Team makes first large-scale estimate of US consumption of live microbes | Nebraska today


Nutrition studies are increasingly exploring the health benefits of friendly microbes in food. A new study co-authored by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln food scientist provides the first large-scale estimate of Americans’ consumption of these microbes.

Discoveries recently published in the Journal of Nutritionpave the way for follow-up research to understand the relationship between consumption of live microbes and potential health and immune system benefits.

“Our ultimate goal is to determine if there are associations between public health and the consumption of foods containing high levels of microbes,” said co-author Robert Hutkins, Khem Shahani Professor of Food Science and Technology in Nebraska. .

The human intestinal tract is home to billions of bacteria, many of which play a vital role in maintaining people’s health. They help digest food, ward off pathogens, produce vitamins and other beneficial metabolites, and boost immune system function. The study of the intestinal microbiome is now at the center of the concerns of researchers in biomedical, nutritional and food sciences.

In this study, Hutkins and his co-authors analyzed national data on more than 9,000 foods eaten by nearly 75,000 American adults and children. First, the researchers estimated the number of live microbes per gram for all foods. Then they categorized each food as containing low, medium, or high levels of microbes. Foods in the lower category were mostly processed or heat-treated foods. Medium category foods were mostly fresh fruits and vegetables. The foods in the top category that contained the most live microbes were fermented foods such as yogurt, cheese, and fermented vegetables.

The researchers used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey food consumption database to calculate the amount of food containing microbes consumed by children and adults. About 26% of adults and 20% of children consumed foods rich in microorganisms, and both children and adults have increased their consumption of these foods over the past 18 years.

Future research, the scientists said, should focus on “prospective, randomized controlled trials to determine if there are any quantifiable health benefits to consuming live microbes.”

Although consumers are rightly concerned about food safety, Hutkins pointed out that the vast majority of microbes in food are simply normal members of the food ecosystem, and many of them are beneficial to health. As the authors noted, “exposure to non-harmful microbes is an important and beneficial source of microbial stimuli for the immune system.”

The research was funded by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics and included the National Institutes of Health and university researchers from the United States and Ireland.

“For nearly 20 years, the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources has funded our gut health research program in Nebraska,” Hutkins said.

With the philanthropic support of private donors and the University of Nebraska Foundation, IANR played a major role in establishing the Nebraska Food Center for Health in 2016. The center “helped us build strong and productive alliances and collaborations” with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Hutkins said.

Hutkins’ personal interest in food science began during his undergraduate years at the University of Missouri.

“I had an interest in food, but I didn’t even realize that food science was a specialty,” he said. “I was immediately drawn to the field.

Later, he realized that “the microbes in fermented foods did more than enhance flavor, aroma, appearance, and texture; they have also played a major role in human health.

Because cooking – and eating – are part of his hobbies, studying food microbes has proven to be “a perfect recipe for blending academic and personal interests.”

Thanks to sophisticated molecular and computational tools, “the science of fermented foods has experienced a research renaissance,” Hutkins said. “Understanding the health implications now underlies much of this research, including the work done right here at ONE.”


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