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News Release

September 21, 2006

Processed Foods Don't Deserve Bad Rap, says Prof

Many Canadian processed foods aim to improve health and should not be considered synonymous with junk food, says a University of Guelph food scientist.

“Processed foods shouldn’t have a negative connotation,” said Milena Corredig, a new Canada Research Chair who aims to incorporate more functional, healthier ingredients in food products. “Omega-3 milk and heat-treated tomato juice are good examples of processed foods that are actually better for you than the non-processed version. They’re also well-conserved, so you can have the sense of freshness for a longer time.”

Canadian food processors are world leaders in working to make products healthier, she said. “We process foods very well because we formulate foods with the aim of keeping them healthy.”

A large part of preventive health care is diet, said Corredig. “But to eat a good diet, most people need the motivation of a variety of healthy products out there, otherwise they get bored.”

Her research focuses on putting health back into processed foods. In her lab, she aims to find ways to give food the same texture with reduced fat and ways to encapsulate good fat and proteins in food.

“We’ve discovered that you can mix whey proteins with soy proteins to make different types of ingredients depending on how you process them, which is great for people who want high-protein drinks.”

It’s not as simple as mixing the two products together, said Corredig. “If you don’t have the perfect formulation and the perfect process, you’re not going to be able to make a good product.”

During food processing, there are a lot of wasted byproducts that could be extremely beneficial to Canadians’ health, she said. The byproduct of making butter, for example, is the only source of phospholipids from milk. Phospholipids have been linked to brain development.

She and her colleagues remain one of the only research groups in the world studying butter’s byproduct, called buttermilk ─ not fermented buttermilk, but the watery substance that's separated from the butter and collected as waste during the butter-making process. Once buttermilk is processed, the nutritional properties are diminished, so the team is trying to find a way to process cream and butter that would preserve the quality of the phospholipids.

Buttermilk is currently sold cheaply for animal feed, much like the byproduct of cheese – whey – was sold as swine feed 20 years ago. Once it was discovered that whey proteins are good for building muscle in athletes, whey powders were introduced to health food stores, and now the price of whey is much higher than that of many cheese products.

Corredig believes that buttermilk could be just as popular as whey for value-added beverages such as enriched milk, nutrition shakes and yogurt, and for baby formula. “There have been a lot of nutritional studies looking at milk fat globule membrane for baby formula since it’s so important to human health,” she said.

“Dairy technology research is fun because you always start from the same thing, milk, but look at the thousands of products that come from it,” she said. “If we really knew how every molecule reacted with one another, we could control the processing of dairy to the point of being masters instead of just artisans.”

Milena Corredig
Department of Food Science
519-824-4120, Ext. 56101, or

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