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Health and Nutrition

Cutting-edge research facilities = ingenious ideas

Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods (INAF)
On the cutting edge of health food

From yogurt and probiotic cereals to fibre-enriched juices and cranberries of all kinds, health foods are taking our supermarket shelves by storm. This trend is hardly surprising: the prevalence of diet-related conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease continues to rise around the world.

  • Year founded : 1999
  • Number of researchers/members : 65
  • Research budget : CA$13 million (40% from private funding sources)
  • Over 90 companies and organizations do business with the INAF every year.

Research areas :
  • Identification, characterization and functionality of bioactive molecules
  • Processing, quality, stability and bioprotection of bioactive molecules
  • Nutrition: pre-clinical, clinical and socioeconomic studies

Interest group 
  • Dairy product
  • Vegetable product interest group
  • Seafood product interest group

Understanding food’s impact on health and on the prevention of chronic diseases is the core focus of Laval University’s Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods (INAF). As an internationally recognized research and training leader, the INAF is the largest multi-disciplinary group in Canada devoted exclusively to interactions between foods, ingredients, nutrition and health.

Affiliated with Laval University’s faculty of agricultural and food sciences in Quebec City, the INAF also includes researchers from the faculties and medicine and pharmacy, in addition to nine other research institutions in Quebec and a number of international collaborators. “This combination of expertise gives us a major advantage when it comes to integrating knowledge. It also increases the impact and benefits of our work,” says the INAF’s director, Yves Pouliot. The Institute’s 65 researchers/members undertake more than 200 projects every year.

Adding value: economic health is important too!

Whether studying food ingredients or developing procedures to isolate or incorporate them within functional foods and food supplements, the INAF’s experts have access to an enviable range of high-tech infrastructure and equipment designed to support innovation in the sector. Approximately 40% of the CA$13 million earmarked for research comes in the form of partnerships and contracts from private funding sources. INAF researchers also oversee an annual intake of more than 250 master’s and doctoral students in a variety of fields, including nutrition, food sciences and technology, microbiology, chemistry, pharmacology, forming a world-class workforce for companies in the agrifood, biotech and health sectors. “We are essential agrifood and health research partners,” notes Mr. Pouliot. “Our activities are drawing interest from leading multinationals such as Nestlé, Parmalat and Ocean Spray, as well as from SMEs in the region and around Quebec. These companies are not only selecting INAF as a business partner; they’re also hiring our graduates!” he says with pride.

The presence of a research nucleus such as the INAF accounts in part for the health food sector’s amazing growth in the Quebec City region over the past decade. For example, Advitech’s line of milk peptide-derived products is based on a technology developed by INAF researchers. Food safety and the discovery and development of natural food additives are also key research areas. Grizzly, which specializes in smoked foods, has worked with the Institute to find natural food preservation alternatives for its salmon products. Indeed, work in this area has only just begun: the INAF is now able to test the effectiveness and safety of natural antimicrobials under industry-like conditions.

Supporting clinical studies

The INAF’s clinical research unit seeks to validate the health effects of certain foods or ingredients. “Health claims are vitally important for food companies. They want to use health-based arguments when promoting their products,” explains Mr. Pouliot. “But they have to be backed up with scientific data.” Whenever health claims are made, regulatory agencies require companies to compile scientific evidence on their products, including supporting clinical studies. “Only a small number of labs in Quebec are able to conduct clinical studies. And in the university sector, the INAF’s nutrition clinic is the only one of its kind!”

In 2009, Laval University and the Quebec government will invest CA$8 million to expand the INAF. This project, which will also enhance the INAF’s business services, is mainly aimed at increasing the Institute’s research capabilities as it carries out its primary mission: identifying the mechanisms by which foods and their components influence health and the development or prevention of disease. By incorporating within its research program emerging sciences such as nutrigenomics and state-of-the-art technologies such as an in vitro digestive system simulator—the only one of its kind in the country—the INAF intends to reinforce its leading nutrition research role with a view to bringing health benefits to all Canadians.

Lisa-Marie Noël

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