Proteins & Peptides
Harvesting, Processing, and Cooking Foods to Increase Health Benefits
Proteins are an essential component of human body development. Proteins can be consumed through fish or meat, or through plant-based foods such as legumes, lentils, peas, chickpeas, etc. If processed and prepared correctly, portions of food proteins can exhibit health benefits beyond the known nutritional value, such as reducing high blood pressure or chronic inflammation.
Food proteins can be described as a ball-like structure connected with a chain (with a lot of folding). These structures are broken down into smaller pieces, called peptides, after being processed, cooked, and eventually eaten. Peptides with health-beneficial biological activity (such as reducing high blood pressure or chronic inflammation) are known as bioactive peptides (BAPs).
Kaustav Majumder, assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, investigates how food proteins and peptides impact human health depending on how food is harvested from the field, processed in a food processing facility, and prepared in the kitchen.
“Our lab studies how protein-rich foods are grown, processed, and cooked, and how each impacts health after the food is consumed,” Majumder said.
The smaller pieces of food proteins (peptides) play a much larger role in the normal functioning of human bodies. For instance, what one puts onto their plates and in their cups affects how their bodies grow and develop.
“Those who drink milk, typically have strong bones,” Majumder said. “Similarly, those that eat meat, gain more muscle protein.”
Majumder’s research focuses on how these peptides are grown, harvested, and prepared to better understand how peptides impact the human body and contributes to overall wellness beyond regular growth and development.
Bioactive Peptides (BAPs)
BAPs are food proteins and peptides that can regulate cardiovascular conditions, such as hypertension and atherosclerosis, Majumder said.
The goal of Majumder’s work is to either find naturally occurring BAPs or create BAPs via food processing that can be easily incorporated into food products to prevent the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases.
For example, Majumder said angiotensin-II is a peptide hormone found in the bloodstream that increases blood pressure.
“One way to reduce blood pressure is to find food peptides that can both inhibit the action of the angiotensin converting enzyme in the blood and reduce the amount of angiotensin-II,” Majumder said.
While these peptides will not stop cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack, from happening, they have the potential to help prevent an individual from being in that position in the first place.
Additionally, Majumder studies how dietary peptides can aid in reducing chronic inflammatory conditions in vascular cells and fat cells. While current research does not have any effect on reducing body weight at this time, there is potential that these peptides may play a role in preventing obesity-associated cardiometabolic disorders.
Eating More Functional Foods
Incorporating “functional foods”—foods enriched with BAP —into one’s diet is the best way to maximize the efficacy of these peptides, Majumder said.
The functional value is influenced by the ways food is grown, processed, and prepared before it is bought and consumed.
Majumder said Nebraska is the number one producer of dry edible beans, namely the great northern bean. His work looks at the growing conditions, environment, and impact of fertilization on these specific dry beans. At some point, these conditions influence the occurrence of some peptides and their impact on human health.
“Specifically, we look at the protein quality when they are broken down into peptides and the impact on human health,” Majumder said.
Further, his team perfects age-old practices in preparing foods, such as fermentation.
“We can use fermentation to make a new peptide-rich food product that lowers blood pressure and reduces chronic inflammation,” Majumder said. “Our laboratory not only identifies and optimizes the processes of producing these BAPs, but also explores their role in human body.”
For example, a drink or food made out of fermented dry beans could be one example of a functional food that could potentially has a beneficial effect on human health.
The incorporation of peptide-rich drinks—similar to a yogurt-based drink—is how other countries, such as Japan and Finland, have achieved this idea; however, the creation of such food products has yet to be made and approved in the United States.
For more information on Majumder and the Nebraska Food for Health Center, visit https://foodforhealth.unl.edu/kaustav-majumder