Dr Te Morenga has been involved in a range of projects looking at optimal diets and public health. She is currently an associate investigator with the Riddet Institute and the Nga Pae o te Maramatamga Centre of Research Excellence and a co-principal investigator on a project funded under the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, the aim of which is to co-design and test a health tool to support healthy lifestyles and prevent non-communicable disease in partnership with Maori and Pacific communities.
Dr Te Morenga says, “My current research focuses on the role of dietary carbohydrates in human health. In recent years, I have been developing better methods for assessing sugar intakes including testing the applicability of new urinary and blood biomarkers as objective measures of free (added) sugar intakes. With better estimates of the amount of free sugars populations are consuming we will be able to predict with more confidence the extent to which sugary foods and drinks are associated with increasing rates of non-communicable diseases.”
Research supported by the Riddet Institute undertaken at the University of Otago has the potential for a direct impact on the New Zealand food industry, which is seeking information on how to create healthier foods. An example of this is an exciting multidisciplinary project that will investigate the effect of different processing strategies that aim to retain more intact grain structures in wholegrain foods on the physiological responses in people with and without diabetes. This work is primarily funded by the Riddet Institute, with World Health Organisation, the Health Research Council and the Baking Industry Trust also supporting the research. To achieve the challenging outcomes required by the project, a new collaboration has been established that includes researchers from the University of Otago’s Food Science Department (led by Prof Indrawati Oey, Riddet Institute Principal Investigator), Plant & Food Research (Dr John Munro, Riddet Institute Principal Investigator) and experts from the UK, China and Australia. Dr Te Morenga says, “Although this work has obvious relevance internationally, hence the interest of the World Health Organisation, it is wonderful to have our own local food industry engaged right from the beginning. The Baking Industry Research Trust sees significant value in this work, as the findings could help them to produce even healthier baked products for New Zealanders.”
Dr Te Morenga’s research has also contributed to world health guidelines. “Our systematic reviews are contributing to the development of the update of the World Health Organization recommendation on carbohydrate intakes for adults and children. I have also been involved in the development of the new World Health Organization recommendations on sugars, saturated fat and carbohydrates, by preparing systematic reviews of the evidence underpinning the recommendations.”