Researchers at the University of Reading will benefit from a share of £14m of grant funding to improve the healthiness of UK diets.

Two projects led by Reading will look at increasing fibre in white bread and understanding the benefits of pulse-enhanced foods, thanks to funding from the UKRI’s Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund Programme.

In addition, researchers at the University of Reading will be co-investigators on two other projects funded by UKRI:

  • Dr Yiorgos Gadanakis was the Reading lead CoI on an application led by Exeter entitled “Transformational blueprint for a blue economy on UK terrestrial farms: integrating sustainable shrimp production in a changing agricultural landscape”
  • Drs David Rose (Agriculture, Policy & Development) and Mike Goodman (Geography and Environmental Sciences) are Co-Is on a project led by the Royal Agricultural University, “Is cultured meat a threat or opportunity for UK farmers?”

Increasing UK Dietary Fibre – The Case for the Great White British Loaf

This project will work with the food industry to transform the fibre content of white bread using wheat grown in the UK. This interdisciplinary project brings together a team of researchers based at the University of Reading, the University of Leeds and Rothamsted Research.

Although fibre-enhanced “white” breads are currently available in the UK, most are actually made from wholemeal flours of wheat varieties which cannot be grown here due to the climate. They therefore have higher cost and lower consumer acceptability than conventional white bread. This project will use newly developed types of wheat with high fibre in white flour, which can be grown in the UK, to develop new products to increase UK fibre consumption. This is important because 90% of the UK population do not consume enough fibre (an average of 18g/day compared to a recommended intake of 30g/day).

The team aim to see high fibre white bread products being taste tested in store during the third year of the project. The white flour also has the potential to be used in other bakery related products such as croissants, naan breads and pizzas, which will be explored by industry stakeholders during the project.

Utilising a combined behavioural, food technology and predictive modelling approach, informed by close collaboration with industry, the project will identify what transformation in the UK wheat agri-food chain is needed to deliver high fibre white loaf bread to consumers. The project has been developed in collaboration with a supermarket chain, their associated millers and bakers and a range of industry partners involved in wheat production.

Dr Marcus Tindall, Associate Professor of Mathematical Biology at the University of Reading and principle investigator on the project said:

“We are very grateful to UKRI for the award of this funding. It provides a real opportunity to increase the daily fibre intake of people across the UK, given the wide consumption of white bread. Our team are excited to be working closely with industry to develop the optimal high fibre white loaf, whilst utilising predictive mathematical modelling to inform the transformations needed within the UK wheat chain to deliver high fibre white bread to consumers.”

Raising the Pulse

The Raising the Pulse (RtP) project is based on the concept that considerable health and environmental benefit would result if we could make it easier for the UK population to eat more UK grown pulses.

The pulse best suited to UK growing conditions, the faba bean, is naturally high in fibre, micronutrients and protein, and has among the lowest environmental impact of all crops, as it can ‘fix’ nitrogen from the atmosphere with no need to use polluting nitrate fertilizers. However, it has been challenging for people to increase their consumption of faba beans, but incorporation of these pulses into familiar looking and tasting, favourably priced and convenient staple foods, such as bread will significantly improve their intake.

The Raising the Pulse project addresses the low pulse consumption by bringing together a consortium of experts in environment, agriculture, food, nutrition, health, mathematical modelling and consumer behaviour, who will work with industry, government and civil society to develop feasible routes to market for UK produced foods with added faba beans.

Professor Julie Lovegrove, Hugh Sinclair Chair in Human Nutrition at the University of Reading and principle investigator of the Raising the Pulse project said:

“The humble faba bean shows great promise to improve the UK diets, being naturally high in nutrients including fibre and micronutrients; as well as being an environmentally beneficial crop due to its nitrogen fixing capabilities.

“We are delighted to receive funding from the UKRI for our project Raising the Pulse which aims to overcome the challenges associated with growing and incorporating nutrient-rich faba beans into the UK diet as a food ingredient that can be added to bread and other consumer-friendly products. We will also determine consumer acceptance of these foods and their impact on the environment and human health.”

Crucial food research funding for health and natural environment

UKRI has injected £14 million funding into crucial research that puts improved health outcomes for people and the natural environment at its core.

The funding, which has been awarded to 11 research projects, is the latest investment made by UK Research and Innovation as part of its Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) Programme.

To date, the SPF Programme has awarded a total £29 million funding to four large consortia projects, as well as a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT).

Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Executive Sponsor of the Transforming UK Food Systems SPF Programme, said:

“We have awarded funding to 11 excellent interdisciplinary projects focussing on food systems research.

“These projects cover areas such as the healthy consumption of under-utilised food stuffs, novel production systems and assessing whether cultured meat is a threat or an opportunity for UK farmers.

“There are also projects seeking to improve health through reformulation or strategic menu design in catered environments.

“We are at a very exciting point in the SPF Programme and the portfolio of awards demonstrates the breadth of potential impact these projects can have on UK food systems transformation.”

Human and environmental health centre stage

Professor Guy Poppy, Programme Director of the Transforming the UK Food Systems SPF Programme, said:

“The food system affects all of us every day and plays an essential role in both human health and the health of the planet.

“The 11 new projects joining our consortia and CDT means we now have a network of more than 37 UK research organisations across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“That network is also supported by approximately 200 additional stakeholder organisations, including the private sector colleagues and other government departments and agencies.

“The range of projects engaged in the SPF Programme will help to address the complex challenges we face around dietary choice and methods of farming and will help to ensure there is sustainable and healthy food for everyone in the UK.

“The excellent research and researchers will also help to establish solutions and frameworks that can be tried and tested across the global food system, with the UK leading the way towards healthier and more sustainable food for all”.