Here's How Scientists Are Transforming Food Waste Into Gut-Friendly Prebiotics

May 19, 2022by Olivia - F&F

Scientists have discovered a way to use microwave technology to extract gut-friendly prebiotics from food scraps, like potato peels, sugar beet pulp, and apple pomace. Let’s take a look at why this breakthrough technology is good for your gut, and good for the planet!

Gold PotatoesGold Potatoes

Image: Lars Blankers / Unsplash 

New Technology To Create Ingestible Prebiotics Is In Development! 

Dr Eleanor Binner — Associate Professor in Chemical Engineering, University of Nottingham — is one of the incredibly talented people leading the endeavour to transform food waste into prebiotics! Dr Binner came up with the idea!

Typically, prebiotic supplements are produced commercially using enzymes that break down large carbohydrates into prebiotics. Nowadays, many industries are looking at more environmentally-friendly ways to produce prebiotics, using microorganisms and enzymes that grow on food waste. 

Dr Binner and her team found that certain food scraps, like potato peels, can be used to extract the compound needed to create a prebiotic: pectin oligosaccharides. 

Rotting Apples Food WasteRotting Apples Food Waste

Image: Marek Studzinski / Unsplash  

This Microwave Technology Can Be Used On Different Food Scraps

We know that prebiotics are integral to a healthy, balanced gut microbiome. Prebiotics are a source of food for your gut’s healthy bacteria. Although prebiotics exist in some fruits and veggies, they’re available in very small quantities. 

This is why scientists are working hard to provide an ingestible prebiotic supplement, or a way that existing foods can be fortified with gut-healthy prebiotics. In a major breakthrough, Dr Binner and her team were able to extract the target materials (pectin oligosaccharides) from potato waste.

Now, the team are experimenting with different sources of food waste — like sugar beet pulp and apple pomace — to extract pectin oligosaccharides and create prebiotics. The microwave technology, which facilitates the entire process, can be powered by renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.

White PillsWhite Pills

Image: The Tonik / Unsplash 

Prebiotics & Probiotics | What’s The Difference? 

A balance of prebiotics and probiotics is integral to create a healthy gut microbiome — but, many of us still don’t understand the difference between the two! Essentially, probiotics are the living strains of (good) bacteria in the gut. 

As a type of indigestible fibre, prebiotics serve as food for the probiotics. Foods containing prebiotics include chicory root, dandelion greens, jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leek, asparagus, bananas, barley, oats, apples, and more! 

Both prebiotics and probiotics are necessary to build and maintain a healthy colony of bacteria in the gut. Presently, the benefits of prebiotics are strongly linked to the benefits of probiotics. Many people consume probiotics — either from foods or supplements — to improve their overall health.

Food Waste BinFood Waste Bin

Image: Patricia Valério / Unsplash 

Recycling Food Waste Into A Useful, Gut-Friendly Product!

This new development is incredibly exciting for another reason — it’s good for the planet! For Dr Binner, the global challenge of food waste was something that she wanted to help address. Her research has created a new opportunity to extract value from a “waste” product! 

“You may have heard that food waste is a major problem. In fact, about a third of the food produced around the world, for food production, actually goes to waste,” said Dr Binner.

“That means that you would need a land area the size of China to grow all of the food in the world that is wasted. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases,” Dr Binner said. 

This fascinating technological development could create a new avenue for food waste to be recycled into healthy, gut-friendly prebiotic supplements and products. This entire process uses water and electrical energy, which can be powered by renewable sources. So, it’s truly good for your gut and good for the planet! 

To read about more scientific discoveries that benefit the environment, head over to our Eco News category and take a look at the blogs below. 

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