Food is essential to the origin and development of human history, society, and modernization. Scientific and technological advances have transformed food from a critical element for human survival to a potential “saboteur” of human health. Energy- and sugar-intensive diets are addictive and convenient, leading to chronic diseases (e.g., obesity and diabetes). At the same time, food security and sustainability are under constant threat from pandemics, geopolitical tensions, and boycotts. In this era of evolving challenges, Kosmode Health Singapore Pte. Ltd. is developing strategies to improve health and confront food insecurity and unsustainability by producing functional foods as medicine without planetary damage and glycemic response (GR).
by Dr Pujiang Shi, Dr Dejian Huang, and Florence Leong Mun Cheeze
Is Food a Remedy or Poison?
High-energy diets with lots of sugary drinks and desserts, as well as physical inactivity, pose increasing risks to human health. According to a report by the World Obesity Federation, the number of people with weight problems was 2603 million (38% of the total population) in 2020 and will increase to 4005 million (51% of the total population) by 2035.1 Obesity undermines public health, psychosocial functioning, and quality of life and leads to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, metabolic syndrome, gallstones, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and some cancers,2 which will reduce global GDP by 2.9% by 2035.1 In the Southeast Asia region (SEA), 16%, 11%, 10%, and 16% of boys, girls, men, and women will suffer from obesity in 20351 respectively. In Singapore, the obesity rate increased to 10.5%, and one in ten Singaporeans (18 to 74 years old) had diabetes from 2019 to 2020.3 Many countries, such as the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia, have implemented taxes on sugary drinks to crack down on high-energy, unhealthy foods. Singapore plans to expand its regulations to curb sugar consumption in the nation by the end of 2023.
A low-carbohydrate diet helps address blood glucose and weight problems in people with prediabetes4 and achieve remission of type 2 diabetes.5 People prefer starchy staple foods such as rice, wheat, corn, etc. in the SEA region. Starch is digested by enzymes into glucose, which can lead to faster absorption of glucose and a possible rise in blood glucose. Kosmode Health believes that low-carbohydrate functional foods will play an important role in preventing and treating obesity and diabetes. The development of starch-free staple foods is helpful for the main population to reduce their carbohydrate intake and restore their health.
Food as Medicine
Food as medicine has a long history. In China, people use traditional Chinese medicine and herbal cooking to prevent and treat various health conditions. In Ayurveda, Indians believe that diet and nutrition play an important role in managing health and fighting disease. The traditional Mediterranean diet, herbal remedies, fermented foods, and the traditional Nordic diet are becoming increasingly popular in Europe. A nutrient- and energy-conscious diet can be very helpful in preventing and alleviating chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.6 The ketogenic diet shows numerous therapeutic effects, including reducing body weight, improving cardiovascular health, controlling blood glucose (HbA1c) levels, reversing insulin requirements in diabetics, healing a dysfunctional microbiome, and reducing triglycerides and small dense low-density lipoproteins in the blood.7 Eating more fibre shows promise for treating constipation, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gastrointestinal disease, haemorrhoids, and high cholesterol.8 Unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin Bs, and antioxidants in functional foods have positive effects on mental health and emotional balance.9
The number of obese people and diabetics in Asia is steadily increasing, and Asian staple foods such as rice, noodles, and flour are rich in starch. Starch causes blood sugar levels to rise during digestion, which is a major problem for people with blood sugar and weight concerns. At Kosmode Health, we believe that “food as medicine” for everyone is the functional, protein- and fibre-rich staple foods that are conveniently available and can be consumed regularly without causing blood sugar spikes.
Kosmode Health’s Strategies to Maintain Food Sustainability and Security via The Creation of Food as Medicine
Kosmode Health’s mission is to expand access to health from nature. Strategies to achieve this mission include producing high-quality plant proteins and other extracts, adding value to agricultural and food processing byproducts, and replacing animal protein with plant protein. Nutrient-rich and functional foods can be provided in a sustainable manner, benefiting individual well-being without harming the planet. Food waste is a global problem that sabotages food security in every country and has negative economic, social, and environmental consequences. Recently, food security has received a lot of attention due to COVID-19 prevention policy, border controls, and regional wars. Large and small countries are taking serious measures to secure their foods, causing great concern among their trading partners, especially countries that rely heavily on food imports. For example, Malaysia halted exports of live poultry, chilled and frozen meat, and chicken parts to secure domestic supplies in 2022. Indonesia banned palm oil exports and shook up vegetable oil markets in the same year. Millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain are blocked from being delivered to vulnerable communities. Singapore is showing less resistance to deglobalisation and is actively promoting the circular economy and urban agriculture with innovative technologies.
As a young and robust biotechnology company, Kosmode Health joins the crusade to strengthen food safety and promote the circular economy in Singapore. Kosmode Health is adding value to food waste through creation and innovation, developing an environmentally friendly way to upcycle brewer’s spent grain (BSG) instead of sending it to landfills or as animal feed. The BSG contains 70% fibre, 20% protein (essential and non-essential amino acids), 10% fat, and a negligible amount of starch.10 BSG contains a significant amount of β-glucan, arabinoxylans, and antioxidants (polyphenolic macromolecules), which are effective in lowering blood glucose and cholesterol levels and may play a role in the treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.11 The ingredients can be used in various zero GR food preparation procedures (including cookies, breads, beverages, spreads, etc.) to increase the content of dietary fibres and reduce the total amount of carbohydrates while maintaining the same feeling of satiety (Figure 1).
Kosmode Health has created novel starchless functional noodles enriched with fibre and protein. The starchless functional noodles have comparable texture and palatability to traditional Asian noodles and could stimulate consumers’ appetites during fasting by improving satiety. Digestion of the starchless functional noodles does not cause blood sugar spikes, resulting in a 93.16±8.06% reduction in GR versus their starchy counterparts (Figure 2). This is good news for consumers concerned about their blood glucose and body weight. It is expected that the new food category created by Kosmode Health will provide consumers with a healthy lifestyle as well as high-quality and environmentally friendly foods. The zero GR functional foods can be used as daily “medicine” for obesity and diabetes therapy. Kosmode Health is expanding its food innovation capabilities to include wheat bran, oat bran, etc., and is dedicated to creating novel food categories as medicine for health, human well-being, food safety and sustainability, and a greener earth. [APBN]
About the Authors
Pujiang Shi, Development Manager, and Scientist, Kosmode Health Singapore Pte. Ltd. He is a biomedical scientist with more than 30 peer-reviewed publications and a decade of research experience in biomaterials, medical devices, and tissue engineering. He believes that food systems contain various biological materials.
Dejian Huang, co-founder, Kosmode Health Singapore Pte. Ltd. He is a professor and deputy head of the Department of Food Science Technology at the National University of Singapore. As a Chemist and food scientist, he is a principal investigator at NUS (Suzhou) Research Institute. His research gained global recognition when he was cited as one of the most cited agri-scientists by Thomson Reuter for two consecutive years (2014 and 2015).
Florence Leong Mun Cheeze ([email protected]), Co-Founder and Director, Kosmode Health Singapore Pte. Ltd, is an ex-pharmaceutical executive turned startup enthusiast. Since leaving the big pharmas, Florence has been involved in the startup ecosystem as a venture capitalist, advisor, mentor, angel investor & Lean LaunchPad bio & medtech instructor.