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Investigating the role of food structure and processing in lipid digestion for production of healthier food

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Optimising fat digestion

Obesity has become a major health issue, and the EU has prioritised the design of healthier foods to control the phenomenon.


Obesity is associated with chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disorders with treatment taking up around 5 % of the EU's healthcare budget. Controlling lipid digestion could ensure prolonged energy release. This in turn could reduce high fat intake and increase satiety to promote weight loss. The EU-funded FOODPRO FORHEALTH (Investigating the role of food structure and processing in lipid digestion for production of healthier food) project worked on elucidating the role of food structure on fat digestion. Researchers employed physicochemical approaches to determine how different food structures such as emulsions interact with digestive enzymes, surfactants and fats in a simulated gut environment. The simulated gut environment included both the stomach and the small intestine. Bile salts (BSs) are biosurfactants that help breakdown fats through adsorption and interfacial disruption. Limiting BS access to fats could slow down digestion. To understand how BS interacts with emulsifiers and stabilisers found in processed foods, researchers used several colloidal and interfacial techniques such as particle electrophoresis analysis and tensiometry. For testing, researchers investigated the following food emulsifiers: protein-based ingredients such as whey protein isolate (WPI), polysaccharide-protein complexes (sugar beet pectin (SBP)), and polysaccharide based emulsifiers (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC)). Interestingly, stabilising emulsified fats with SBP or HPMC did not significantly affect their digestion. This indicates that BSs are effective at fat breakdown and are critical for fat digestion in the small intestine. It was actually the binding of BSs by celluloses that significantly affected fat breakdown in the food models. Also, heat treatment successfully slowed down the breakdown of WPI. Last but not least, FOODPRO FORHEALTH tested the effect of oats based ingredients on fat digestion. Invaluable insight was obtained on adsorption behaviour and interfacial properties of emulsions. These results also highlighted gaps in knowledge on fat digestion and the need for further studies. Project outcomes can be used to develop food systems that modulate fat absorption to control dietary intake, increase satiety and enhance metabolic health. Improving fat metabolism and gut health through modification of food products will significantly improve public health and cut down healthcare costs. This should also boost the competitiveness of the European food industry.


Obesity, healthier foods, lipid digestion, food structure, bile salts

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