Monday, November 23, 2020

School Lunch Programs: Opportunities for Soy Nutrition: A spotlight on Dr. Juan Andrade Laborde

  Learn about Dr. Andrade Laborde's Soybean 360 presentation | Meet Dr. Andrade Laborde 

Soybean 360 is an international symposium organized by the Soybean Innovation Lab in partnership with AOCS. The symposium's vision is to share better practices and innovations with processors in Sub Saharan Africa and elsewhere, for efficient processing of food in the soybean value chain that meet DINES criteria: Delicious, Inexpensive, Nutritious, Environmentally and culturally sustainable, and Safe. Processors for both human and animal foods can benefit from the research and industry innovations, and networking opportunities available in this symposium. The symposium will occur November 30–December 11 from 8-11 a.m. CST (UTC-06/Chicago, USA). Registration is free for all, including nonmembers.

Leading up to the symposium, AOCS is spotlighting AOCS members participating in the event. This week we are featuring Dr. Juan Andrade Laborde, an AOCS member since 2020. 

Read on to learn more about Dr. Andrade Laborde's Soybean 360 presentation, the biggest problem he encountered in his most recent project, and how AOCS has contributed to his career.

Dr. Andrade Laborde's Soybean 360 presentation

"School Lunch Programs: Opportunities for Soy Nutrition" will be part of the session Opportunities to Expand Nutrition at Scale in the School Feeding Market on Tuesday, December 1, 2020.

Presentation description: The benefits of school feeding programs have been well documented and fit well with our global sustainable development goals. School programs reduce absenteeism, short-term hunger, and alleviate the effects of undernutrition on cognitive performance as the midday lunches can offer high energy, quality protein and missing micronutrient for children. Day meals can cover at least 40% of the energy needs of children, however, it often provides less than 30% of the daily caloric requirement. Meal programs can also increase the amount of quality protein per weight. Most of the protein is mostly from staples such as maize and sorghum and not legumes or animal sources. School meals can be targeted to bring a large quota of micronutrients (>50% of EAR) for children, especially of iodine, vitamin A, iron, and vitamin D; all of which are important for growth, development and immunity. Current programs could benefit from additional fortification beyond what staples might already bring. Finally, programs could be better entry points for behavior change to enhance health and nutrition outcomes of teenage girls who normally are not targeted by large intervention programs. Soybeans can bring nutrition to school programs in a cost-effective manner. Soybeans are energy-dense legumes, are unique sources of complete protein, and rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Soybeans can complement the menus of many school lunch programs either as flour, texturized protein versions, or as processed products such as soy milk, tofu, or fried and baked goods. Soybeans can bring nutrition at a cost, and thus, complement the value of other plant- and animal-based items in school menus.

Meet Dr. Andrade Laborde

A brief biography: Juan E. Andrade Laborde is an associate professor of global food and nutrition at the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville. He holds a B.Sc. in Agricultural Sciences from Zamorano University, Honduras, and a Ph.D. in Human Nutrition from Purdue University. Dr. Andrade's long-term goal is to develop sustainable strategies that can be used to deliver adequate nutrition, especially micronutrients, to residents of low-resource countries and thereby help to promote human health and economic development. His research interests are focused on innovative concepts for food fortification, point-of-use sensing technologies for micronutrients in fortified foods, reformulation of relief food products, and service, experiential learning education programs. Dr. Andrade Laborde is an affiliated faculty in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Food Systems Institute, the Center for Latin American Studies and the Center for African Studies at UF. He is also a research affiliate at the USAID’s Livestock Innovation Lab (LSIL – hosted at UF) and the PI of the Human Nutrition Team at the USAID’s Soybean Innovation Lab (SIL – hosted at Illinois). Dr. Andrade Laborde is a member of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the American Society for Nutrition.

1) What discoveries from your previous research will inform the work you plan to discuss at Soybean 360?

I will talk about improving school nutrition at a scale using soybeans. Some of the work that I have done in the past at the University of Illinois, my previous institution, dealt with micronutrient malnutrition. A couple of years ago, I started working with the Soybean Innovation Lab, one of USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative research for development laboratories. Our nutrition team focuses on how we can improve the utilization of soybeans for human nutrition. This role matches quite well with the line of work on improving the delivery of micronutrients in foods. 

Legumes are extremely nutrient-dense foods. Importantly, a differentiating factor between soybeans and other legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils and fava beans, is that soybeans are more nutritious from the angle of quality protein content. They are also rich in unsaturated oils, which are good for brain function and prebiotic fiber that could help the growth of good bacteria. They also contain a good quota of vitamins, like K and E as well as folic acid, which is important for women of a reproductive age.

