“The task of science is to change the food to suit our needs”

What will be the food of the future and how to put it in the service of our health? Why did the scientists work with the manufacturers and what is the purpose of the third generation GMOs? Will the new products become more expensive and safer? Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Viktor Tutelyan said in an interview with Profile.

– Viktor Alexandrovich, I know that you have recently started a large-scale joint work of scientists and manufacturers to bring new types of enriched products to the Russian market. What is happening in this area now?

– In September last year, we created a consortium “Health savings, nutrition and demography” at the Russian Academy of Sciences. To date, the association includes about 30 organizations – leading institutions in the food industry, agriculture, major domestic manufacturers of food and bioprostheses. The aim is to create new types of specialized products intended for different population groups (children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, athletes, etc.), as well as dietary preventive and therapeutic nutrition.

The fact is that our diet as a whole provides the needs for energy and essential nutrients, but their ratio is far from optimal, in addition, there is a deficiency of many micronutrients and biologically active substances. With food, we need to get not only energy, but also about 200 chemical compounds, many of which are irreplaceable. Our task is to provide people with products that, on the one hand, will be saturated with everything they need and, on the other hand, will not exceed the calorie content corresponding to energy consumption.

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You can inspire nature. Now science is working to increase production, to improve properties such as anesthesia in drought, frost, insect pests. The third generation of GMOs is when the chemical composition of the raw material base changes. For example, we change the composition so that the plant produces such fatty acids found in olive oil. In addition to changes in fatty acid composition, there may be an increase in protein. This is the future: take away from the usual raw materials what we do not need – isomers of fatty acids, trans fats, cholesterol, sugar, salt – and add trace elements and vitamins. If it is bread, then from whole grains, so that there is a lot of dietary fiber, B vitamins.

The second direction is the creation of supplements such as sports nutrition, protein drinks. It is necessary to create the most personalized products that can be consumed in addition to the usual diet – a glass of speaker, which is easily digested and contains complete protein, all amino acids, a mixture of minerals and trace elements.

The consortium is called upon to solve this problem. The industry is ready to work on this. It’s a lot of work, but the result is worth it.

– How much will such developments increase the cost of food?

– Absolutely not expensive. For example, let’s take organic products for comparison. This means that they are grown without the use of mineral fertilizers and pesticides and, as a result, are more susceptible to various damages due to pests and weather factors. Going back to agriculture, we will gain something, but we will lose a lot. As a result, these products are very expensive. Improved are not. Scientists, together with producers, develop new varieties and then only have to cultivate them. We get products of better quality but at the same price.

– Why does this work start right now, when the institutions of the whole world are thrown into the fight against the coronavirus?

– Here’s why! The pandemic has had a huge impact on the natural increase of the population, so science must integrate all efforts to ensure, on the one hand, to fight the spread of the infection and, on the other hand, to increase the body’s adaptive capacity and immune response to protection against COVID-19 and other infections, as well as increasing the effectiveness of treatment and especially remedial measures. The role of food in this can not be underestimated!

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We have developed specific guidelines for those who are ill and recovering from COVID-19. It is important to increase immunity for those infected with the coronavirus, which means that you need a high protein complete diet – antibodies are made up of proteins. Of course, you need a complete synthesis of vitamins, because they are involved in the formation of adaptive potential: they are either part of enzymes, or regulate metabolism to accelerate the destruction and removal of antigens from the body. In addition, the patient may have gastrointestinal disorders and the food should be soft, processed, fermented to be better absorbed. It is necessary to bypass the “broken links” in the body and deliver the right amount of energy to each of its cells. It does not seem to be anything special, but such a diet will increase the body’s defenses by 3-5 times.

– Not so long ago, your institute developed a new scientific direction – the humanities. What is he studying?

– This is a new direction of integrated medicine, formed at the intersection of anthropological anatomy and nutrition to optimize the physical and nutritional status of the population. As part of this direction, we have developed different regional models for the physical development of different population groups in all Russian regions. Science is evolving, new data on the role of certain nutrients are constantly appearing. In addition, the age and sex structure of the population changes and the level of physical activity changes. Based on these data, updated “Rules for normal energy and nutrient requirements for different groups of the population of the Russian Federation” were developed – at the end of last year they were approved by the Rospotrebnadzor and the diets are developed according to them. In this paper, for the first time, we have introduced the requirements for biologically active food by-products, we have introduced them as a necessity – we have set the minimum, normal and hazardous prices.

