Susan Bowen for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
How great would it be if pizza were healthy? The trouble is that frozen pizza, like most ready-to-eat foods, contains lots of sugar, salt and fat. The European Commission (EC), the executive body for the European Union (EU), is seeking to find alternatives that will be both healthier and tasty.
The EC created a white paper in 2007 stating its goals to “set out an integrated EU approach to contribute to reducing ill health due to poor nutrition, overweight and obesity.” The paper stressed that “the last three decades have seen the levels of overweight and obesity in the EU population rise dramatically, particularly among children, where the estimated prevalence of overweight was 30 percent in 2006.”
One solution commonly used to reduce unhealthy ingredients is to use additives in place of the harmful components. However, additives such as aspartame instead of sugar may create health problems of their own. “We wanted to leave this track,” says Matthias Kueck, owner of the company Biozoon Food Innovations in Bremerhaven, Germany.
An EU-funded project known as PLEASURE is aiming to develop novel food-processing technologies that reduce sugar, salt and fat in prepared foods. According to their website, “The idea is to identify and further develop (novel) processes and processing technologies which on the one hand allow the reduction of the unwanted fat (saturated and trans-fatty acids), salt and sugar (mono- and disaccharides) but on the other avoid or at least reduce the use of replacers like sweeteners by achieving an optimised sensorial perception of the sugars, salts and fats present in the products to be developed.”
One possible approach is to use a biotechnological procedure, using enzymatic and fermentation processes, which is now used for reducing the sugar in apple juice. The researchers say they would like to transfer that technique to other foods such as tomato sauce.
Other possible procedures might involve high hydrostatic pressure or a more efficient homogenizer to improve the dispersion of salt or fat within a product. Better distribution of these ingredients could reduce the amount of these products needed by 30 percent, without affecting taste.
As the public increasingly demands food with lower salt, fat and sugar content, and at the same time to avoid additives, these new processes could provide advantages that will transfer to the marketplace, according to Fred van de Velde of NIZO Food research the Netherlands.
Wolfgang Meyerhof of the German Institute of Human Nutrition is not so sure that these measures will satisfy the public. “Fat-reduced products have been around for some time, but nobody buys them,” he says, adding that “we do not even know exactly how we perceive salt or fat and therefore manipulation is difficult.” He thinks boosters or enhancers may be necessary to achieve a significant reduction in salt, sugar and fat.