Combating malnutrition by biofortified foods

Biofortified foods can improve the overall composition and function of gut bacteria, which in turn provide health benefits for their host’s body

March 14, 2021
The Scitech

New research from Elad Tako, associate professor of food science, shows that iron and zinc in biofortified foods, such as beans and wheat, can improve the health of gut bacteria and reduce the risk of malnutrition. New Cornell research shows that biofortified foods can improve the overall composition and function of gut bacteria, which in turn provide health benefits for their host’s body. The research was published in the journal Nutrients. “Our analysis indicated that the dietary inclusion of approximately 50% of iron/zinc biofortified foods has a significant beneficial effect on the gut microbiota,” said Elad Tako, associate professor of food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and corresponding author on the study. “With added improvements in intestinal functionality, this also indicates that feeding a healthy microbiome reduces the risk of metabolic and chronic diseases.” This review is the first study to examine the direct link between biofortified foods and gut microbiota. The researchers looked at the effects of iron-biofortified wheat and beans, and zinc-biofortified wheat using an in vivo model (Gallus gallus).

In five comparable studies, Tako said they noticed a decrease in potentially pathogenic gut bacteria and an increase in bacteria populations that produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) — both of which could be attributed to the biofortified foods. SCFAs are the main energy source for cells lining the colon. Higher levels of these fatty acids help fuel metabolism and lead to greater uptake of dietary minerals, like iron and zinc. Sometimes referred to as “hidden hunger,” mineral deficiencies are present in populations experiencing both undernutrition and overnutrition. Around the world, iron deficiencies affect approximately 2.3 billion people, and zinc deficiencies affect another 1.3 billion — leading to poor growth, depressed immune function, physical birth defects and neurobehavioral abnormalities.

“Our review indicates that consumption of iron/zinc biofortified foods is an effective and sustainable approach to reduce the double burden of malnutrition,” Tako said. The group’s analysis demonstrated that iron and zinc biofortified foods improved the overall health profile of beneficial gut bacteria. The increase in mineral absorption supported a more robust population of these beneficial microbes and lowered the overall risk for measles, influenza A, Hepatitis B and bladder cancer. This evidence of a direct connection between the consumption of biofortified foods and the improved profile of gut bacteria, supports other areas of ongoing research that investigate more ways in which the microbiome affects our overall health.

(Source: Cornell University news release)