ILSI Publishes Guest Article in Food Industry Executive

On 1 March 2024, ILSI published the following article in Food Industry Executive. The original article is available on Food Industry Executive's website here

By Stéphane Vidry, PhD, ILSI Global Executive Director

Every day, consumers around the world look at food labels to understand how that purchase fits within their diet, or how it can benefit the needs of their family members. Parents are looking for nutritious foods that can support the growth and development of their children, while caregivers want to support the health of the older adults in their lives.

But sometimes, nutrition labels can be unintentionally inaccurate. These inaccuracies can be cleared up when the interplay among nutrients is better understood and harmonized across the globe.

It's all in the algorithm

Different vitamins and minerals within foods can help or hinder the body's absorption of nutrients. Currently, dietary recommendations aren't taking inhibitors into account when determining nutrient intake and absorption. Recognizing the interactions among nutrients can help the food industry improve the accuracy of their product labeling and fortification.

To help advance the goal of adequate nutrition and effective labeling, researchers have published a scientific article describing a new algorithm to enhance the prediction of calcium bioavailability, which is "the proportion of the nutrient that is digested, absorbed and metabolized," by taking into consideration the influence of calcium inhibitors, such as oxalate and phytate.

Take, for instance, a healthy food like spinach. While it is a good source of calcium, it also contains a high level of oxalate. The presence of oxalate works to negate the benefits of calcium when the nutrients are digested because oxalate inhibits – or blocks – the calcium from being absorbed by the body. Within the current framework that recommends nutrient intakes, a food label on spinach may display the amount of calcium present per serving, and how much that serving contributes to the daily recommended amount of calcium a person should consume. But the oxalate essentially voids this calcium, making the label unintentionally inaccurate regarding the amount of calcium a consumer will absorb from that particular food product.

This new algorithm takes these different inhibitors into account and provides for more exact tracking of calcium absorption, which is important for health and meeting nutritional goals. The algorithm can also be applied to apps that consumers use to record dietary intake and track their nutrition.

What about other nutrients?

The algorithm on calcium bioavailability is just the first step. Experts working with the ILSI U.S. and Canada Research Program are looking to develop additional algorithms to address recommendations for various nutrients, such as iron, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin A.

But first, it is imperative for researchers to establish a comprehensive framework that ensures consistency in the construction of all bioavailability algorithms. The calcium algorithm will serve as a guide for creating that framework. Providing a standardized approach is essential for evaluating the global application of nutrient recommendations.

How this research can impact the food industry

Food producers and manufacturers will be able to label the nutrient content more precisely for each serving of their products. The food industry can better communicate to consumers when they can more accurately reflect the true nutrient values of their foods based on these newly developed algorithms. For example, for calcium, food products with leafy greens like kale and spinach, as well as wheat, cereals, oats, almonds, beets, rhubarb, soybeans, and more, may benefit from more specific nutrition labeling.

There are also implications for food fortification strategies. Companies that manufacture ingredients will be able to draw upon this research to see where improvements can be made to bolster the nutritional value of some foods that contain natural nutrient inhibitors. Depending on the interaction of nutrients, some foods may require additional ingredients for fortification.

Ultimately, this research is being conducted by a public-private partnership of food and nutrition science experts. Together, they aim to develop a systematic approach to address applications of globally harmonized nutrients when taking into consideration various factors in the local or regional diet, such as the bioavailability of nutrients. This work will also enable the development of national and regional strategies to address nutrient deficiencies through accurate data assessments.

In addition, the development of these nutrient algorithms will help evaluate the sustainability of nutrient resources within the global food system, providing valuable insights for long-term planning and resource management. And finally, this research will pave the way for companies in the food industry to enhance their product formulation and labeling for the benefit of consumers.

Dr. Stéphane Vidry is the Global Executive Director of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and Executive Director of ILSI U.S. and Canada, headquartered in Washington D.C. Prior to that, Stéphane was Assistant Director for ILSI Europe, where, for 12 years, he led a team of seven scientists and managed several food safety and nutrition activities, including the coordination of a European Commission-funded project on Benefit Risk Analysis of Foods. Stéphane also worked for the European Commission Joint Research Center and the international dairy company Lactalis. Stéphane holds a PhD in Food Sciences from the University of Montpellier, France, where he also taught.