Special edition: Highlights from IFT 2011 – part one

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Special edition: Highlights from IFT 2011 – part one

Related tags Food science Nutrition

Last month's IFT show in New Orleans was jam-packed with provocative presentations on everything from how to stop the 'lunatic fringe' hi-jacking the debate on food science to whether saturated fat deserves its reputation as a dietary bogeyman. Here are some of the highlights.

Obesity, reformulation and the art of the possible

One of the most controversial education sessions explored the controversy over saturated fat ​– whether it really deserves such a bad press – and whether what we are replacing it with is potentially far worse.

This prompted almost as much debate as Professor Clydesdale ​from the University of Massachusetts, who suggested that if more energy were expended on improving the nutritional profile of the foods Americans actually wanted to eat instead of doggedly trying to persuade them to change their eating habits, we would have a greater chance of tackling obesity.

Is how much protein we eat less important than when we eat it?

An equally thought-provoking session on protein revealed shocking statistics​ on how much muscle we can lose from even short periods of enforced inactivity.

But delegates were also told that adding up the total amount of protein we eat per day is not a tremendously useful way of determining whether we are actually getting enough.

Galileo, Matt Damon and who is really to blame for rampant chemophobia

Perhaps the most provocative presentation​ was delivered by New Yorker journalist Michael Specter, who argued that if food scientists really wanted to stop the ‘lunatic fringe’ from hi-jacking the debate on topics from nanotechnology and irradiation to GM, they should stop wringing their hands​ and blaming the media and seize back the initiative.

But there was still hope, said Professor Eric Decker,​ head of the food science department the University of Massachusetts, who suspected reports of the death of food science as an academic discipline in the US may have been exaggerated (student numbers at his department have tripled in the past five years).

Sweeter (naturally)

Meanwhile, the debate over the merits of high fructose corn syrup ​(HFCS) continued to rage, although one scientist felt it was time we all moved on.

As for high intensity natural sweeteners, stevia and monk fruit grabbed many of the headlines, but had they been overhyped? We asked Sweetleaf boss Jim May​ and PureCircle’s marketing guru Jason Hecker ​for their take.

So you like it, but how does my product make you feel​?

Finally, for those keen to add a new dimension to the traditional sensory evaluation process, Kraft Foods scientist Melissa Knorr said measuring consumers’ emotional responses​ to your wares might explain why two identical-looking products could achieve the same score in acceptability tests but perform wildly differently in the marketplace.

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