Years of genetic modification and insufficient government regulation have caused the nutritional landscape of America to suffer. A land that once thrived on high quality produce and a pervasive agrarian culture is now subject to food that is unhealthy, and in many cases unclean.
Recently, the backlash against this trend has begun to take hold. Consumers are once again becoming conscious of the caliber of their diets. The best restaurants use local, organic produce, and the most knowledgeable shoppers purchase meat that is grass-fed and antibiotic-free. The trend towards poor nutrition is reversing as companies and universities are looking to develop ways to make food healthier and better tasting.
The market demand for clean, natural food is growing, and corporations are responding. Companies like Panera and Chipotle are taking measures to offer clean, unadulterated products across the nation. After making their ingredient list transparent to the public, a rarity for fast-food chains, Chipotle completely removed all GMO’s from their menu in 2015.1 Panera is similarly committed to removing all artificial ingredients from its menu by the end of 2016, and is already taking steps towards this holistic goal.2 Since the cost of the food is borne principally by the consumer, this is a smart move on the part of these companies, both for their image and for the health of the public. These are just a few key examples illustrating how the nutritional needs of the public are being responded to in the commercial sphere.
New innovations improving the nutrition of food are also coming to the fore. In the pursuit of more natural processing methods start-up company, 915 Labs, is making significant progress. Using new technology licensed from Washington State University, they are developing a new form of food processing that reduces the damage to flavor and nutrient profile associated with traditional thermal processing. The new “MATS” method (microwave-assisted thermal sterilization) flash-cooks food for only a few seconds, negating many of the negative effects of existing processing procedures. This project, featured by the AUTM Better World Project, even received government funding, as a possible way to improve the quality of military rations. The applications are widespread, including disinfection of food in the developing world.3
On our home turf, Invention Evaluator’s parent company, Tekcapital, has acquired several nutritionally-minded patents. Most notable of these is Microsalt, a university-developed method for manufacturing salt that reduces the sodium content of foods without affecting flavor. This is accomplished by slicing the salt microscopically, approximately doubling the effective uptake by the taste buds vis-à-vis the same weight of table salt.4
The demand for clean, unmodified and great-tasting food is soaring. Increased consumer awareness means that industry will attempt to update their products to satisfy the public. Many businesses are dependent on university technology to evolve, and we can expect many more positive developments in the food industry to come from our research institutions. But getting healthier food on American tables is a joint effort—bringing together researchers, purveyors and individuals.