Food Structure is everything at FSDH 2019

Food Structures Digestion and Health 2019 in Rotorua saw nearly 250 international and Australasian scientists come together to debate and discuss various aspects of food science, diet and health. This biannual conference took place over three days with 11 sessions on food structure design, the microbiome, oral processing, digestion physiology, modelling the human gastrointestinal tract, the food-gut-brain axis, alternative proteins, new product development and revising dietary guidelines.

Hosted by the Riddet Institute and CSIRO Australia every two years, the conference generated significant debate in a variety of areas including the crucial role that food structures play in the food industry in terms of nutrition, digestion and the release of nutrients for health.  There were sessions on food structure in relation to food design principles, its processing in the mouth, how consumers perceive taste and food design for delivery of actives and nutrients.  The conference featured a session on the human microbiome and recent advances in this area, as well as sessions describing models of our gastrointestinal tract in order to understand the complex role of food structure breakdown as we eat.

Research and industrial application of research has developed significantly within the food science arena in the last century and we saw evidence of giant leaps forward in this at the conference. The food industry has evolved into a complex system with an organized structure with global distribution and products, as has research in that we now have the tools to understand food systems at a microscale. Professor Peter Hunter (University of Auckland), Dr Simon Harrison (CSIRO) and others showed clear progress in the virtual physical models of human digestion that will lessen the need for in vivo studies. Other models and processes were designed in order to keep food production systems sustainable in the future. Work by plenary speaker Distinguished Professor Paul Singh (UC Davis, USA) demonstrated how food production can reduce its environmental footprint and use resources more efficiently.

Humans are complex organisms influenced by their environment and the psychology of our values. FSDH 2019 discussions demonstrated that we know a lot about individual components of foods but it is the combination of foods that we eat that needs future study, as thought and choice has changed the global food system. Talks by Professor Manohar Garg (University of Newcastle, Australia) and Professor Jim Mann (Otago University) illustrated the complexity of assessing macronutrients within a diet. The move to less chemicals and more natural ingredients is clear, as is their global replacement, detailed by Professor Matt Golding (Massey University). Bringing the consumer into the heart of food research is also important so that we can help challenge the consumer perceptions of food regulation systems. Our science needs to move into systems and it is a more complex way of doing research both in terms of geography and scientific disciplines that need to come together and collaborate. We require full mechanistic understanding and to keep developing the molecular tools needed, as exemplified in the microbiome field.

Highlights of the conference included Professor Peter Wilde from the Quadram Institute (UK), who discussed the history of food structure and how it has affected human evolution. Our understanding means we can manipulate food performance and food functional assemblies, to deliver better nutrition. But despite this history, Professor Wilde suggested the evolution of man has not yet dealt with the modern Western lifestyle and diet, where populations can access either insufficient nutrients or an oversupply creating issues with metabolic health.

Both Professor Robert Wolfe (University of Arkansas, USA) and Professor Margret Morris (University of Sydney, Australia) presented their work on protein digestion in the elderly and studies on food choice, highlighting the effects of inadequate nutrition that are developing globally. Barriers remain in trying to provide sufficient protein for specific sections of the population that we need to overcome as food scientists, including increasing digestibility of nutritious foods. Challenges like these have been overcome in food science before and Professor Eddie Pelan (University of Birmingham) reminded the attendees about the last food revolution that occurred because of the lack of nutrition within countries and populations following two World Wars. This led to industrial innovations such as canning and freezing processes, dehydration processes and prolonging shelf life of foods for food preservation and safety, without affecting colour and taste. We look forward to realizing innovations in the next 30 years to overcome the issues faced by rising global populations.

The next FSDH conference will be held in Australia in 2021.

Selected presentations from the conference are available:

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