So, the work at SIL is a great transition from thinking about specific delivery vehicles and then thinking about wholefoods; in this case, soybeans. It is something I am trying to understand in my work not just through AOCS but also through IFT (the Institute of Food Technologist) and the American Society of Nutrition (ASN). There are other organizations and the overall goal is to bring these whole nutritious foods to scale to improve diets in low- and middle-income countries.

It is good to know that these populations are reaching nutrients, macro and micronutrients, but the challenge is how we can continue to make this nutrition cost-effective. The conversation that I am bringing to the symposium is about how we can make it cost-effective for these niche populations, and we argue soybeans can be part of this solution.

2) What is the significance of the research you plan to discuss at the Symposium, either for future research routes or real-world applications?

With the work, we are trying to do with the Soybean Innovation Lab, our focus is translational, which is relevant to the funds we receive through the U.S. Government. What I mean by translation is that we take those bench applications and just tweak it with a little bit more funding, to add that research that is The work at the Soybean Innovation Lab is translational, which is relevant to the intention of the funds we receive from the U.S. Government. What I mean by translation is that we take those bench applications as evidenced in the literature and just tweak them, with a little bit of more funding, to bring these applications to the populations that can use them and benefit from them, and thus result in  larger impacts.

In the case of human nutrition, the conversation is about diets. Nobody talks about nutrients. People talk about diets, but then you have to understand the sources of nutrition to strategize how to pull them together into a wholesome diet. This is the challenge for school feeding programs in countries, i.e. how to make meal plans that are scalable, inexpensive, delicious and yet nutritious.  

Our goal is for soybeans to be part of institutional feeding as well as for the whole population. In some cases, some countries have accepted soybeans as part of their diet to the point that there is a lot of growers producing soybeans. The key is how to link these growers to processors in order to make the incorporation of this legume scalable.

Soybeans are one of the most processed legumes in the world, compared to chickpeas lentils and any other type of legumes that normally require boiling cooking, and then eat. So, why not soybeans? You can do many things with them.

Other research that we are also doing in my laboratory is understanding, for example, how germination and extrusion can increase the digestibility of starch and protein while reducing inhibitors of nutrient absorption, which could help with their inclusion in school lunches.

Most processing companies in Sub-Saharan Africa might have access to some of the basic operations like milling, heating, crushing, etc., but extrusion seems to be something harder to do. But the argument here is that how we can expand these concepts of making different products that include soybeans as ingredients. Cereal and legume blends could be used in several staple dishes, which might be more advantageous flavor- and cost-wise, and for scalability to have very low-cost foods that probably are easier to prepare and eat.

These elements contribute to designing foodstuffs that can better be accepted by populations should be included in this equation. If people do not like it or are unable to access it, regardless of how nutritious it is, the food will not have any desired effect.

3) Describe the biggest problems you encountered during your most recent project.

In my laboratory, we have many projects ongoing, which means we encounter many problems. One of the things that we started testing is the issue of soybean flour instability. That is something that we find the AOCS community can help us with resources to guide and tell us which direction to go. 

Soybeans are made of about 17-18% oil, which is very useful and can make a very profitable business by selling the oil. The remaining material is highly proteinaceous, about 50% protein, which is great for feeding humans or animals, but it depends on the process.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the great majority of soybean oil crushing companies are still expelling oil mechanically; which renders the protein product of lesser value. This is not the case for companies using solvent to extract oil. So, this may present a significant technological problem that the countries such as the United States do not have to deal with because we have built-in structures to extract oil using solvents and processes down the pipeline that maximizes the use of this proteinaceous leftover.

In the lower-income countries, you start finding that these operations are less common, and normally processors do not have access to them because of their cost. Our goal is to find ways to make these kinds of processing more accessible. So, we started looking at how we can use full-fat soy flour, for example, as a way to blend into different complementary foods.

Complementary foods are given to infants after six months of exclusive breastfeeding. We argue that soybeans are more nutritious before extensive processing. As soon as we split soybeans for oil or other specific applications, you dilute its initial nutrition value.

These considerations then led to the conversation on how we can make it more stable, more or less flavorful, using different blends of other cereals such as maize, or in the case of complementary foods, mixed with orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and fish meal. The goal here is to increase protein content while limiting the changes to the foods people are used to.

Perhaps more importantly, we have to consider how long it will last under the conditions of high temperature and humidity that are prevalent in most of the tropic and subtropics. You are dealing with something that has a significant amount of oxidizable oil, which limits its use as oxidation affects its shelf life. 

So, successful products must have a good flavor and bring ample nutrition to the families that will buy these products. But we have to be sure the end products are not too offensive to the palates or their pockets.