Anthropophysiology also makes it possible to predict the risks of disease and the “weak points” of the body in each individual. We study the pathogenesis of diseases, the role of nutrition in their formation, prevention and treatment. Eating during the illness can worsen and improve a person’s condition.

We are now working on creating a digital diet – a system for personalizing the diet, in order, as the key to a lock, to choose a diet system that is necessary for a particular organism. Now this can already be done, but it is still terribly expensive, and when we develop methods, it will become much cheaper. According to our calculations, this will happen in 1-2 years.

– Are you working on new food sources – for example, from plant or alternative proteins?

– Of course, among other things, we study the protein from insects – first of all its safety. In order for new products to be allowed on the market, it is necessary to prove their absolute safety for the organization. This is our main task and our number one priority. Food must be safe not only for us but also for future generations. It is very important.

It is not just about toxins, poisonous fungi and plants: it is a series of chemical pollution of man-made nature. We pollute the environment, and it returns to us with water, air, food. Food can be a source and carrier of potentially dangerous substances: pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, the entire periodic table – lead, mercury, arsenic, radionuclides. It is necessary to assess the risk of side effects and then take measures – restrictive or prohibitive.

– What is the main risk in this area now?

– Mycotoxins are fungi. These are natural pollutants, toxins that affect grain crops in the field. They grow against the background of melting snow in spring and accumulate in the grains. During heat treatment, they are not destroyed, ie they are dangerous in finished products – bread, pasta. We dealt with them for a long time, we examined the places of harvest and the places of storage of the grains. We have a laboratory that detects them with the most modern methods. Today we can identify 25 mycotoxins in a product sample.

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In addition, counterfeit food products – for example, introduce a harmful dye into juices or fish products, replacing them with a cheaper variety.

The toxicologist studies the compound, proving it is dangerous. It further determines the level at which a threat to human health occurs. Then they discover the prevalence – where, how much and in which products. Based on these studies, a hygiene standard is introduced, which is mandatory for the entire epidemiological service.

The threats are endless and new pollutants are emerging that need to be assessed in terms of safety. These are not only the products themselves, but also new processing technologies as well as new packaging materials.

Eating problems are now very important for all countries, for people of all ages and genders. However, the profession of nutritionist is not the most common in Russia. What is the reason?

– Now we are working to raise the nutritionists’ departments to the right height. It is important that in all parts of Russia at every medical institution people can get help from a dietitian. The issue of nutrition must be treated very reverently, this is one of the powerful levers for saving health: proper nutrition can significantly improve the patient’s condition, increase the effectiveness of surgical procedures and treatment, medication. It is essential that every physician, head of a medical institution, understands the importance of a nutritional direction. A competent modern nutritionist is a person with extensive knowledge, because the science of nutrition is multidisciplinary, it absorbs all the biological and medical sciences. Unfortunately, there are not enough specialists, but the direction is gradually becoming popular, additional education and advanced training systems are being set up in medical universities.

In some non-basic universities, you can get the specialty of nutritionist not in the medical department. I’m against it. We are currently working with the Ministry of Education to make the specialty medicine.

– You have been working at FRC for 60 years. Did you choose this direction as a student?

Yes, but not immediately. I first came here in 1961 as a sophomore at the Medical Institute – I studied in the Department of Biochemistry. My teacher Aleksey Alekseevich Pokrovsky then became the director of this Nutrition Research Institute and suggested that I do an internship here. At first I made a face – food, some cutlets, I wanted to do biochemistry. Then I started working on amino acid analysis, which turned out to be fascinating. A few months later, Alexey Alekseevich ordered me to be recruited to the staff for the position of preparer. I still have a workbook, in which a workplace only changes positions. The only break was when, after graduating from the institute, I left for three months in virgin countries, working as a doctor. He was the only doctor in three villages: he was born and engaged in rehabilitation. Gained a lot of practical experience. He then entered the postgraduate program and returned to work at the research institute. So far he has not been disappointed with his profession. I am constantly amazed at how multifaceted and important our work is.

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