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Translating nutrition science into meaningful change via industry partnerships


Today, societies face significant dietary- and health-related challenges, and there is a pressing need for food solutions that support people in healthy living.

At Tate & Lyle, we are committed to addressing these problems, and we make sure that our innovations are built on a foundation of rigorous, evidence-based science. To do this, we work with a global network of scientists and institutes.

Alex Johnstone nutrition researcher

One of our long-time collaborators is Professor Alexandra Johnstone, a UK researcher in the field of appetite control across the life course, with a focus on dietary protein. Alex works at the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where she and her team have collaborated with Tate & Lyle on a range of projects. Here, Alex talks about her work and partnership with us.

What does your research focus on?

“I research appetite control across the life course, with a particular emphasis on the role of dietary protein and how that can contribute towards mechanisms associated with satiety and satiation1. In more recent years that’s been applied to weight control and sarcopenia2.”

What does your partnership with Tate & Lyle entail?

“I have worked with Tate & Lyle over a number of years, examining the relationship between diet and health. I have done workshops, seminars, contract research, presentations, report writing, and this has tended to be on dietary fibre and plant protein. But this work represents a team effort, where early career researchers also play a big role.”

What is the benefit of collaborations like these?

“I am very passionate about working with a range of stakeholders, from policy, public health, the general public and also the food sector. Tate & Lyle is a key industry stakeholder, and they enable me to translate my science base into the food chain. I can share my expertise as a scientist with the people who are in the position to make an impact in producing ingredients and sharing them with food producers.”

Satiety is one major theme in your research. What role does satiety play in health?

“I’m interested in satiety because I want to design dietary approaches to help people with weight management. One of the main reasons why people are not able to stick to a weight loss diet is because they feel hungry. So, if we can devise dietary strategies that allow people to consume fewer calories without feeling hungry, then that will support them in weight management. One particularly useful tool for weight loss is protein because it’s highly satiating, which means it can fill you up over a long period of time.”

Nutrition research

Consumer awareness of gut health is increasing with growing discussion about the gut-brain axis. Why is gut health so important?

“The gut is thought of as the ‘second brain’ because there’s a bi-directional feedback from the gut to the brain and from the brain to the gut. Diet has a crucial role in the development of the gut microbiota and different dietary patterns can change the gut microbiota composition. What you want to do is keep gut bacteria balanced. There is huge potential to use our diet – and in particular dietary fibre – to promote the growth of specific beneficial bacteria to impact on health, whether it’s bone health, inflammation, mental health, cardiovascular disease, cognitive function.”

You researched the potential of resistant starch in improving bakery products. Could it have meaningful impact on health?

“This was research published in the SATIN study3, and it was an ideal opportunity to think about the direct application of nutrition science to food. We worked with a baker to reformulate bread by adding resistant starch, and we looked at its impact on metabolic health, glycaemic control, and weight loss. The bread produced with resistant starch did alter the microbiota composition in a positive manner and resulted in lower blood glucose in comparison to the control group. This finding has a lot of potential because bread is such a staple in people’s diets.”

How important is it that food and drink companies fortify their products with fibre?

“It’s incredibly important that we consider both food reformulation and food fortification. We see across many countries something called the fibre gap. i.e. most of the population fail to meet current recommendations for dietary fibre. We need to be thinking about how we can encourage consumers to consume more dietary fibre by ensuring it is palatable and affordable for food formulation. That’s a challenge, but reformulation and fortification are two strong techniques that we can use to nudge consumers to eat more fibre.”

1 - Satiation is the process that leads to the termination of eating, which may be accompanied by a feeling of satisfaction. Satiety is the feeling of fullness that persists after eating, potentially suppressing further energy intake until hunger returns. (Benelam, B. (2009), Satiation, satiety and their effects on eating behaviour. Nutrition Bulletin, 34: 126-173.
2 - Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass and function that occur with aging, which can lead to mobility disorders, increased frequency of falls, fractures and immobilization. (AJ Cruz-Jentoft, JP Baeyens, JM Bauer, Y Boirie, T Cederholm, F Landi, et al. Sarcopenia: European consensus on definition and diagnosis: report of the European working group on sarcopenia in older people, Age Ageing, 39 (2010), 412–23)
3 - Johnstone AM, Kelly J, Ryan S, Romero-Gonzalez R, McKinnon H, Fyfe C, Naslund E, Lopez-Nicolas R, Bosscher D, Bonnema A, Frontela-Saseta C, Ros-Berruezo G, Horgan G, Ze X, Harrold J, Halford J, Gratz SW, Duncan SH, Shirazi-Beechey S, Flint HJ. Nondigestible Carbohydrates Affect Metabolic Health and Gut Microbiota in Overweight Adults after Weight Loss. J Nutr. 2020 Jul 1;150(7):1859-1870. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa124. PMID: 32510158.

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