DR JOHN WATT
Food, we all need it, we all love it. Whether it's a sensory culinary experience or just refuelling to get you through your day, food is an essential factor in all our lives. But have you ever wondered how our food will look in the future? I'm John Watt and this week we’re taking food our of the restaurants and supermarkets and into the lab to see what happens when science becomes the new cook in the kitchen.
We've arrived at Plant and Food Research to meet a neuroscientist, Dr Arjan Scheepens. Arjan is a senior researcher in their mood food programme, food that goes above and beyond the nutritional call of duty.
DR ARJAN SCHEEPENS
I’m Arjan Scheepens, I'm a senior scientist here at Plant and Food Research and I run the mood food programme. Mood food is a functional food, so a food that has an activity over and above it's nutrition value and it has a specific health benefit. Probably the best and well known is caffeine. People feel down or tired and if they choose to take caffeine they can feel the benefit, they can feel the difference.
One of the things that we’re aiming to do is pretty much the opposite of a caffeinated drink. We've asked people, we've gone to consumers and said “What do you want out of a functional food?” and overwhelmingly people have said “We want something that calms us down. We want something to relax at the end of the day.” The uniqueness of our products is that they are New Zealand made, New Zealand designed from New Zealand crops, and it's all about adding value to our horticultural exports.
We’re very interested in berry fruit, dark coloured fruit like raspberries, blackcurrants, blueberries. These have some quite powerful chemicals in them, very, very healthy, very loaded with vitamins.
Arjan wants to create a drink to help you to relax and to focus at the same time. To do this he isolates certain active compounds in New Zealand berries and then puts them to the test in clinical trials. But the challenge Arjan faces is, how do you measure a person’s stress levels and their concentration levels at the same time? Arjan overcame this hurdle by designing a complex set of psychometric tests. These psychometric tests are specially designed to stress the test subject out.
All right, John, well I'd like to put you through your paces and let you have a go at some of these psychometric tests.
In this test, any time I see three consecutive odd numbers or three consecutive even numbers I've got to hit the space bar. These tests throw up challenges thick and fast.
Well, this is actually quite hard. That’s wrong. It gets you when the word and the colour are the same. Certainly designed to stress you out. So here's my mood food. I don’t know if this is the actual food or if it's a placebo, so I'm going to take it and see what it does to my cognitive function and my stress levels.
Right, here we go again.
Alright, John, how did you go?
That was intense.
I did feel less stressed the second time around, so let's find out from Arjan what his trial results are showing so far?
This particular product, we've shown that it helps people relax to a degree, if they're stressed. If they're not stressed it has little effect, which is exactly what we want as it prevents any kind of abuse or habituation. And if we give people a very challenging set of tasks they do better at the task, they perform better at the task and they feel a lot less mentally fatigued at the end of the tasks. So that’s a great consumer benefit.
From berries that have mental benefits to berries that have physical benefits, we’re going to have a look at some research that’s discovering previously unknown health benefits of the humble, New Zealand grown blackcurrant.
DR ROGER HURST
My name is Roger Hurst. I'm the science group leader for the Food and Wellness Group, which is part of the food innovation portfolio at Plant and Food Research. Blackcurrants, like all berry fruit, are well regarded to be high in health promoting compounds, vita-chemicals and they're well known really to have antioxidant ability.
Part of Roger’s research is to examine how the antioxidants can help with muscle recovery. I'm going to drink the blackcurrant juice and then under go two types of exercise. The first is squats. This is designed to put stress on my body and create long-term muscle damage, the sort that makes your muscles feel sore for days.
I can feel the sweat already.
I'm not quite sure that nano-particle research has quite prepared me for this.
Am I turning red, because this is hard.
Next I undergo a rowing exercise which creates oxidative stress, which means free radicals enter my body through oxygenation, outnumbering the antioxidants in my system, causing cell damage. Straight after the exercise, I'm off for a blood test which looks for markers of the oxidative stress and indicators of how serious the muscle damage was. And no, that didn’t hurt a bit.
Now we've got your sample and we’ll pop this in the centrifuge. The principle of a centrifuge is to separate heavier and lighter components, so it's sitting in a rotor that’s angled outwards and spun at high speed and the process of that will push down the heavier particles and the lighter areas will stay up.
My plasma is being tested to determine how effective the blackcurrant compounds are at preventing muscle damage and oxidative cell damage. We look at plasma as this is where the compounds are located.
We were surprised by the data, honestly. It's quite exciting. We got a very positive result for the study that we did with blackcurrant. The evidence indicates that consuming the blackcurrant in those situations gave a two-pronged benefit. One was controlling the oxidative stress mediated by the exercise. The other was reducing the muscle damage that occurred. Minor muscle damage was reduced. And the other one was assisting the natural immune information responses that occur through exercise.
But that’s not all. Roger’s also looking at the very real benefit that these magical berries may have for asthma sufferers.
We've chosen asthma as an inappropriate inflammation condition and it's quite nicely defined. Asthma is an allergy type situation, so in a sense this sort of work could easily indicate it's applicable to other types of allergies. We think that there is potential in the future that we could create foods that consumers could have, like people that suffer from asthma, that will assist and alleviate some of the symptoms of asthma and help them with their normal treatments, the drugs that they receive from the pharmacist.
I'm an asthmatic myself but hopefully in the future, I'll be able to drink some of this and use less of this, and that’s a good prospect.
It has long been known that milk is a wonderful, nutritious food. Mother’s milk is our first food source as a baby and after this great start most of us continue to drink milk for the rest of our lives. After the break we’re heading to the Fonterra Research Laboratory where eight years and many millions of dollars of research into milk and it's bioactive properties are turning up some revealing and potentially life-altering results.
Go to Part 2