Food science is all around us. The result is the food and drinks we buy and consume every day.
For example, corn didn’t exist as the vegetable we know today thousands of years ago. Despite how vital it is to many modern societies, it was once a mystery. In Southwestern Mexico, many years ago, the people living there found a wild grass that grew ears of corn smaller than your pinky finger.
However, through the use of food science, that crop slowly turned into the domesticated one we have today that feeds billions of people and livestock and is an essential ingredient for many of the products we enjoy.
Let’s start by defining food science.
What Is Food Science?
If you don’t want to read a lengthy, sciency definition, food science means using scientific principles to create and maintain a safe, wholesome food supply for the world.
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Let’s break that down.
The field of food science involves different disciplines, including biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology, engineering, and nutrition.
The goal is to solve problems associated with the food system through scientific knowledge. The basics lie in understanding the makeup of food components, like carbs, fats, water, proteins, and the reactions they go through during processing and storage.
It’s relatively new as an official science discipline, and food science mainly came out as a way to respond to the social changes across the developed world. As the food industry has to respond to market demands for convenient, refined, and sustainable products, food science becomes more prevalent.
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Types of Food Science
Food scientists work in a variety of roles, including:
This food science is a study of how different organisms interact with food and focuses on things like bacteria, molds, fungi, yeast, and viruses. Without food microbiology, we wouldn’t have researchers finding new ways to reduce or stop the harmful growth of microorganisms in our food.
Did you know your gut has complex bacteria that regulate your sleep cycle, mood, and mental health? Also known as the gut microbiota or the gut flora, your gut health is one of the most important factors of a healthy life. Fermented foods, legumes, and leafy vegetables are among the best foods to encourage beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract.
Food Processing and Engineering
Food science also finds ways to process food to get the best flavor and shelf life while remaining nutritious and sage. For example, we now use high-pressure processing in the vegetable and fruit juice industries. The process allows manufacturers to produce juice without damaging it with thermal treatments, giving us the same nutritional value, taste, and texture that we’re used to having.
Food processing is essential to food science, but it can sometimes backfire and create unhealthy products. A food that scientists consider ‘highly processed’ are any foods that lost most of its natural ingredients. The result is primarily calories, sodium, and salt.
For example, highly processed foods can look like the following:
- Potato chips
- Sugary cereals
- Bleached pasta (also known as white pasta)
- Sweet juice
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Food Chemistry and Biochemistry
Almost all foods are biochemicals — their raw ingredients were living plants or animals. Understanding the chemistry of food allows food science to create new products. For example, look at disaccharide lactose enzymes; food scientists added them to milk, cutting the product into two individual components (glucose and galactose) to make it more digestible.
That alone opened up a spectrum of products for lactose-intolerant people. However, that specific enzyme can’t survive some processing techniques, leaving food scientists knowledgeable about biochemistry to help develop ways to safely create lactose-free products.
Nutrition is a growing branch of food science, where researchers work to develop food products that taste great but are lower in calories than current options. Doing so requires food scientists to understand the biological effects of functional and nutraceutical foods. Food science gives us bioactive compounds to use in new products to improve their nutrition while remaining tasty, safe, and sustainable.
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Benefits of Food Science
From time to time, food scientists have been called meddlers and accused of creating unnatural foods. Yet, in reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The world’s health and well-being depends on high-quality food being readily available and easily accessible. How can you feed billions of people and ensure the quality and safety of the food they eat without food science? You can’t.
And how do we know how the food we eat affects our health, whether for better or worse? The answer is food science. What about helping companies create new products designed for optimal nutrition? Or maintaining security and sustainability for the world’s future food supply? Again, it’s food science.
Food science is responsible for the things we enjoy every day, like:
- Frozen foods
- Microwave meals
- Canned foods
- Shelf-stable dairy products
- Nutritious new foods
- Food that are easier to prepare
- The option for variety in our diet
Food Security & Food Choice
Food security doesn’t stop at the farm gate — there’s much more to ensuring food security than growing more food. With the supply chain leading from farm to fork, food scientists and technologists play a vital role in converting raw produce into products ready for us to eat.
One goal of food science is to convert as much of that produce into wholesome food products with minimal waste and energy consumption throughout processing, packaging, and distribution.
Additionally, producing healthy, wholesome foods is of little benefit if people don’t choose to eat them. Food science not only provides us with sustainable and healthy food, but it also makes them palatable so we can enjoy our meals.
We can’t stress this part enough. Food education is the discipline of understanding our food’s role in our mental, emotional, and physical health.
