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Bound Protein-Polyphenol Particles Make Functional Foods Convenient and Hypoallergenic

March 01, 2018

Consumer demand for protein – both plant and animal – is growing.

But consumers aren’t sticking with traditional types of protein like chicken and beef. Food Business News reports that consumers are increasingly open to trying different types of protein-based ingredients, causing manufacturers to include new plant-based protein ingredients in their product lines.

Consumers are also partial to convenience. A Lux Research report shows that consumers are willing to pay 11 percent more for particular conveniences such as delivery and products where no preparation is needed.

Mary Ann Lila, PhD

Mary Ann Lila, PhD

The research of Mary Ann Lila, PhD, director of NC State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute at the NC Research Campus (NCRC), may be of interest to food manufacturers looking to incorporate more protein into their food products. Lila and her team have created and tested protein-polyphenol colloidal particles. The particles combine proteins and plant-based polyphenols into stable compounds that are unique and useful as functional food ingredients. These stably-bound particles deliver the health benefits of polyphenols and creating hypoallergenic protein-based ingredients.

Lila and her team assert in the 2017 Food Hydrocolloids review article that the particles provide the chemical foundation needed to balance taste and health while providing a pleasing texture, flavor, and appearance in food.  

Problems solved

In a study published in November 2017 in the journal Food and Function, Lila and her researchers explain that protein and polyphenols are not typically the most compatible ingredients. Their process for forming the protein-polyphenol complex overcomes the incompatibility issues. These include:

  • Bar Hardening

Proteins interact with both themselves and other food ingredients in such a way that they can become unstable, negatively changing a food’s structure and limiting the amount of time the food product can sit on a shelf and still be edible. Imagine a protein bar that’s so hard you can’t bite into it. Bar hardening is not a problem in foods with Lila’s protein-polyphenol colloidal particles.

  • Allergic reactions

Proteins interact with each other as well as human receptors to trigger allergic reactions. In the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, immune cells must distinguish between pathogens, food proteins, and intestinal “good” bacteria.  In the presence of pathogens, immune cells react, but sometimes they must suppress their response to protect host cells and healthy bacteria. When this careful regulatory process errs, the immune system can mistakenly recognize a food protein as if it were a pathogen and mount an immune response, leading to an allergic reaction. The stable protein-polyphenol particles aid in attenuating allergenicity to food-based proteins.

  • Bioavailability

Polyphenols are not always bioavailable, meaning that sometimes when you consume fruits and vegetables, the body is not able to absorb the beneficial polyphenols in such a way as to benefit from their activity. The new protein-polyphenol complexes are formed in a way to increase the bioavailability of the polyphenols.

The Potential

Lila found that by combining proteins and polyphenols into stable colloidal particles before using them as ingredients, proteins reacted less with themselves, human proteins, and other food ingredients, nutrients and polyphenols were increasingly bioavailable, and the allergenicity of food proteins diminished.

These three components are particularly attractive to governmental agencies like NASA, which prefers bars for traveling with astronauts in space to have at least 20 grams of protein. In a 2016 NASA-funded study, Lila used cranberries, muscadine grapes, and blackcurrant to create a shelf-stable functional food that was packed with protein and polyphenols. Lila’s bar was stable enough to endure the journey into space without becoming too hard to eat – the perfect candidate for NASA to feed its astronauts.

Also in 2016, PHHI researchers teamed up with scientists from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies, another NCRC partner, to address peanut allergies via hypoallergenic protein-polyphenol particles, a collaboration made possible by a $500,000, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Read more.

With the success of their protein-polyphenol colloidal particles in the present study, Lila and her team hope that in the future, they can use this approach to create hypoallergenic foods enriched with bioavailable polyphenols that meet all consumer demands: convenient sources of protein that taste good and can be eaten on the go.

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