The search for healthy food additives

Bowl of yogurt and blueberries with granola

The search for healthy food additives

University of Manitoba researchers are helping large food companies add value — both nutritional and commercial — to their products
June 5, 2015

Researchers at the University of Manitoba's Richardson Centre for Functional Food and Nutraceuticals (RCFFN) have been working with some of the world's food giants to validate the health benefits of bioactives — things like the probiotics in your yogurt and the omega-3 fatty acids in your eggs — to take advantage of the global market for functional foods, forecasted to be worth more than $30 billion by 2018.

Researchers at the centre are equipped to validate the health effects of bioactives by recruiting volunteers to eat a diet containing a potentially “functional” ingredient and measuring things like blood cholesterol and sugar levels. This gives food companies the validation they need to make credible claims about the health benefits of their products.  For example, RCFFN researchers conducted studies on plant sterols in the 1990s with hundreds of people which led to findings that have transformed ingredient lists of popular grocery store items across the globe. The cholesterol-reducing bioactive ingredient reduces heart disease risk by up to 20 percent and has now been added to soy beverages, yogurt, orange juice and margarine.

In addition to plant sterols, researchers at the Centre are testing several other functional food candidates such as alpha lipoic acid, known for its potent antioxidant properties, and n-3 fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory and lipid lowering properties.

Closer to home, the Centre often works with Manitoba-based natural food start-ups to give them access to the expertise and equipment they need to validate and launch commercially successful products. When residents of Swan River, Man., brought in a dogwood plant that locals discovered helped alleviate arthritis symptoms, researchers found a method to extract the bioactive ingredient, which is now marketed in capsule form with the Manitoba-based company All Natural Inc.