TechnologyFunctional Foods: How to evaluate and demonstrate the biological...

Functional Foods: How to evaluate and demonstrate the biological effect of bioactive compounds on health


The new biotechnological tools such as cell cultures and in vitro digesters are very interesting when evaluating the biological effect of certain bioactive compounds in food in the initial phases.

We are advancing the latest in this line of research, framed within the interesting results of the European macro-project Pathway-27, in which we participate with 24 other partners and in which we have identified the mechanisms of action of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), Beta-glucan (BG) and anthocyanins (AC) in bread, eggs and dairy products to prevent Metabolic Syndrome. The results will help to advance in the improvement of the formulations.

As stated by Dr. Alessandra Bordoni, a researcher at the University of Bologna and coordinator of the Pathway-27 project: “there is a need to provide more information about the use of bioactives and their preventive effect on human diseases, given that in Currently there are conflicting results.

Integrated system to evaluate the functionality of food

At AINIA we have opted for new biotechnological tools to advance in the evaluation of the biological effect of bioactive compounds in food on health. In this sense, we have developed an integrated system of cell culture and in vitro dynamic digester that allows us to advance in the initial phases of development of the prototypes.

Thanks to cell cultures it is possible to evaluate the biological effect of certain bioactive compounds in food. To do this, we use cells that simulate specific tissues of the organism (liver, adipose tissue, neurons…) and thus we study their behavior, with regard to the absorption of functional active ingredients that are added to food, evaluating their effects.

At AINIA technological center we have extensive experience in cell cultures, which we complement with the analysis of results through the in vitro dynamic digester that we have, unique for its features and functionalities in our country.

Conclusions of the Pathway-27 Project

Pathway-27 is made up of 24 European partners who, under the leadership of the University of Bologna, began to work together in different lines of research at the beginning of 2013, with the aim of studying the synergy and action mechanisms of the different bioactive compounds ( docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), beta-glucan (BG) and anthocyanins (AC) in bread, dairy products and eggs, and thus develop foods enriched with bioactives.

Our objective has been to demonstrate how these foods enriched with bioactive components benefit the health and well-being of people, thus responding to their demand for healthy foods and providing added value.

But, in addition, knowing the mechanisms of action of these compounds, we can help significantly in the development of functional and fortified foods, in the formulations, evaluation and demonstration methods and, ultimately, in the progress towards a healthier diet that gives response to the important social challenges faced with the aging of the population and the need to increase prevention against certain diseases or pathologies. The difficult thing, when it comes to advancing in personalized medicine in which preventive nutrition plays a key role, is knowing what the availability of each active principle is and how it will affect each specific person. At Pathway-27 we have focused on the first aspect.

Evaluation of bioactive effects on health and well-being. From the human genome to the food industry

Pathway-27 has two objectives, one technological and one scientific. As a technological objective , obtaining improved food formulations that allow the development of foods enriched in bioactive compounds with a scientifically proven impact on health.

As a scientific objective, the improvement of the understanding of the potential benefits and the mechanism of action of the selected bioactive compounds (DHA, BG and AC) in the prevention of Metabolic Syndrome.

Metabolic Syndrome is the name for a group of metabolic disorders related to altered levels of fat, glucose, and blood pressure, which are risk factors for health problems such as coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

In addition, it seeks to help food companies in the preparation and marketing of these foods.

Among the main achievements of this project, after five years of research, note the following:

  • After analyzing the mechanisms of action of 3 bioactive compounds (docosahexaenoic acid -DHA-, beta-glucans -BG- and anthocyanins -AC-) alone or combined for the enrichment of dairy foods, bread or egg-based products; the results have been positive in terms of its chemical, physical, microbiological and sensory properties.
  • The mechanisms of action of bioactive compounds have also been studied at the cellular and molecular level. Cultures of fat and liver cells have served as a representative sample of the organs involved in fat and glucose metabolism. The results have shown that at the cellular level, bioactives improve metabolic deficiencies related to obesity, thanks to the concealment of fluid accumulation.
  • In addition, the combinations of bioactive compounds with the most health benefits have been investigated in a nutritional intervention study with humans in four European centers. Specifically, DHA + BG for shakes and DHA + AC for cookies and bread products.

All this, together with the information provided by other regulatory bodies, including the European Food Safety Authority, has served to develop the following guidelines and recommendations:

  • Scientific guide to justify the health benefits. It explains how to evaluate scientific evidence and how to design and analyze its benefits on the health of consumers when there is no other scientific evidence.
  • Guide to practices and recommendations for developing products with healthy properties. Focusing on those products developed by SMEs, this guide offers guidelines for the design of food products taking into account all aspects related to health.

Lastly, we are also developing a third guide on the health benefits and effectiveness of foods enriched with bioactives.

AINIA Technological Center has coordinated the in vitro studies on the effects and mechanisms of action of the selected bioactives. But our investigations go beyond the Pathway-27 project. We contribute our experience in the in vitro study of the digestion process and cell culture methods to evaluate the satiety effect of ingredients and foods, their antioxidant and cholesterol regulating capacity.

If you want to know more about our work in the food and health line, just contact us. We are happy to help.

If you are an AINIA associate, contact us because we are organizing actions to publicize the results of the project in greater depth.

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