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Manufacturers should better consider nutrient profile during formulation, suggest researchers

By Nathan Gray , 09-Nov-2011

Integrating the effects of processing and product formulation on structure, texture, enzyme-induced modifications and nutritional quality can lead to the production of attractive, ready-to-eat products with health-promoting properties, according to new research.

Writing in Trends in Food Science & Technology , a team of researchers from top European institutions report findings from recent studies undertaken within the EU sponsored ‘Healthy Structuring’ project show how to design an industrially manufactured product with good sensory qualities that is natural and nutritious.

The research team noted that during traditional industrial processing of fruit and vegetable derived foods – such as soups and sauces – “consideration of the eventual retention, bio-accessibility or bio-availability of nutrients has hitherto been a secondary priority.”

Led by led by Professor Marc Hendrickx of K.U. Leuven, Belgium, the research team argued that standard processing of such products generally involves treating all ingredients in a similar way – “usually by prolonged heat treatment and results in both lowered nutritional value and sensory quality of food products.”

“The results from this project provide a sufficiently strong basis to justify the production and marketing of foods with nutrient profiles targeted for health benefits, especially since most nutrient-related chronic disorders are largely preventable,” said Hendrickx and his colleagues.

Processed nutrition

The researchers noted that processing technology currently relies on the use of additives to control product texture, adding that many of the currently available ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables derived food products are low in nutritional quality.

“Although the journey from farm to fork begins with the supply of raw materials, these are typically supplied without control of and/or specifications on nutritional and/or structural characteristics,” stated Hendrickx and his co-workers.

“The end-products result from an ‘all-in-one’ process without any attempt to maximize nutrient retention and bio-availability,” they said, noting that healthier ready-to-eat food products could be processed by more intelligent processing methods.

“Better selection and control of raw materials combined with optimal (milder) thermal and mechanical split-stream processing could produce food products with enhanced health attributes, having optimized nutrient retention and bio-availability,” said the research team.

“To avoid the use of gums and stabilizers, the natural structuring potential of several raw product streams can be exploited,” they argued.

Pilot production

In this context, the researchers reported that the Healthy Structuring project, supported by the European Commission, aimed to develop a pilot processing solution to improve the nutritional, structural and sensorial quality of ready-to-eat fruit and vegetable products with optimal health benefits, while maintaining product safety.

“By carefully selecting fresh carrots, tomatoes and broccoli combined with intelligent split-stream processing, a soup product was developed with better nutrient retention and in vitro bio-accessibility when compared with a traditionally-processed soup,” said Hendrickx and his colleagues.

They added that the raw materials were stabilised rapidly and early during processing by high-temperature, short-time treatments, while avoiding nutrient leaching by in-water-blanching treatments, while processing conditions were carefully controlled – based on the type of nutrient to be retained and the ease with which the nutrient should become bio-accessible.

The pilot ‘healthy’ soup was shown to increase the serum antioxidant status in vivo more than a conventionally produced soup, said the researchers.

“Intelligent food processing, which integrates structure enabling and preservation techniques, can produce attractive products that effectively maximize the health-promoting benefit of daily fruit and vegetable consumption,” concluded Hendrickx and his team.

Source: Trends in Food Science & Technology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.tifs.2011.10.005
“Structural design of natural plant-based foods to promote nutritional quality”
Authors: S. Van Buggenhou, L. Ahrné, M. Alminger, A. Andrys, M. Benjamin, L. Bialek, et al

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