IFT First

IFT First: How can nutrition and food science inform each other? Big data may help

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Source: D. Ataman
Source: D. Ataman

Related tags Big data Nutrition Food science

Food science’s role in public health will play a more critical role in addressing increasingly nuanced dietary and nutrition preferences within a diverse and growing population. Big data and personalized nutrition offer solutions to fine tune these preferences and help combat diet-related diseases, while the debate continues on the safety and nutritional value of ultra-processed foods, all of which panelists discussed during IFT FIRST, which took place in Chicago, July 17-19.

Panelists during the “What is the role of food science in public health and nutrition policy” discussion explored how the traditional means of food development focused on an intersection between likeability, cost and convenience. The role of food science has only expanded from these points, particularly after the pandemic, the conflict in Ukraine and inflation, to encompass what moderator, Anna Rosales, senior director of government affairs, IFT explains as affordable, accessibile, available and acceptable food solutions.

We often talk about affordability, availability and accessibility. I think, especially as food scientists, we need to elevate acceptability. It is only food and nutrition if it is consumed. Food science really has that power to bring forward solutions that are acceptable, that are delicious or desirable. It’s not a solution to say we just need to make food that’s less palatable because people eat less​,” Rosales explained.

Yet, there remains a gap between food and nutrition, observed Julia Hess, research nutritionist, USDA-ARS Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research.

If I’m thinking about what I would recommend to consumers with dietary patterns [and] healthy eating habits, I don’t necessarily know, for instance, why different additives are in different foods,​” Hess said.

While at first glance, food ties the two fields together, Hess explains that the gap lies in food science’s focus on technical and formulaic considerations in constructing a food product, while nutrition focuses on how a food interacts with the body’s functions. How can the two fields inform the other?

I think we need to build a bridge between nutrition science and food science to understand why there are certain things in the food supply that are there. I think that’s the role of food science and food scientists—to bring this education piece to the nutrition science community because we do not have the same expertise​,” she added.

‘By using big data, we can give a basic criterion for nutrition’

Chin-Kun Wang, a professor at Chung San Medical University, explained how big data with genetics, epigenetics and AI, among others can play a role in strengthening the relationship between the two fields, particularly as the global population continues to grow and increasing nutritional content in food will be remain a critical challenge.

We are facing a very serious population—eight billion—so how we can…increase the nutritional value is very important. So by [using] big data, we can give a basic criterion for human [nutrition] and satisfy nutritional needs​,” Wang explained.

AI-led technology has revolutionized how food science characterizes and understands natural molecules with potential health benefits by drastically reducing R&D time and resources.

In terms of malnutrition and obesity, Wang explains that big data can correlate the public’s nutritional needs and food supply with the bioavailability of bioactives found in food waste, among other sources.

Moreover, companies like Nuritas​ and Brightseed​, for example, use proprietary AI technology to identify peptides and bioactives, respectively, to bring active and personalized health solutions to market quicker.

On the retail side, Hungry Root uses its AI to help consumers curate their digital shopping carts based on a detailed questionnaire, thereby reducing food waste​.

While partnerships between food brands and AI platforms​ like Climax Foods and Benching, highlight a growing need to produce novel, functional and economically sound products.

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