- Abbott Nutrition
- We might someday get nutrients from “super nutritious pizza,” according to a nutritionist who develops meal-replacement shakes. That could help change the diets of Americans who generally don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. From “healthy” ice cream to nutrient shakes, these types of enhanced foods are already starting to emerge.
It’s the classic lunch dilemma: Should you eat a nutritious salad, filled with vegetables you’re trying to convince yourself you like, or just cave and go for that delicious slice of pizza?
Someday soon, you might not have to forsake nutrition to eat the foods you enjoy most.
That’s at least according to one executive at Abbott Laboratories, a company that makes products like meal replacement shakes, protein bars, and baby formula.
Dan Schmitz, the company’s director of user experience and research and development, is in charge of “therapeutic nutrition”: food products people consume for medical reasons. He told Business Insider that his work has led him to believe that one day, instead of urging people to eat more superfoods like kale or brussels sprouts, we could make a “super nutritious pizza.”
What this super-nutritious food might look like
The idea is that in the future, food might not look or taste different, but would contain nutrients you might be lacking. You can see this already in milk that’s fortified with vitamin D. The Food and Drug Administration has guidelines in place about these nutrient additions.
More and more companies are getting interested in such enhancements – meal-replacement drinks like Soylent are marketed toward the average American, and a low-calorie protein-filled ice cream has become the most popular pint ice cream in America.
Schmitz said he’s also seen some promise in 3D-printed food created by a machine. That technology could allow different items to be personalized according to a person’s unique nutritional needs. Are you low in iron or magnesium? A machine could print out a pancake or a piece of lasagna that contains extra, Schmitz said.
For right now though, we’re still a ways away from the dream of a slice of pizza that contains all the nutrients you need in a balanced meal.
How scientists cram nutrients into shakes and bars
Creating super-charged foods that people will actually want to eat is no small task. For the most part, foods that are artificially packed with nutrients come in the form of drinks or energy bars, most of which are given to medical patients or athletes who need extra nourishment.
Abbott’s existing products include Ensure, a shake designed to supply nutrients to people who are recovering from surgery or are malnourished, and Glucerna, which helps diabetics manage their blood sugar levels.
When making those supplement-heavy shakes, Schmitz has to confront a big hurdle: how do you pack in enough nutrients while still making the drink taste good?
For example, a drink called Ensure Enlive contains HMB, a substance humans naturally produce to preserve muscles. But if an ordinary person tried to combine all the nutrients in Ensure Enlive, they’d likely wind up with something that curdles and turns into “cottage cheese,” Schmitz said. After a few days in the refrigerator, the mixture would start to smell fishy, and some of the essential nutrients would begin to break down.
Schmitz’ team had to find ways to stabilize the mixture and add flavors, like vanilla, to mute the metallic taste.
“It’s as much an art as it is a science,” he said.
Changing eating habits is hard
Ideally, people should get all their essential nutrients and energy from veggies, whole grains, and meat or other sources of protein. But that’s easier said than done.
A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 2007 and 2010, 76% of Americans didn’t eat as much fruit as was recommended, while 87% didn’t eat as many vegetables as recommended. And roughly 30 million people in the US have diabetes, which in the majority of cases is linked with diet. Another 84.1 million are estimated to have pre-diabetes,a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes if it isn’t treated.
- Darren Weaver
The reason it’s hard to get people to eat healthier has a lot to do with taste, Schmitz said.
“Flavor always wins,” he said. It’d be easier to get them to eat better if they didn’t have to change their existing habits.
As food scientists get closer to the dream of super-charged, nutritious pizza, hitting a balance of flavor and nutrient-density will be key.
Until that vision becomes a reality, however, the best way to get more nutrients is to eat a balanced diet high in vegetables and lean proteins.