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Satiety is becoming a key trend in the world of nutrition.

In a western world of increasing obesity, feeling ‘full’, is one way of helping to stop people snacking and over-eating, and Plant & Food Research believes New Zealand has some unique grains, fruits and vegetables that can contribute to satiety.

The merger two years ago of HortResearch and Crop & Food Research provided the opportunity to restrategise in the food innovation area says Dr Keiran Elborough, and one of the results is a recently begun co-investment programme to discover how plant foods reduce appetite and keep people feeling fuller, longer.

As the general manager for food innovation at P&F, Elborough leads a team of 200 scientists investigating food’s parts and compounds which help people feel full for four hours or more.

The six-year programme is to receive $19.2 million from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, as well as substantial financial backing from Zespri and Sanitarium. Hansells, Comvita, NZ Extracts, Simplot (an Australian company), Bell Tea & Coffee are also fronting up and Yarrows is to have an advisory role.
Elborough says it is very early days in the research, but that a number of parts and/or compounds of food will be investigated.

“We think that ‘bitter’ can some real effects on satiety,” he says, “though obviously we’d have to mask that.”
“There’s a taste receptor beyond the stomach that recognises bitter compounds, and that has a role potentially in response to how full the body feels.”

A better understanding of how different carbohydrates inhibit the absorption of glucose is another line of research, as is the role of bacteria in the stomach and beyond. Bacteria may have a signaling role that suggests to the body that it needs to stop eating for a short period of time Elborough says.

As well as food compounds producing a satiety feeling, there is some evidence that whole fruits and vegetables may have similar effects.

One clinical trial that is going to be carried out is asking people to eat a lot of kiwifruit to find its role in feeling full.

Planning for the programme is still being carried out, “though for our deliverables, it’s important to be guided by industry and what they want.”

“Because everything we will do is to be linked to New Zealand-owned plants, the benefits will go back to growers,” Elborough says. “We’re actually adding value to what growers’ grow.”

He also makes the point that the companies in the programme won’t necessarily be using its output, but with its strong collaboration emphasis, some of its participants are essentially there to see what comes out of it.
“They’ll possibly have some slight advantage in seeing earlier than others what comes out of the programme,” he says.

“The books aren’t closed though. Others may wish to join, and we’d be happy to have them in.”

He says the programme will have a much better story to tell in six months time, as it is only just starting out.
“It’s about getting relationships right, looking for further partners and getting the planning right at this stage,” he says.

Whatever does come out of the research, Elborough emphasises that people will really need to like what they eat.

Other Plant & Food research programmes are looking at the roles of proteins and fats in satiety, “but we’re looking at plants; their carbohydrates, fibres and compounds,” he says.