February 16, 2011

Peer Review: Are beans good for your heart?

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With a South American family exposing her to different cuisines and participating in Community Shared Agriculture, Claudia Pazlopez ’12 grew up in an environment that nurtured her admiration for food. However, it was her experience with her mother’s severe allergies to certain preservatives that fostered an appreciation for food science. “This peaked my curiosity in what goes into processed foods, how they are made, and the science behind them.  During a summer program at Rutgers University, I learned that there is a career that investigates exactly what I wanted: food science,” Pazlopez said. “Food science is an extremely exciting field that is much more than just cooking. It is about chemistry, microbiology, nutrition, engineering, and even legal issues,” Pazlopez said.Pazlopez’s research focuses on the anti-nutritional properties in beans.  “Although beans are known to be very healthy and full of protein, there is an ‘anti-nutritional factor’ in the bean called a trypsin inhibitor that makes it harder, or in some cases impossible, for the human body to digest the protein,” Pazlopez said.Cooking beans at high temperatures –– which for beans often means boiling –– can inactivate inhibitors. At higher altitudes where water sees lower boiling points, inhibitors will not be inactivated.  Pazlopez’s project stimulates different boiling points at varying altitudes to determine how much the inhibitor has been inactivated in a variety of beans. “So far, I have discovered that only at sea level is there significant inactivation (about 90%), while at higher altitudes it is as low as 75%.  This information is important for rural communities in mountain ranges such as the Andes whose inhabitants rely on bean as an affordable source of protein,” Pazlopez said.   Pazlopez feels that insight into the anti-nutritional properties will have a significant affect on the daily lives of individuals from many cultures.In the next stages of the project, Pazlopez hopes to determine if the remaining amount of inhibitor can still affect protein digestibility and if cooking negatively affects other aspects of bean nutrition. “There are digestibility assays that can be completed in vitro [without animal studies], which saves time and have been proven to be very effective,” Pazlopez said.  Currently Pazlopez is studying at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona to learn more about the European food industry. Once returning to Ithaca in the fall, Pazlopez hopes to continue her research to determine the best booking pressure to maximize the nutritional quality of beans. She plans on entering the industry after completing graduate work. ”A career in food science can take you anywhere, and I hope to travel with my job to collaborate with other scientists and improve the world’s food supply… hopefully this will be only the beginning of my travels,” Pazlopez said.

Original Author: Tajwar Mazhar