According to a study by the CDC, American students receive an average of eight hours less food education than needed. At least forty to fifty hours are necessary to change students’ behavior, so this data means food education has a long way to go.
The function of food education is to teach students at a young age the importance a balanced diet has in their life. Students need to learn the impact their daily dietary choices have on their energy and quality of life! The details of a food education course include the necessity of vitamins, minerals, calories, carbs, and harmful substances.
While there’s an increasing demand for convenient food, like bags of salad and ready-to-eat meals to fit into our busy lives, we’re more aware than ever of the risks of consuming too much saturated and trans fats, sodium, etc.
Food science helps find that difficult balance between reducing the level of those compounds while ensuring that the food is still fresh, tasty, and sustainable.
For example, trans fats play a crucial role in maintaining food texture, but many countries are reducing trans fats in their foods due to concerns about too much of it in peoples’ diets. So, food science stepped to the rescue with alternative formulations, like increasing saturated fat and using alternative processing methods to achieve the same textures we know and like.
And while the food industry continues trying to reduce salt levels, it’s used for more than taste — salt lowers water activity to prevent spoilage and is used in bread to increase dough stability. Food science addresses these issues.
Food scientists continually research to gain an understanding about how food products impact everything in our lives and work hard to formulate new products to give us a sustainable, healthy, and delicious future.
Physical health is the first detail that comes to mind when considering food science. The reality of the matter is more complex! Mental wellness also benefits significantly from a healthy diet.
Ongoing studies from Harvard Health revealed that your gastrointestinal tract connects with your mental health. Their extensive study found that 95% of serotonin appears in this body part. Although people nickname serotonin a happy chemical, it has several other uses.
Serotonin is responsible for regulating our sleep cycle, bone health, and even our blood clotting! Failing to receive a healthy amount of serotonin increases your risk for ongoing mental health issues such as mood disorders. Processed foods, bleached flour, high fructose corn syrup, oily foods, and sugary foods result in worse mental health.
Making food science more accessible gives people the ability to regulate their daily mood and mental health. People with mental illness are particularly susceptible to a poor diet and may see longer depressive episodes, more severe insomnia, or more frequent mood swings.
The key difference between mental and emotional health is a tricky one. Mental health is a term that refers to our self-image, our values, and our ability to make rational decisions.
Emotional health speaks to our stability and ability to handle a wide spectrum of emotions. When you feel really sad for no reason or your emotions change on a dime, there’s a high chance your emotional health needs some work. While external factors are sometimes the cause (such as losing a job or having a poor night’s sleep), diet is often overlooked.
Scientists have proven healthy food can stabilize your mood and even cheer you up. For example, highly processed foods are digested by the body more quickly than unprocessed foods. White bread is a common example of this phenomenon. Thanks to most of its nutrients being eliminated by the manufacturing process, this food spikes your blood sugar too quickly and makes you feel unwell.
Although chowing down on a big bag of salty chips feels good, your temporary high will be replaced by sluggishness or irritability later. On the other hand, whole wheat needs more time to be digested. As a result, your blood sugar rises less quickly and leaves you feeling more emotionally stable.
You don’t have to avoid sugary or salty foods all the time! We recommend keeping these foods to a minimum once or twice a week to ensure you’re always feeling your best. Ideally, you should swap out your usual processed treats for healthier alternatives. We’re happy to provide a few of these alternatives yourself in our BreinFuel collection!
Healthy foods associated with a more stable daily mood include:
- Brussel sprouts
- Kidney beans
Food Science and Exercise
Food science and exercise go hand-in-hand. While your diet will help immensely with keeping you physically and mentally fit, you need to get fit for the full range of benefits!
Contrary to popular belief, sugar and carbs are not automatically bad. These ingredients are quite necessary to give you energy and keep you active throughout the day. Good sugar is found in foods like fruit and honey, while bad sugar is refined in processed foods. Good carbs are found in potatoes and whole wheat, while bad carbs appear in cookies or donuts.
Changing your diet won’t go as far as you like if you don’t have compatible food. Certain foods are better suited to active lifestyles than others, keeping you active and attentive all day long. If you like to go hiking or cycling on a regular basis, you’ll need a high volume of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin D
- Healthy carbs
- Omega-3 fatty acids
If you’re not completely positive how you should adjust your diet, consider meeting with your regular doctor. They will give you a full assessment of your weight, lifestyle, and family history to create a diet plan. This food science step is especially important if you have additional health issues such as obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
In the meantime, taking small steps such as removing processed foods or adding more antioxidants will help you feel better.
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