By Matt Gergyek
Carleton postdoctoral fellow Aynur Gunenc is exploring how to make processed meat products healthier by substituting more nutritious ingredients for fats found naturally in meat.
“Consumers are becoming more and more careful about consumption of meat and meat products due to their high saturated fat and cholesterol content,” says Gunenc, who is in Carleton’s Food Science and Nutrition program and guided by Prof. Farah Hosseinian. “Developing low fat and nutritionally improved products without compromising acceptable quality attributes is one of the most important goals in the meat industry.”
Statistics show the food industry as a whole and the meat industry in particular are taking heavy hits with rising consciousness around eating habits. Demand for red meat has decreased by 25 per cent in the last decade, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, driven largely by health, environmental and ethical concerns.
Shifting Towards Plant-Based Eating
The Canadian government seems to be aligning itself with these views.
Last year, Health Canada announced its first overhaul to the Canada Food Guide in more than 10 years and it is expected sometime this year.
The new guide’s first principle is that Canadians should regularly eat “vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein-rich food – especially plant-based sources of protein,” according to a press release from Health Canada. Meat and dairy products are not explicitly mentioned until the appendix as examples of protein-rich foods. The release states that the shift towards plant-based eating will help Canadians “eat less red meat.”
To counteract rising anxieties about meat consumption, scientists are searching for innovative ways to modify meat products to make them healthier.
Reducing fat without compromising technical and sensory attributes of meat products is a sizable challenge, says Gunenc.
Armed with ultrasound technology, using a gel emulsion system and the Jerusalem artichoke — a root vegetable native to Canada which resembles a sunflower from an above-ground perspective — Gunenc exchanges nutrients of the vegetable with saturated fats found in red meat.
While it is important to include some saturated fats in any diet, eating too much of this type of fat can increase cholesterol, leading to a risk of heart disease, according to Harvard Medical School.
The draw to the Jerusalem artichoke is the vegetable’s high inulin concentration, a healthy dietary fibre which not only maintains the trademark taste, texture and smell of a juicy hamburger, Gunenc says, but can also improve digestive health while reducing cholesterol.
Nutritional and Functional Food
She first became interested in the nutritional properties of the Jerusalem artichoke thanks to the Jerusalem Artichoke Association of Canada (JAAC), a non-profit organization that works to increase development of the industry.
“The new processed meat products will not only be low in fat but also have additional benefits as a nutritional and functional food,” Gunenc says.
An article published in the Journal of Excipients and Food Chemicals states that inulin also “possesses anti-cancer and immune enhancing properties.”
“So much money goes towards research and prevention of chronic diseases, but eating healthier foods will prevent these chronic diseases from occurring in the first place.”
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