M2M Research Areas
Nutrient profiling systems quantify the nutritional contribution, and hence “quality,” of different foods. They strive to take into account most or all of the known, essential nutrients in food. Some also include negative attributes in food, such as added sugar and salt or saturated fat content.
The basic metric produced by a given nutrient profiling system can generally be applied to a single serving of one food in contrast to a serving of other foods, or a 100-calorie portion of different foods, or a given volume of food (e.g., a 100-gram serving). These different ways to compare the nutrient content of foods tend to favor some classes of foods over others.
Two examples follow.
When comparing foods via equal, 100-gram servings, all dried foods, or foods that lack moisture content, will score relatively high, whereas foods containing a lot of moisture score lower, because water is heavy. Foods that have few calories per gram or serving, like leafy greens or onios, score very high when nutrient profiling system results are expressed per 100 or 1,000 calories, whereas calorie-dense foods, like oils, score poorly.
Some systems strive to encompass all essential nutrients, while others focus on certain foods and groups of nutrients. Some food companies are adopting new front-of-label messaging based on rankings from a nutrient profiling system, and several retailers are working on new systems for application to their house brands.
M2M will profile and contrast today’s most widely used nutrient profiling systems, and support an M2M-developed and sponsored, open-access nutrient profiling system. It will quantify the relative nutritional quality of food and encompass single-ingredient foods (an apple vs. an orange or carrot), multiple ingredients foods (pepperoni pizza, a Big Mac, yogurt with fruit), or daily meals.
None of the currently utilized nutrient profiling system takes into account the impact of crop genetics or production systems on nutrient density. M2M will develop methods to take these and other critical factors into account. Our first priorities will include –
- Assessing changes in the nutritional quality of new heirloom wheat cultivars under development at WSU,
- The omega-fatty-acid related benefits of organic dairy production and emerging soybean and oilseed varieties (both conventionally bred and genetically engineered), and
- Methods to boost the lycopene and resveratrol content, and antioxidant activity, of fruits and vegetables and processed fruit and vegetable products.
A third nutrition-related priority will be applying the M2M nutrient profiling systems to calculate the “human nutrition units” (HNU) produced per acre/hectare under alternative farming systems and cropping patterns.
The approach is simple –we will calculate the “human nutrition units” per pound of a given food, as typically consumed, and then multiply this value by the pounds of the food produced per acre in a given farming system. For diversified farming systems producing more than one edible crop per acre/hectare, we will add the HNU across each edible foodstuff.
We will develop, refine, and apply the “human nutrition unit” concept to provide science-driven answers to questions like –
- Will genetically engineered Golden rice or conventionally bred high-vitamin A corn more effectively boost Vitamin A intakes in Africa?
- Can indigenous fruits and vegetables compete with modern varieties of corn, rice, and wheat in promoting food security?
- Is there a nutritional case for classifying a slice of pizza as counting as a serving of vegetables in the school lunch program?
- Do intensive agricultural systems based on monocultures and specialization, or diverse, multi-cropping systems grounded in agroecology have the greatest potential to contribute to sustainable food security?