Louisiana ranks 50th in overall health and in the bottom 10 states in diabetes, smoking and obesity. If people make smarter choices together to improve their well-being, the Milken Institute predicts the state could avoid 612,000 cases of chronic conditions in 10 years.
The School of Nutrition and Food Sciences is responding to the call for improved health and wellness outcomes through research and outreach. Faculty members in the school have expertise in the areas of food innovation, food safety, molecular nutrition, community nutrition and nutrition education.
The school sees the increased interest in local and regional foods as an opportunity to build consumer trust and influence healthier choices. Scientists in the school are involved in food processing innovation, product development and consumer choice research. On many projects, the researchers work directly with industry, collaborate with other institutions such as Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Southern University, and support LSU AgCenter Food Incubator projects.
One area of research is advancing understanding of the gut microbiome and digestive health. This can help product developers create foods that work better in the digestive system. Researchers also are focusing on prebiotics and probiotics, delivery vehicles that survive gastrointestinal transit, omega-3 fatty acids and product development of antioxidant-rich foods.
Food safety is a core tenant of the school’s program. Scientists in the school are working to detect, monitor and mitigate pathogen risks in our food supply. The U.S. Food Safety and Modernization Act includes increased regulation and training to ensure safety throughout the food supply chain. The results are a safer food supply and assurance of wholesome food. Since 2013, the school has supported a program that works with processors and producers to effectively implement this law.
For several years, the school has conducted seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) classes and has recently expanded beyond the safety of fresh-caught seafood and fisheries to include support for the expanding value-added segment of the seafood and fisheries industries.
Because many breakdowns in food safety occur at the consumer level, the school’s program in consumer safety addresses common mistakes in the home. When disaster strikes, rapid information about food safety in the home or in the production field is essential. Within hours of a natural disaster, the school’s food safety team can provide information on the safety of food in refrigerators and freezers after power outages, safety of foods in flooded pantries and sources of emergency assistance.
Another research area is innovation to support value-added processing of novel foods. Researchers are looking at increasing value to Louisiana commodities such as dairy, seafood, fisheries and sweet potatoes, as well as co-product recovery for food, pharmaceutical and antimicrobial uses. Whether it is increasing the perception of salty flavor in low-salt snacks or developing a better way to freeze and package shrimp, ingredients and process innovation are at the heart of some of the cutting-edge research in the school.
Students in nutrition and food sciences gain experience through undergraduate research, internships, co-ops and by participating in industry projects. Some of the research students have conducted has looked at consumer perceptions, worked toward developing detection methods of the human norovirus in marine waters, assessed dietary intake of pregnant women, and studied the foods and physical activity opportunities available in local parishes.
Students also have the opportunity to work in the Sensory Services Lab or with the Food Incubator. The lab is housed in the Animal and Food Sciences Laboratories building – a state-of-the-art facility that includes labs, a demo kitchen, sensory-testing areas, a commercial-grade kitchen and classrooms. These hands-on opportunities give students the advantage they need when applying for dietetics internships, graduate schools or jobs.
As part of the land-grant mission, the school’s partnerships aim to lead the effort that results in commercially viable, healthier food products tailored for the lifestyles of the people of Louisiana.
Louise Wicker is director of the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.
(This article appears in the spring 2017 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.
Students in Subramaniam Sathivel's food science class brew beer as part of a food preservation class. Photo by Tobie Blanchard
Ronamae Bradford and Dellecia Roberts, graduate students from the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica, spent a month at LSU working in Subramaniam Sathivel’s food science lab. The students are conducting research on probiotics. Photo by Tobie Blanchard