Manitoba crop ingredients to help combat prediabetes

The global solution to prediabetes may be found in Manitoba-grown ingredients. A new trial to be conducted by Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network Inc. (MAHRN) aims to use healthy foods to manage chronic diseases.

MAHRN is collaborating with Minnesota-based Step One Foods, a pioneer in food-based solutions for chronic disease. Working together, they will conduct clinical trials. The trials will use food and nutrient therapies to fight prediabetes. The two companies have formed a commercial agreement called TM Therapeutics that is committed to combat chronic diseases through healthy foods. The research will be conducted in both Manitoba and at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

"This project is just one of many that MAHRN is doing to add value to Manitoba crops and increase the benefit for growers," says Lee Anne Murphy, executive director of MAHRN. "Growing conditions have a direct impact on the nutritional value of a crop. We are working to learn what nutritional qualities our Manitoban-grown crops have, and to keep those healthy qualities right through to the dining room table."

Healthy food to slow prediabetes

The clinical trials aim to look at the effect of adding specific doses of target nutrients to the diets of those with prediabetes to try to slow the progression of type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

"When you look at the rising number of those with type 2 diabetes, it's like the tip of the iceberg," says Murphy. "You know that there is an even bigger population of people with prediabetes. If we focus our intervention on the early stages of the disease we can reduce the impact on our medical system and make a huge difference in the lives of those who suffer from the disease."

Clinical trials feature Manitoba grown ingredients

The clinical trials will begin in fall 2014 with a group of subjects in Manitoba and in Minnesota. Participants will be given access to nine specially crafted food items and asked to add at least two a day to their diet. The items will be as simple as a snack bar, a prepared beverage or an oatmeal mix. They will be made out of Manitoba-grown ingredients including pinto beans, Saskatoon berries, flax, canola and oats. In addition to using Manitoba ingredients, many of the products will be made at the Food Development Centre at Portage la Prairie and by local companies.

The results of the study will be released in 2016 but the benefits of it will be felt much sooner than that.

"We are confident that the ingredients we're looking at will have an impact," says Murphy. "Our journey to develop these food products has already created benefits for producers, processors and consumers."

One of MAHRN's focuses is to add value to lower grade seeds. For example, the company has discovered how to make a high quality flour from surplus pinto beans. Not only does this add value for the grower by providing a market, Manitoba milling companies also see the benefits of a new product line.

"Our food products have also benefited producers and processers in Manitoba by extending the season for Manitoba Saskatoon berries. We are able to dry the berries into a powder that is easier and less expense to store," says Murphy. "Once the trials are complete, we expect to see increased demand for Manitoba-grown and processed ingredients. Our goal is to be part of the global prediabetes solution by providing the solid results the medical community is looking for."

MAHRN is funded in part by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative to advance the agricultural industry. The funding helps the organization research and pursue opportunities to add value to Manitoba-grown crops.

Local processor spearheading innovation

gf2-newsletter07-pinto-beans.jpgOne of the goals of MAHRN is not only to find new uses for Manitoba products, but also to have those products processed locally. One of their partners is Best Cooking Pulses Inc., which runs a facility in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

"We were creating pulse products when MAHRN approached us and asked if we would try milling pinto beans for use in a highly nutritious flour," says Margaret Hughes, sales and marketing director at Best Cooking Pulses. "We were able to create the flour and made a whole-grain, gluten-free product that tasted good and was very nutritious."

They were also able to puff the flour to create nutritious crispies, which added another product to their offering. With MAHRN's help, the nutritional crispies were adopted by Step One Foods and are now part of the prediabetes trial.

"It's really exciting that our pinto crispies are going to be used in this prediabetes trial," says Hughes. "When you're a small to medium sized company it can be hard to find the time to form strategic partnerships. MAHRN has been excellent in helping us make the connections to expand our business and open new doors."

2016 is the International Year of Pulses and there is much research and discussion going on right now globally about the use of pulses. Best Cooking Pulses' products are attracting interest and sparking discussion.

"The work on these products by Step One Foods and MAHRN couldn't be more timely," says Hughes. "Working with MAHRN has been fantastic for helping us see beyond the day-to-day. We're proud of our part in developing a functional food that has the potential to have a huge impact for those suffering from chronic diseases."

Hughes' grandfather started Best Cooking Pulses nearly 80 years ago, and the company has expanded in the last 10 years as the market for gluten-free products has grown. Best Cooking Pulses buys pulses from across the prairies and mills them into flour before they ship them around the world. Their unique pinto bean milling method includes the bean's hull, adding nutritional value, and allowing the flour to have a longer shelf life and more functionality.

Prediabetes refers to blood glucose (sugar) levels that are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. The Canadian Diabetes Association estimates approximately 5.7 million Canadians have prediabetes; many of whom will develop type 2 diabetes.

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