ARCHIVED - Nutrition Research Division

Background

The Nutrition Research Division is part of the Bureau of Nutritional Sciences in the Food Directorate. It consists of two sections, the Research Section and the Survey Section. Presently, expertise covers the areas of lipids, carbohydrates, protein, dietary fibre, energy, minerals, vitamins, food composition databases and survey methodology. The activities, except for the Survey Section, are laboratory based. The primary client is the Food Directorate itself, as the research directly supports the policy and standard setting activities and risk assessment. The Nutrition Research Division works closely with the Nutrition Evaluation Division, providing expertise on issues related to food safety, nutritional quality and health. Other clients are the provinces (surveys), other federal government organizations (like the  Canadian Food Inspection Agency ), industry, academia, dietitians in private practice, etc.

Mandate

The Division has the responsibility to carry out research which integrates the nutritional and metabolic aspects of foods. It also develops and evaluates analytical methods for nutrients, and it recommends standards for nutrient intakes and the nutritional adequacy of the food supply. The Division is responsible for responding to emergency situations involving nutrient chemicals. The Division has the responsibility for studying the relationship between certain aspects of the diet and disease conditions, and has the mandate to carry out, in partnership with provincial health departments and the Bureau of Biostatistics and Computer Applications, food consumption and nutrient intake surveys. The Division also maintains and markets the Canadian food composition table, the Canadian Nutrient File.

The Nutrition Research Division carries out work in three areas: macronutrients, micronutrients and surveys. Research activities focus on ensuring that the Canadian food supply is safe of nutritional hazards and meets nutritional requirements. Surveillance activities provide important information on food consumption by Canadians.

Macronutrients

Macronutrient research activities centre on energy, fibre, protein, fats and carbohydrate. For instance, manufacturing processes are changing the nutritional properties of some Canadian foods;
partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil results in the formation of trans-fatty acids, and heat treatment of protein solutions in an alkali environment results in the formation of lysinoalanine. Both of these have been shown to have detrimental health effects. Some foods of plant origin may have diabetogenic effects and identification of the diabetogenic constituents might have a significant impact on decreasing the incidence of type 1 diabetes. Some of the work involves formal partnerships (collaborative research agreements) established with external agencies, such as universities and trade associations. These activities contribute to the establishment of standards for such foods as infant formulas, baby foods and meal replacements.

Micronutrients

Micronutrient research activities aim to ensure that the Canadian food supply is safe of hazards from excessive micronutrients and that it meets the requirements for water soluble vitamins, antioxidant vitamins, and minerals (minerals and trace element research, dietary trace elements and cardiovascular diseases). For instance, excessive amounts of some minerals interact with the absorption of other minerals leading to potential deficiencies. Folic acid is being added to foods, but the bioavailability varies with different foods and differs from that of naturally occurring foods. There is continued pressure from both industry and consumers to make foods with higher levels of micronutrients available because of the beneficial health effects, such as slowing the loss of calcium from bone or decreasing the level of serum homocysteine. Excessive amounts of micronutrients, however, have detrimental effects. Studies must be carried out to establish safe and effective levels at which these micronutrients can be added to foods.

Surveillance Work

The last national survey on food consumption was conducted in 1970-72, and these data are clearly inadequate considering the changes in food habits of Canadians since that time. The Provincial Nutrition Surveys provide an up-to-date database which is being used for risk assessment activities and public health promotion programs within the Department and by external partners. The surveillance activity involves formal partnerships with provincial health departments and various universities. Part of the surveillance activity is the Canadian Nutrient File. The CNF is a computerized database of the nutrient values of over 4000 foods. The File is required to support the survey work, but is also essential for other activities such as risk assessments. It is also widely used by various government departments, food industries, marketing agencies, hospitals, universities, private nutrition consultants, the media and the general public. It is the basis of the popular publication, Nutrient Value of Some Common Foods.

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