What really happens to the food we eat?

People who worked on this

Dr Maria J Ferrua Affiliated Researcher, Fonterra
Professor R. Paul Singh University of California, Davis & Massey University

Riddet Institute Principal Investigator Professor R. Paul Singh from the University of California, Davis, is developing a fundamental understanding of how solid foods disintegrate in the body under the combined influence of physical forces and biochemical reactions.

The digestion process in a human stomach depends on the biochemical environment and the flow field that causes mixing, grinding and dissolution of solid foods. An in vitro system has been custom designed and constructed to mimic the same magnitude of physical forces as those in published in vivo studies. The disintegration rate of several types of solid foods is being measured to develop quantitative models. For example, studies on almonds and carrots show that any steps used to process these products have a dramatic influence on how they break down in the simulated stomach environment. Professor Paul Singh's team has also developed a computational model of the predicted flow field. The next steps are to combine the results of the food disintegration studies and the computational model of the flow field to develop a predictive simulation of the human digestion process.

A parallel study is being undertaken by a team from the University of Auckland that is investigating electrical activity within the stomach. This electric activity controls, affects and mediates motility (the ability to move spontaneously), contraction and digestion. Detailed mathematical models are being created and validated by carefully measuring electrical activity within the intact stomach. So far, recordings of gastrointestinal electrical activity have been made and initial models of a human stomach have been developed.
The modelling of these aspects of the human gut is unique and world-leading science. The knowledge will contribute to the development of innovative food formulations and creative process specifications for food manufacturing.

Flow fields in the human stomach

Professor R. Paul Singh is a member of National Academy of Engineering (United States).