C. J. K. Henry, Oxford Brookes University; and C. Chapman, Unilever R & D Colworth

Improving the nutritional quality of food is a key requirement for the food industry. There are a number of factors which have made this area one of growing importance, including:

  • Increasing health consciousness among consumers and concern about their dietary intake;
  • New research on the links between diet and health, including the prevention of chronic disease;
  • Ageing populations in many developed countries prone to degenerative disorders such as cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and stroke;
  • Growing pressure on public health spending, leading to a greater emphasis on prevention and more individual responsibility for health;
  • Changes in the regulatory framework.

Since Professor Arnold Bender's Food processing and nutrition (Bender, 1978), there have been relatively few comprehensive reviews of the impact of food processing on the nutritional quality of food. In the intervening period there has been continuing research on the contribution of key nutrients to health and on how these are affected by individual food processing operations. New technologies have emerged which also need to be taken into consideration. Building on Professor Bender's work and that of others in the field (for example, Henry and Heppell (1998)), The nutrition handbook for food processors seeks to summarise current research on key nutrients, their contribution to health and, in particular, how they are affected by both established and emerging food processing technologies.

Part 1 provides a context for the rest of the book. Chapter 2 discusses current evidence on what consumers eat. It compares the wide range of European surveys, their respective strengths and weaknesses, to establish an up-to-date picture of dietary patterns in Europe. Against this background of food intake, Chapter 3 provides an authoritative and comprehensive review of the latest research on the role of vitamins in health, considering such issues as function and bioavailability, sources, requirements, the impact of deficiency, safety and toxicity. The next chapter reviews the impact of minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc on health together with dietary sources, intake, supplementation and fortification. Chapter 5, which concentrates on copper, also considers in detail the methodological problems in accurately measuring nutrient intake and effects.

It is consumers who make the final decision on what they eat based on a range of factors including, amongst many others, convenience and accessibility, price and brand image, perceived sensory quality and nutritional value. In assessing the latter they need appropriate information. Chapters 6 and 7 discuss how this information is best supplied. Chapter 6 considers the current regulatory regime in the EU and manufacturers' responsibilities in labelling. In particular, it discusses research on how well consumers actually understand and use nutritional information together with ways in which such information can be improved so that consumers can make more informed choices in achieving the right diet. With the advent of so-called functional foods, nutritional science has moved from the objective of defining and achieving a balanced diet to the concept of 'optimised' nutrition actively preventing disease (Roberfroid, 2000). Against this background, Chapter 7 looks at current limitations in the accuracy of nutritional information, both from the point of view of food composition and the impact of nutrients on health. Using the example of carbohydrates, it suggests new ways of measuring and presenting information on the health impact of food components.

Against this background of research on nutrients and the way consumers assess nutritional quality, the major part of this handbook is devoted to assessing the impact of food processing on key nutrients. The first two chapters in Part 2 look at raw materials. Chapter 8 discusses the strategies available for the nutritional enhancement of plant foods, most notably genetic modification. Meat is an important food in its own right and a component in many food products. Its contribution to health is both significant and controversial. Chapter 9 discusses health concerns about meat, how meat production has adapted to meet these concerns, and the latest research on the nutritional and broader functional benefits of meat consumption. The following chapters then look at individual processes and their impact on the nutritional quality of food. They are preceded by an introductory chapter which reviews more broadly the stability of vitamins during processing and how vitamin losses can be avoided. The remaining chapters follow a broadly similar pattern, describing an individual process and its applications, and then looking at the range of research on its impact on key nutrients from vitamins and minerals to lipids, carbohydrates and proteins. Chapters cover both traditional operations such as frying (Chapter 12) and freezing (Chapter 15) and newer technologies such as modified atmosphere packaging (Chapter 16), ohmic heating (Chapter 19) and high pressure processing (Chapter 21). A number of chapters look at thermal processing which has a particularly significant impact on nutri tional as well as sensory quality. Chapter 11 looks more broadly at the impact of thermal processing on food composition, with a particular focus on the Maillard reaction. As well as frying and ohmic heating, there are chapters on continuous-flow heat processing (Chapter 22), extrusion cooking (Chapter 14), microwave and infrared heating (Chapters 18 and 20). Chapter 13 looks at baking and other processes used particularly in the preparation of cereal foods.

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