diets developed significantly fewer tumors than those on control diets (i.e., no tomatoes). “Interestingly there was more lycopene in the skin of animals on the tangerine tomatoes [versus] red tomatoes, but that difference in lycopene level didn’t seem to translate to fewer tumors,” says Jessica Cooperstone, an assistant professor at OSU and co-author of the study. Thus, the lycopene in tomatoes is likely neither the sole reason nor the main reason for the protective benefit. “What we would expect is that if lycopene is the effective agent protecting skin from damage and cancer in this model, [then] when you have more lycopene (be that in skin or in blood), you would expect fewer tumors,” Cooperstone explains. “This is not what we observed.” 

Citing other research that indicates the protective health benefits of tomato consumption, Cooperstone and her research colleagues believe that there may be other compounds in tomatoes that play roles in protecting skin from cancer. “We are interested to better understand which compounds are responsible for this affect, with the long-term goal of developing tomatoes that have enhanced health benefits, with scientific evidence to back up that claim,” she says. “[T]hen all the consumer would need to do is buy them.” 


Researchers work to add a ‘salad bar’ to military rations
Vacuumed Sealed SaladA trip to the salad bar typically isn’t an option for soldiers in the field. But military rations may one day soon include a nutritious, highly compressed, veggie-based food bar dubbed the “Salad Bar.” At least that will be the case if the R&D efforts of a team of product developers at the Combat Feeding Directorate at the Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center (NSRDC) in Natick, Mass., are successful.  

Combining vacuum technology with microwave drying is the key to transforming fresh vegetables like lettuce, carrots, and asparagus into bar form. NSRDC food technologist Tom Yang came up with the idea for compressing salad components covered with honey mustard dressing to create the lightweight, shelf-stable salad bar. One version of the bar is wrapped in an edible film made from tomatoes, and another is wrapped in a collard green leaf. The dressing not only enhances the product’s taste, but it promotes vitamin absorption. 

The vacuum microwave drying, or VMD, technology preserves heat-sensitive nutrients in the vegetables because it typically doesn’t require temperatures above 100°F, Yang explains. It is also much faster than freeze-drying, which can take from 48 to 72 hours, while VMD requires only 20 to 40 minutes. Products are left in a semi-moist state but still meet the military ration requirement of a three-year shelf life under ambient conditions thanks to the use of hurdle technologies to control water activity and moisture and the use of high-barrier packaging materials to prevent oxygen and water vapor permeation, according to Yang. 

Yang says the project is still in the early stages of R&D, with prototypes currently being tested against the requirements for military rations. “If products meet requirements,” he adds, “they may be incorporated into field rations over the next few years, pending service approval.” Military rations typically deliver plenty of protein, but fresh fruits and vegetables can be in short supply for soldiers on active duty because produce is so perishable.  
NSRDC has contracted with EnWave Corp., a Canadian technology company that developed a proprietary method for precisely dehydrating organic materials, to develop and produce vacuum-microwave dried food ingredients and prototype ration components. Yang notes that additional collaboration with EnWave and industrial partners to further advance the technology and develop a production base is planned.  


Western diets raise the body’s immune response
Fast FoodA typical Western diet has long been linked to many chronic health issues, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Now, a study by researchers at the University of Bonn shows that diets high in fat and calories cause the immune system to react in a manner similar to the way it reacts to a bacterial infection. Even after the adoption of a healthy diet, inflammation remains pronounced. 

During the study, scientists placed mice on a month-long diet high in calories, fat, and sugar, and low in fiber. The unhealthy diet led to an unexpected increase in the number of certain immune cells in the blood of the mice, especially granulocytes and monocytes. These inflammatory responses have the ability to accelerate the development of vascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.  

The scientists were also able to identify a form of memory in the immune system that causes the body to respond more quickly to a new attack after it has experienced an infection. In some subjects, the innate immune system showed a particularly strong training effect. In these subjects, there was genetic evidence of the involvement of an inflammasome, a key intracellular signaling complex that recognizes infectious agents and other harmful substances, and subsequently releases highly inflammatory messengers.  

“We have shown that a Western diet causes inflammasome activation, which causes an increase in hematopoiesis and the induction of increased immune responsiveness,” says Eicke Latz, director of the Institute for Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn and scientist at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. “This likely has a lot of implications for chronic inflammatory diseases, which are the biggest health threats these days. 

“We are now looking into the detailed mechanisms [of] how dietary challenges of the immune system change the epigenome (which we found already) and how these changes lead to increased disease susceptibilities,” adds Latz. “In the long run, we aim to increase public awareness that the change in diet we experience in Western societies can represent a health threat.” 


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Published every Tuesday, this newsletter explores what are, arguably, the next big things in the science of food.