FROM GARBAGE TO MEDICINE

What do fish heads, or­ange peel and grape skins all have in com­mon? They’re rich in vi­ta­mins and min­er­als but of­ten end up in the bin. Fiona Baker looks at a new project that aims to con­vert garbage into health-giv­ing gold

Sunday Mail - Body and Soul - - HEALTH -

One com­pany’s food waste could be trans­formed into an­other’s trea­sure – or even a prod­uct that im­proves our health and well­be­ing. This is the premise of re­search at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney that’s in­ves­ti­gat­ing how dis­carded food can be rich in nu­tri­ents.

Pro­fes­sor Fariba De­hghani, of the univer­sity’s school of chemical and biomolec­u­lar en­gi­neer­ing, is leading the on­go­ing project and says its aim is to find bet­ter ways to use the en­tire fruit, veg or seafood, in­clud­ing the skin and shells.

“Valu­able re­sources are end­ing up as waste. But some of this waste can eas­ily be con­verted into high-value prod­ucts such as nu­traceu­ti­cals – food prod­ucts that are for­ti­fied with vi­ta­mins or min­er­als and that pro­vide health ben­e­fits as well as nu­tri­tional value – or to gen­er­ate en­ergy,” De­hghani says.

Ac­cord­ing to global sta­tis­tics, we con­sumers are a waste­ful lot. Al­most a third of food pro­duced for hu­man con­sump­tion – in 2011 that equated to about 1.3 bil­lion tonnes per year – is ei­ther lost or wasted. That dis­carded food could feed the en­tire world’s pop­u­la­tion. The main cul­prits seem to be in­dus­try, as the food loss oc­curs pri­mar­ily in the pro­duc­tion-to-re­tail phase of the food chain.

But with re­search, some of these by-prod­ucts of food pro­duc­tion could end up mak­ing us health­ier rather than rot­ting in land­fill, De­hghani says, adding that her unit has part­nered with sev­eral com­pa­nies to as­sist in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Here are some of the in­ter­est­ing waste-con­ver­sion projects her team is ex­plor­ing. Con­sumers may love to eat the sweet and juicy flesh of or­anges, but when we – and the in­dus­try – throw away the skin, we’re bin­ning not only a great source of fi­bre but also po­ten­tial cancer-fight­ing prop­er­ties. De­hghani says global re­search has found that the peel is high in an­tiox­i­dants linked with fight­ing cancer. “Our re­searchers will be look­ing at how to ex­tract the good­ness from the peel,” she says. It may seem to just con­tain the juicy flesh, but grape skin is full of good­ness, in par­tic­u­lar the health-boost­ing polyphe­nol resver­a­trol. A Univer­sity of Mis­souri study found that resver­a­trol made me­lanoma cells re­spond bet­ter to ra­di­a­tion treat­ment. Ear­lier stud­ies have found it can also have a sim­i­lar im­pact on prostate cancer cells.

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