You are what you eat
Functional food, nanotechnology and eating habits feed into todays and even more so the futures way of how to choose our daily diet. The work of Prof. Dr. Werner Bauer, Chief Technology Officer of Nestlé Suisse S.A., is at the heart of this development, which tries to fuse food, health and good taste into one.
You are what you eat. Is this proverb still true? Will its meaning change in the near future?
Werner Bauer: Like in most things, there is an element of truth in the statement "You Are What You Eat" – and an element of error. The statement is true for "micronutrients" but not for "macronutrients". Let me explain this.
Micronutrients are primarily vitamins (e.g. vitamins A, B, C, D, E, & K), minerals (e.g. iron, calcium. zinc, selenium, manganese). These cannot be made by the body and so the only source by which the body can obtain its requirements is through the diet. They are dietary components that are essential for life because many important biological functions, such as growth and energy production, would not occur without them.
Because they can only be obtained by way of the diet, their presence in the body is reflected by the composition of our diet ("You are what you eat").
Macronutrients, on the other hand, are the major components of the diet many of which the body can synthesise. Their presence, therefore, is not dependent on "what we eat".
There are three major types of macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. These provide either the basic material from which the body is built (proteins and fats) or the fuel that is required to run it (carbohydrates and fats).
In fact, an analysis of the content of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate) in our diet is very different to that in our body. Our body contains predominantly protein with very little carbohydrate. Our diet, in contrast contains predominantly carbohydrate and relatively small amounts of protein. Consequently, for macronutrients, it would be more truthful to say that "you are the opposite of what we eat".
The food industry is certainly changing. According to an article in «Die Zeit» Nestlé-CEO Peter Brabeck initiated the current course of the company towards «Nutrition, health and wellness» nearly ten years ago. Where do we stand today?
Nestlé has taken this change very much to heart. We made a significant number of changes in the composition of our products to align the nutrient content with those of national and international dietary guidelines. This has been achieved by implementing a proprietary nutrient profiling system that also ensures that there is a taste preference for the product with consumers. We call this procedure 60/40+.
Shouldn't food just be enjoyed?
It is sad to say that in the many nutritional recommendations that are made these days, the words taste and pleasure are very rarely mentioned. Food and "cuisine" are basic human enjoyments which have existed ever since mankind itself has. One should not forget that people eat food and not nutrients - a fact of life that should always be taken into account when giving dietary advice or in formulating products. This is only common sense since any food not eaten has no nutritional value whatsoever.
It is relatively easy to list nutrients that are important to eat but it is very much more difficult to formulate them into a food worth eating. This is one of the major strengths of Nestlé - the ability to create recipes based on good nutritional science and high quality food ingredients, and to prepare “dishes” with the most up-to-date technology.
Nanoscience has found its way into the food industry. Where lie the benefits? What can we expect from nanotechnology and food processing?
Nanoscience is an important development, providing novel tools and methods to penetrate into the world of molecules. We think that nanoscience will help us to better understand our raw materials and ingredients, which come from the biological world. Grains, vegetables, fruits, milk and other ingredients are intricate nanostructured materials.
When we cook, whether it is done by a chef, at home or in industry, we change those nanostructures into a food microstructure. These microstructures make up our dishes and products. They are also very important for the digestion and the nutritional functioning of our foods. Nanoscience tools, like atomic force microscopes, will help us to deepen our understanding.
You are one of the key speakers at the 3rd European Futurists Conference in Lucerne. What can we look forward to hearing?
Food is an interesting area to think and talk about the future. It seems so paradoxical. On the one side, we all want our food to remain as it was in our past. On the other side, we would like to try new things. Since the agro-cultural revolution in the stone ages, our basic food concepts have not changed very much. However, on the basis of these concepts, we have developed quite sophisticated individual foods with very subtle taste and textures... The next wave will be concepts which will support and foster health and wellness. Nestlé is actively involved in exploring this new world of nutrition, health and wellness.
Trained as a chemical engineer, Werner Bauer is responsible for corporate research, development and innovation at the Nestlé group Head Office in Vevey. After holding professorial posts in Hamburg and Munich, he joined Nestlé in 1990 from the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging in Freising, near Munich, taking on the job of Head of the Research Center in Lausanne. Werner Bauer also has commercial experience gained during his time as Head of Nestlé in South Africa. Nestlé SA is the world’s largest foodstuffs manufacturer and the largest industrial concern in Switzerland.
Prof. Dr. Werner Bauer, Chief Technology Officer, Nestlé Suisse S.A.,
Keynote Speeker «Food for Brain Health: The Vision of Nestlé»,
Culture and Convention Centre KKL, Lucerne, Switzerland
November 20, 2007; 11.10 h