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Health by stealth

Commercial future for model gut - 28 February 2013. iStockphoto

Many people are aware of government guidelines for a well-balanced diet: to eat plenty of wholegrain foods, fruit and vegetables. But with busy lifestyles often prioritising convenience over health, the search is on for new food products that can deliver the same health benefits.

Research at Newcastle University has found that a seaweed extract added to bread not only boosts the dietary fibre content but could even aid weight loss.

Jolanta Kisielewska, a Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship awardee of the Royal Society eating alginate bread. Tim Gander
Jolanta Kisielewska, a Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow eating alginate bread.  Image: Tim Gander

For a number of years Professor Jeffrey Pearson's team have been studying the capacity of dietary fibre to help people feel fuller for longer. In particular they've been looking at alginates in seaweed, which are already a common ingredient as a fat replacement in many processed foods.

Interestingly, they have shown that adding alginates to foods may also offer a way to keep the fat content of foods the same and still lose weight.

Have your cake and eat it

Following on from a previous study which showed that some alginates can inhibit the action of pancreatic lipase so that less fat is digested, Pearson's team have developed an alginate bread, which they tested in a model gut system that mimicked the chewing, gastric and intestinal processes.

Dr Matthew Wilcox testing alginate digestion in the Newcastle team’s model gut system. Tim Gander
Dr Matthew Wilcox testing alginate digestion in the Newcastle team’s model gut system.
Image: Tim Gander

In this latest study, supported by the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (a partnership led by BBSRC with the Medical Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and 13 industry members), Pearson's team have shown that alginate is released from the bread in the intestinal phase where lipase is most active.

What's more, in a subsequent acceptability study, using bread supplied by Greggs the baker, they demonstrated that alginates had no adverse effects on people, such as those associated with some weight management products currently on the market.

"We've found that not only do people not mind the taste of the alginate bread compared to ordinary bread they prefer it. This is very encouraging as we look to further develop alginate food products, building on the links that we have forged with industry," says Professor Pearson.