NutriCARD – the Central German competence cluster for healthier food is going against the sad statistics of too much salt, sugar and fat
The innovation office of the competence cluster nutriCARD lies in the middle of the start-up epicentre of Martin Luther University on the vineyard campus in the city of Halle, in the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt. This cluster actually includes three sites. And this is where the special features already begin. NutriCARD is the inter-state German alliance of the Martin Luther University in Halle (Saxony-Anhalt), the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena (Thuringia) and the Leipzig University (Saxony) on matters of nutritional and health research. “nutriCARD is thus something new for the research landscape in Central Germany. Various individual competences of the sites are bundled in this cluster and used synergistically”, explains Dr. Toni Meier, who, with his team, holds together the threads in the innovation office.
“We are concerned with the question of how one can lower cardiovascular and metabolic diseases with intelligent and goal-oriented nutrition. In Germany alone, approx. 157,000 premature deaths could be avoided each year with nutrition that is healthier for the heart. Applied to Europe, projections start at approx. two million preventable deaths. With many consumers, however, pointing a warning finger is unlikely to lead to any real improvement. After all, every walk in the supermarket is also a little challenge that many consumers have to master on a daily basis. Colour, design, brands, taste and price ultimately influence our purchasing decision and often lead to a certain degree of confusion among consumers. Health is not always the top priority”, explains the scientist. “The main task of nutriCARD is the health upgrading of familiar foods by means of reformulations that do not change anything in the flavour or appearance of the products. We would like the consumer’s first choice to be the healthy choice. We are researching this and producing “open knowledge”. We make the results available to foodstuff producers free of charge. But it is best to explain it using an example”, says Toni Meier, prompting my curiosity.
Light in the coop, Lyoner and OMEghurt
That humans need vitamin D for a healthy cardiovascular system and sturdy bones is as well-known as the fact that the majority of Germans are not sufficiently supplied with it. This therefore vitally essential vitamin is formed in the skin due to sunlight. An additional need for it arises in the dark time of year, at the latest. “Apart from fish and mushrooms, there are hardly any foodstuffs with significant quantities of this vitamin and artificial enrichment is greatly restricted by law”, explains Toni Meier. “Together with the researchers of the University of Halle and of Agrargenossenschaft Pretzsch e.G., we have supported the body’s own formation of vitamin D in animals with the use of UV light in the coops of laying hens.
Under optimal conditions, we achieve a vitamin level one to five times higher than that in conventional eggs.” The partners from Jena have managed, for the first time, to replace animal fats in a “Lyoner” sausage with fibre, without impairing its appearance or flavour. And the researchers from Leipzig are dealing with the question of how the sometimes questionable quantities of saturated fatty acids in our food can be replaced with proteins from the lupine. Some product developments have already become established on the market. For example, the dairy Herzgut in Thuringia sells the OMEghurt, a yoghurt enriched with the vitally important Omega 3 fatty acids.
And consumer protection also plays a big role for nutriCARD. For example, the federation of consumer associations in Thuringia is the partner of the network consisting of around 150 participants, such as various foodstuff producers from Central Germany, university clinics and non-university institutes.
The sad statistics of too much salt, sugar and fat
And, here too, Toni Meier’s scientific background becomes noticeable. On the desk lie studies and specialist literature from all over the world, pointing out the possibilities of a healthy way of life and the consequences of an unhealthy one. “We have calculated that in 2008 too much salt, sugar and fat cost the German health system around 17 billion euros, in direct treatment costs alone. Even a slight fall could reduce more than just the economic consequences. The mortality rate from widespread diseases such as cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes, different forms of cancer and secondary diseases of obesity would be substantially influenced”, explains Toni Meier.
Good prospects for the cluster
The competence cluster is one of the research projects in the field of nutritional research selected by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which is being granted 5 million euros for the period from 2015-18. “The plans for the project already started in 2012, so we were of course very pleased when we received the grant promise from the BMBF at the start of 2015.”, reports the scientist. If the interim audit in 2018 turns out positively, the cluster can expect further support up to the year 2021.
Author: Alexander Greiner