Another concern associated with preservation is food safety and waste management. 

Some companies deal with physical safety concerns, not pathogen, bacterial or viral infections or contamination of their products, but actually removing stones, removing plastic removing metals from the food supply. 

Once the industry becomes more sophisticated in terms of processing, they can create more sophisticated products, which benefits the whole population and is scalable so that it does not hurt family budgets. 

Combined with the expertise professionals based in higher-income countries with processors in Sub-Saharan Africa, we think that we may arrive at practical ideas and simple switches that these companies can make, adopting new technologies, or sourcing technologies from other countries. For example, the great majority of companies in Sub-Saharan Africa bring equipment from India and China.

We hope this symposium will inspire processors to find new methods to increase nutrition and safety, while remaining energy efficient. The symposium is an opportunity for them to understand the newest innovations and more pragmatic ideas for them to start changing behaviors towards producing more delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, culturally acceptable, and safer products. At SIL, we argue that the companies in Africa are ready for that, they are ready for the challenge. They want to be part of the solution but they want to be heard and need our help. And I think this Symposium will help us with that.

4) How did you get involved with AOCS?

As a scientist, I knew of AOCS, however, I am a member of two other societies, the Institute of Food Technologies and also the American Society for Nutrition. In terms of finding enough extracurricular activities and presenting to knowledge networks, all of these groups are great.

AOCS is a great group for my work given its specific focus on oils and to, some degree, protein and protein extraction. Before I left the University of Illinois, after a number of conversations with Patrick Donnelly, I got a tour of AOCS’ headquarters and had the opportunity to talk with some of the folks there. The diversity of the members in the Society from chemistry to applied sciences got me thinking that – maybe there are other opportunities for us to work in these niche areas and bring them together to consider whole soy, including protein, oils, etc.

That made me think that this group is potentially more assertive about bringing these pragmatic solutions because the great majority of the members are from the food industry. Often companies do not have time to do much basic research and are driven to make decisions and make things happen. 

When beginning to plan the Symposium, the most positive response I received was from AOCS. That support is something I value tremendously. It has taken no time at all to feel part of an organization that is accomplishing things with real-world implications.

5) How has AOCS contributed to the advancement of your research?

Once we became members, I told my Ph.D. Students to become members and that has allowed us to access a lot of information in AOCS journals, which is helping us to catch up to scientists in the United States, Europe and other countries. We can ask questions to the larger network and the members are quick to reply. I wish I can meet these colleagues. They have really impacted our work.

Interestingly, this information about soybeans is not new, it has been out there for a while. AOCS’s libraries and journals and their overall content curation have been immensely helpful in pushing our research forward. Nonetheless, this information is not context-specific and here is where our job is to make it relevant for those communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

So, that is very direct way that we have been able to benefit significantly from these partnerships and participating as members.

6) What excites you most about your work?

In my work, I wear many hats, but the reward I get from working with the Soybean Innovation Lab is immense. I can see things that we are developing with partners in Sub-Saharan Africa that can have larger impact. I am just one piece of this puzzle that facilitates changes because we have access to funds to facilitate research.

The families can apply these technologies and use these materials to make complementary foods at home, for example, and that brings nutrition to a household. Of course, we are thousands of miles away from these places, so the whole credit is theirs and unfortunately, we do not get to see these impacts directly.

Now, we are joining the processors that can bring applications to scale. Maybe there are hurdles that seem difficult at first. Nonetheless, with the AOCS’s cadre of experts from different parts of the world, with the support of these partnerships and the support of these networks, we can successfully address these challenges.

7) What do you like to do when you are not in the lab or presenting your work at symposia or meetings?

Actually, when I can, I sleep!  I guess that's the case for most scientists nowadays.

It seems that we are inundated with all these meetings – more people join meetings via Zoom, but we only have one ear in the meeting, the other ear is actually on the phone or doing something else. It just incredible how much multitasking occurs now, and that leads to a lot of stress. Resilience and mental health is something that we have not focused enough on, not as academics or as a society. 

To recharge, we as a family, which includes two kids, play board games as much as we can.

We bring it to a table in a park to play, just to see people! We binge watch shows that are quite calming such as on aspects of culture or food, or that makes us laugh as it seems we need more of it.  

I also love sci-fi shows and books, because more often than not they predict the future.

They also deal with interesting questions like how we can deal with limited resources or consider how the next pandemic could start and how we should better prepare ourselves.

Before the pandemic, we loved to entertain, bringing colleagues, friends and students together. We love to cookout. Food is a tremendous presence in our lives. I could talk about food for forever, it is so tied to memories of our childhood, of our family and friends. 

Registration for the symposium is free.

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