Op Ed: Kavita Karnik, Global Head of Nutrition and Regulatory at Tate & Lyle, on Embracing Food Science

Kavita Karnik, M.Med. Sci, Ph.D., is the Global Head of Nutrition, Regulatory and Scientific Affairs at Tate & Lyle. She is responsible for providing evidence-based scientific support to the company’s ingredient portfolio through strategic nutrition science research and education. Additionally, she leads the Regulatory and Scientific Affairs group, which handles global regulatory approvals and claims strategy for Tate & Lyle products.

Previously, Dr. Karnik has held various global roles in the nutrition and health-related commercial environment for corporations such as Unilever, Pfizer, and Nestle. She has also been involved in academic research at several universities.

In this article, Kavita explores how food science can help to meet the nutritional needs of current and future generations.

Let’s Embrace Food Science and the Solutions it Offers

By Kavita Karnik

In the food industry, we are increasingly seeing emphasis being placed on how a food is made rather than the nutritional composition of the finished product. As a medic by training with 20+ years’ experience in nutrition science, I know that a food’s nutrition credentials and health impacts are determined by the salt, sugar, fat, calorie, and micronutrient content, not the number of steps in its production. Those steps are not immaterial, however.

Tate & Lyle Scientist
Image courtesy of Tate & Lyle

It is industrialized processes that have driven up food safety standards, enabled the fortification of everyday products to tackle nutrition deficiencies, and brought products for people with special dietary needs. These are just some of the many benefits that prepared and packaged foods bring to our daily lives.

Enhancing nutritional credentials

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that to feed a rapidly growing population, we will need to produce more food in the next four decades than we have in the last 8,000 years. I truly believe that science and innovation are at the heart of how we will do this in a more sustainable way, and the plant-based sector is a clear example of this in action.

At Tate & Lyle, a global producer of ingredients that lower sugar, fat, and calories, and add fiber and protein, we work with customers to find opportunities to enhance the nutritional credentials of their products. The question we are often asked is: What can be done to enable plant-based food and drink to not only look and taste like their traditional counterparts but also to be as, or more, nutritious? As brands overcome taste and texture challenges, we see them prioritizing nutrition, and this is only going to become easier as new technologies and approaches advance and bed in.

© Tate & Lyle

Boosting nutrition through processing

The ‘processed’ nature of many plant-based products is arguably part of what provides the opportunity to boost nutrition, with plant-based mayonnaise as one such example. Traditional mayo is made by emulsifying eggs, oil, and an acid such as lemon juice to create a rich texture. It has a typical fat content of 65%, and when made at home usually lasts a couple of days in the fridge.

“We need to partner across the food system to reduce its environmental impact”

Our food scientists can replace the egg and replicate the emulsion using vegetable oil and complementary, functional plant-based proteins that work well together to help increase viscosity and retain its squeezability, soft gel appearance, and shape. They can bring the fat content down to 40% or lower, and materially extend the shelf-life to minimize wastage, while delivering the luxurious eating experience people expect and the convenience they appreciate.

Ultimately, we need to partner across the food system to reduce its environmental impact and ensure there is enough nutritious food for future generations. Science and technology, including innovative ingredients and production techniques, will play a major role in how we tackle these challenges, and we should celebrate their place in food and drink’s future.

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