Functional food can be defined as a food capable of providing additional health benefits which may reduce disease risk and/or promote good health. The functional food product development project initiated in April 2013 with the intention of retaliating against disease conditions which are significantly prevalent among the population of Sri Lanka. The primary focus of the research group is the identification of bioactive components which are in existence in food items which are already part of the local diet, so that they may be advocated among the locals as having therapeutic effects. A noteworthy disease condition in this aspect which is on the rise is diabetes. Given Sri Lanka’s recent entry into the second world group of countries, the elevation of status has brought about changes in lifestyle and food consumption habits. It is the objective of the project to facilitate these changes from a fundamentally scientific perspective, where knowledge on bioactive component functionality of food products can be used as means of advocating a healthy lifestyle and consumer behavior.
Significant progress was made by the project in the year 2014. A research grant was awarded by the National Research Council for a period of 3 years, from August 2014 onwards for the in vitro assayguided identification of functional food and nutraceuticals from Sri Lankan plant products. In addition, 8 journal papers have been published along with 7 conference papers.
Analysis of thetherapeutic properties of edible plants in Sri Lanka
The antioxidant and starch hydrolase inhibitory properties of eighteen selected edible plant material was initiated during the commencement of the functional food product development project in April 2013. Through this aspect of research work, findings were achieved where the most potent of edible plants were identified with anti-diabetic properties. The bioaccessibility of the therapeutic properties of these plant material were also verified using an in vitro digestion model.
Fermentation as a means of increasing bioaccessibility of therapeutic compounds
Out of all food processing methods, fermentation has been identified to be the safest and most biologically compatible when it comes to the production of therapeutic agents. The process has also been recognized as a means of increasing the bioaccessibility of therapeutic compounds, especially polyphenols. The research group has been working on the fermentation culture of ‘Kombucha’ or ‘tea fungus’, which is a combination of bacteria and yeasts. It is typically used for the fermentation of tea (Camellia sinesis). However, these microorganisms are also being used for fermentation of other types of liquid products such as coffee and herbal teas. Thus, the research team has been involved in the production of various fermented beverages using the Kombucha culture in order to generate or enhance existing therapeutic properties. The enhancement has been associated with the increased release of polyphenol compounds from the cellulosic backbone of the substrate being used which is of plant origin.
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