• A scanning laser confocal microscope video in 3D showing the defined cell wall structure of raw carrot. (Video: Sofia Oeseth)
    A scanning laser confocal microscope video in 3D showing the defined cell wall structure of raw carrot. (Video: Sofia Oeseth)
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The latest scientific findings on how to design food to make it more nutritious are being revealed at The Food Structures, Digestion and Health Conference which kicks off today in Melbourne.

Topics covered during the four day conference hosted by the Riddet Institute and by CSIRO will include reducing salt, sugar and saturated fat in manufactured foods, and the effects of food structures on bio-availability of nutrients.

Speakers include Professor Julian Mercer, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, who will cover how food can be part of the solution to obesity, rather than the problem. He is looking at foods that are better able to satisfy appetite, and the science behind gut-to-brain signalling.

Professor Mike Gidley, from ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University of Queensland is looking at the latest findings on how the physical structure of food, in addition to its composition, determines nutritional value.

According to Li Day, a food materials scientist at CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences, researchers increasingly believe that many of a food’s key properties relate to its structure.

In a recent blog on the topic, she says the way different foods are structured affects how they break down differently in our digestive system. The release and bioavailability of small molecules such as minerals, vitamins and polyphenols is also different.

And as there is increasing awareness that structure has a significant effect on the bio-availability of nutrients, the focus of developing nutritional guidelines is shifting away from the traditional approach of simply assessing the nutrient composition of foods.

“Because of all these factors, food structures are increasingly being recognised as important in technology innovation for the development of healthier foods,” she writes.

According to CSIRO’s Dr Ingrid Appelqvist, who is a chair of the conference, understanding how food is structured at the most microscopic level and digested by the body is giving researchers new insights into our future diet-related health, and will help tackle global issues such as obesity and chronic diseases.

“A better understanding of food structures will not only lead to reformulating foods for less salt, sugar and fat but and also for being able to boost the wholegrain, fibre and nutrient content of foods, all hopefully without changing the taste,” she said.