The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » Monthly - August 28, 2015
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Eat Your Way to Health
Want to eat your way out of disease instead of taking tons of drugs? Polish researchers have developed a new breed of bioactive foods that are designed to promote health and help patients with conditions such as obesity, anemia, hypertension and diabetes.

The foods have been developed as a result of a five-year project called “New bioactive foods with programmed health-promoting properties.” Clinical trials with patients have shown that this type of food has a therapeutic effect—and it tastes good. Doctors recommend it as a complementary method of treating lifestyle diseases.

“We compose this food from ingredients that contain an extremely high concentration of bioactive phyto-compounds,” says the project manager, Prof. Józef Korczak, head of the Department of Human Nutrition at the Poznań University of Life Sciences in western Poland. “We do not use any fixatives or preservatives. The ingredients are natural and come mostly from plants grown in Poland.”

There are, for example, mulberry and nettle extracts. “Most often this is an aqueous solution that is later dried to powder form,” Korczak said. “We also use dried leaves of kale, pulverized and added to products in powder form. We grow soybean sprouts on a special substrate and enrich them with iron. They are dried then as well and ground.”

To produce their innovative foods, the researchers obtained clean bioactive ingredients from the most valuable parts of plants. They evaluated them in chemical and sensory terms to leave out harmful substances such as allergens, toxins and heavy metals. Then they developed products with an attractive flavor, aroma, color and consistency. They also devised a method to protect the active ingredients, including proper packaging.

Cookies instead of drugs

The project has yielded 34 innovative food products that may be available soon in Polish stores. These include whole-wheat and crisp baked goods, sweet snacks (jelly-type desserts, jellies and puddings), soups, luncheon meat and fermented milk drinks.

Joanna Kobus-Cisowska, Ph.D., from the Department of Human Nutrition at the Poznań University of Life Sciences, says the new foods will be slightly more expensive than their counterparts without the extra health-promoting ingredients, but the price should be affordable. A daily dose of 8-10 products used in the study cost under zl.20, she says.

“During the research project, the new products improved selected medical indicators in patients compared with those eating traditional food,” says Kobus-Cisowska. “The greatest improvement was in the case of diabetics. During the dietary therapy these people use less insulin, and their metabolism of carbohydrates is better.”

Korczak notes the products produce “a positive double-whammy effect” in people who are at risk of a particular disease. “For example, they lower the blood cholesterol level and improve glucose levels in diabetics,” he says. “At the same time they protect consumers against obesity or diabetes.”
Healthy and yummy

A large group of scientists worked on the project and the clinical trials involved hundreds of patients, who, together with those assessing the sensory qualities of the foods, formed a group of more than 1,000 participants.

Doctors from the clinical centers of the Poznań University of Medical Sciences selected about 600 patients to take part in the tests for nine weeks. Food technology experts came up with about 10 products for each disease. The tests showed an improvement in the medical indicators of the patients who ate the new foods. What’s more, the patients—as well as their friends—described the new foods as very tasty. These health-promoting foods have an advantage over dietary supplements available in the form of capsules in that they contain only the required amount of bioactive compounds. In the case of dietary supplements there is a greater risk of overdosing.

“We hope the new foods will help reduce the incidence of lifestyle diseases, which are the leading cause of death and reduce the quality of life. They are also a serious financial burden for the health system,” says Korczak.

Numerous research studies suggest that the incidence of lifestyle diseases can be dramatically reduced by choosing a diet rich in bioactive ingredients. “The problem is, however, that these ingredients are present in low concentrations, which limits their effectiveness,” Korczak says. “That’s why we developed the technology for developing and producing completely new foods from scratch.”

Investing in the future

The more than zl.35 million project has been supported by the National Center for Research and Development (NCBR). The European Regional Development Fund provided 85 percent of the financing, and the remaining 15 percent was a designated subsidy from Poland’s Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego.

The project has yielded more than 20 patent applications, and the technology has been tested on a semi-industrial scale. On June 1, efforts got under way to enlist companies to start production of the new foods and place them on the market. Talks are under way with a number of Polish companies. The first batch of products is expected to hit the market within six months.

Production of healthy foods could become a major part of Poland’s economic strategy and could significantly promote those sectors of Polish industry and agriculture that produce ingredients rich in bioactive compounds. “We want our innovative line of food products to enrich the range of products available on the market and to broaden the range of Polish food industry export products and increase their international competitiveness,” Korczak says.

Karolina Olszewska

The new bioactive foods are specifically designed to support the treatment of four diseases: obesity, anemia associated with nonspecific inflammatory bowel disease, hypertension, and type 1 diabetes. The food is only a complement to medical treatment and is not meant to replace it.

In the clinical trials, about 600 patients were provided with specially prepared food products, including juices, cookies, bread, dessert concentrates, jellies, instant soups, pate, bread, pasta and groats. The patients themselves prepared dishes to suit their taste. They ate the foods for nine weeks while remaining under constant medical care. The research sought to confirm the health-promoting effects of the products.

According to Korczak, the clinical trials were organized similar to testing a new class of drug. Patients were selected according to standard criteria recognized by the medical community. This meant people who suffered from a specific disease could not have other ailments that could distort the test results. They were tested along with a placebo group that was getting products without any bioactive compounds. All the patients regularly underwent a set of tests and had blood samples taken. After biochemical tests, the doctors found that the patients’ medical indicators had improved.