The Functions of Food

Understanding the therapeutic value of what we eat

If you want to make your next backyard barbecue a healthy event, you might want to get Dr. Mohammed Moghadasian on the guest list.

Dr. Moghadasian and his colleagues are looking at a number of different foods to understand their potential positive impacts on human health. One of the most interesting and promising ventures is the development of cardio-friendly hamburger. Red meat is Canada’s most popular source of protein, and most of that red meat seems to be consumed in the form of ground meat.

“We did some pilot studies to see what we can add to ground beef to develop a different type of burger, and then analyze its chemical make-up,” says Dr. Moghadasian, Principal Investigator, Pathology Research Laboratory, Canadian Centre for Agri-food Research in Health and Medicine (CCARM).

The taste test

Specifically, Dr. Moghadasian and company added flaxseed oil, fish oil, and “designer oil”; and different percentages of binders such as bread crumbs, whole wheat flour, and black bean flour. They then analyzed the end product for fiber content, omega-3 fatty acids, and other positive components.

“Then we put it to the test at the University of Manitoba,” says Dr. Moghadasian of the chemical culinary exercise.  “We recruited, I believe, around 200 people and they tested different varieties of these burgers. Most of them liked it!”

The positive response warrants longer-term market testing followed by the pursuit of the right to make a health claim about the product.

We did some pilot studies to see what we can add to ground beef to develop a different type of burger…”

Reducing side-effects

In the meantime, the Iranian-born, B.C.-trained researcher is generating a great deal of interest in the work his lab is doing on a variety of other foods, including phytosterols, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, fish oil, “designer” oil, Saskatoon berry, sea buckthorn berry, and wild rice. The research currently focuses on the impact of these foods on cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and graft function, which speaks to the success of transplants.

One of Dr. Moghadasian’s key areas of interest is looking at how functional foods – fish oil in particular – can lessen the negative side-effects of cyclosporine, a drug taken to reduce the likelihood organ rejection after transplant. The main negative side-effect is dyslipidemia, an excess of lipids in the blood.

Dr. Moghadasian is trying to determine whether taking fish oil or other functional foods can reduced the amount of cyclosporine required. “This could be beneficial because we could reduce side effects, but at the same time, maintain the therapeutic efficacy of cyclosporine,” he says.

He is also very excited about the lab’s continuing research on phytosterols and the role they might play in reducing LDL cholesterol (“the bad cholesterol”) in human beings.

“You and I, we make cholesterol. Your life, my life, is based on cholesterol – dependent on cholesterol. If you don’t have cholesterol, there’s no life for us,” explains Dr. Moghadasian, who has been at S. Boniface Hospital Research Centre since 2003. “However, too much of “bad” cholesterol is bad; it could be our worst enemy.”

Good for the heart

Plants don’t make cholesterol, but  humans and animals do. plants make “plant sterols” (or phytosterols). The structure is similar to that of cholesterol, except that people cannot absorb phytosterols in the intestine. In fact, these phytosterols, when consumed by humans, can block the absorption of cholesterol by up to 12 percent. “These phytosterols could therefore be very good for the heart,” says Dr. Moghadasian. A very small segement of population may have abnormalities in their intestine allowing absorption of plant sterols; these individuals should consult their physician before taking phytosterols.

For Dr. Moghadasian, there is no better place in the research world than CCARM to conduct this sort of functional foods research.

“CCARM has a strong connection with the Hospital for a clinical setting; it has a strong connection with the University of Manitoba for both research and teaching purposes; and it has a strong connection with the government of Canada,” he says. That sort of connection and integration catches the attention of funders and collaborators. “I would say that the work environment is very, very supportive here. I really like that.”

Dr. Moghadasian
Principal Investigator, Pathology Research Laboratory, Canadian Centre for Agri-food Research in Health and Medicine

Associate Professor, Human Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, University of Manitoba

To learn more about Dr. Moghadasian’s research visit 

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