UL researchers creating food that fights heart disease

RESEARCHERS at University of Limerick have developed a new step-by-step guide to designing functional foods, which are foods that not only provide nutrition but can also positively affect bodily functions and so act like medicine.

A study led by Daniel Granato, Professor in Food Science and Health at UL has shown how these functional foods can help reduce atherosclerosis and other forms of heart disease.

“The capacity for our food to do more than provide us with nutrition is huge and relatively unexplored. Cardiovascular diseases are a main cause of death but they can be prevented. By bringing food scientists, medical scientists and pharma companies together we can employ the same methods used in producing medicinal drugs and produce foods that might mitigate health conditions.

“In this study we propose an accurate computational approach to design tailored functional foods by predicting their bioactivity allowing us to map how different food components benefit the body,” explained Professor Granato.

The study, involving researchers at UL’s Bernal Institute, the Federal University of Alfenas, Brazil, and Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil has been published in the world-leading journal Trends in Food Science & Technology.

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Atherosclerosis is the primary cause of cardiovascular diseases, contributing to more than 33 per cent of the annual deaths globally. Westernised dietary patterns, a high prevalence of overweight and obesity, and an increased incidence of glucose intolerance and type-2 diabetes are related to atherosclerosis. However, despite consumers looking for functional foods to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, few are available in the marketplace.

The paper addresses an important global public health issue towards improving people’s life quality and decreasing cardiovascular diseases risk.  The study will enable the design of functional foods to prevent and treat many different diseases, potentially reducing the huge pressure experienced by health services in treating future diseases.

 Co-author and Senior Lecturer in the UL Department of Biological Sciences Dr Andreas Grabrucker added: “The proposed approach can go far beyond heart diseases. It will be the basis of a new research project at UL that aims to identify functional foods that lower the risk for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease”.