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Food product research: an investment in health.

We all know that preventive health measures save money--and one of the most important preventive measures is to eat healthier foods.

But we don't all act in accordance with what we know. When it comes to food, Americans are notorious for enjoying too much, and the wrong kinds, of a good thing. Twelve percent of us are estimated to be clinically obese. Even many who are not obese maintain diets that are too high in calories and too low in fiber.

Two food ingredients--fluffy cellulose, patented in 1988, and Oatrim, in 1991---could benefit the health of millions. Both are recent examples of discovery and technology transfer at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois.

Many of our excess calories are consumed in flour-based baked goods such as bread and donuts. One of the discoveries, a natural, noncaloric dietary fiber, can replace up to half of the flour in baked goods, thereby lowering their total caloric content.

Prepared from agricultural byproducts such as wheat straw or cornstalks, fluffy cellulose is a combination of two building blocks of plant cell walls--cellulose and hemicellulose. Its insoluble, indigestible fiber provides needed bulk in diets without affecting the flavor of bread, cookies, cakes, crackers, doughnuts, and other foods made from it.

The second discovery, Oatrim, contains fiber that has a different beneficial effect: lowering blood cholesterol. Made from oat flour and bran, Oatrim has only one-ninth of the calories found in the fats it can replace in food formulations.

Most Americans 2 years old and up consume far more fat than the 30 percent of calories recommended in the dietary guidelines issued jointly by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

It seems fitting that fat substitutes could come to play an important role in school lunch programs. And older Americans might enjoy fuller lives less burdened by sickness, suffering, and medical bills by consuming these healthful foods.

In short, Oatrim could be of significant benefit to a nation considering universal health care coverage. (A review of Oatrim from a nutrition and health perspective begins on page 4.)

Oatrim evolved from a chain of crop utilization studies. Chemist George E. Inglett originally hoped to use enzymes to convert starch into gums similar to imported gums whose availability and price fluctuate widely. While working in private industry, he had researched enzymes for processing cornstarch into sweeteners.

The transfer of Oatrim technology began as lnglett chaired a symposium on beta glucan--the principal soluble fiber in oats and barley--and held a press conference at the April 1990 meeting of the American Chemical Society. To cope with a huge volume of subsequent requests for more information, Inglett invited food company representatives and news media to a second press conference in Peoria the following month.

How was interest in Oatrim translated into commercialization? It wasn't just a case of "build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." There had to also be an evaluation of the invention's significance and its adaptability to fill a niche in the marketplace. And, Inglett maintains, a solid commitment to carrying forth technology transfer at every level within ARS and cooperating organizations. It was the continuing dialogue between both people and organizations that resulted in a reservoir of mutual respect and trust.

Fluffy cellulose inventor J. Michael Gould, who is now with the Biotechnology Research and Development Corp. in Peoria, and George Inglett have each received the R&D 100 Award and the Federal Laboratory Consortium's Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer.

Let's hope that USDA's scientists will continue to further the nation's efforts toward cost-effective preventive health care by means of improved foods.

Richard L. Dunkle Midwest Area Director Agricultural Research Service

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in its programs on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs. ) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact the USDA Office of Communications at (202) 720-5881 (voice) or (202) 720 7808 (TDD).

To file a complaint, write the Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20250, or call (202) 720-7327 (voice) or (202 720-1127 (TDD). USDA is an equal employment opportunity employer.
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Author:Dunkle, Richard L.
Publication:Agricultural Research
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1993
Words:724
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