Nutrition centre gives SMEs food for thought

Research by the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre found that eating rice with tofu, instead of other protein-rich food like chicken, fish or egg, works best in bringing down blood glucose levels.
Research by the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre found that eating rice with tofu, instead of other protein-rich food like chicken, fish or egg, works best in bringing down blood glucose levels.PHOTO: HEALTH PROMOTION BOARD

Minister says research into Asian cuisine can offer Singapore businesses 'competitive edge'

Eating rice with tofu, instead of other protein-rich food like chicken, fish or egg, works best in bringing down blood glucose levels.

This has been among the findings made by the two-year-old Clinical Nutrition Research Centre during the last six months.

A joint initiative by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and the National University Health Systems, the centre specialises in human nutritional research, which Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat believes can help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) here to stand out from their competition.

Among its research areas, it studies how Asian food can be tweaked to be more nutritious, without compromising on flavour. It also examines how factors such as food textures and an individual's perceived social status can affect their physiological response towards food.

During a tour of the centre on Friday, Mr Heng said: "The research work being done here can certainly add a lot of value to our SMEs because they will need to think about how they can make use of good scientific knowledge to change their product.

"For instance, whether it's in the ingredients they use, in the formulation of the food and in creating new products, there's a range of very important work... (that) adds to the safety and credibility of the food produced by our SMEs."

  • Health facts

  • Findings from three recent studies by the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre:

    •Eating rice with tofu brings down blood glucose levels more than other proteins such as chicken, fish and eggs

    •Soya milk has the unique ability of lowering blood glucose levels, but for the best effect it should be drunk 20 to 30 minutes before a meal of rice or bread

    •Those who eat low glycemic index food for breakfast tend to have a smaller appetite - and have lower blood glucose levels - for the rest of the day. Examples of low glycemic index food include wholemeal bread and oats

The Government will ensure that such research is not just kept in the institutes but adopted by food companies to create new products.

It has set aside funding from the $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme, announced during the Budget speech in March, to grow the industry.

Noting that food companies here export products to many Asian countries, Mr Heng added: "Singapore has a reputation of food safety and quality. By adding this layer of nutrition, how nutrition affects human health, it will give our food companies, especially our SMEs, an important competitive edge."

The centre, which opened in January 2014, is currently working with three SMEs in the beverage, bakery and noodle sectors, and hopes to work with another three to five in the next year, according to its director, Professor Christiani Jeyakumar Henry. But it is difficult to tell when the developed products will hit the market, he said, as it depends on three factors: how easy it is to translate the science into production, how ambitious a company is, and market demand.

Nevertheless, Prof Jeyakumar believes the work done by the centre will grow in importance as the food and nutrition sector expands.

He said: "The future direction of SME growth is going to be good science, and good science can only come if you've got good data."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Nutrition centre gives SMEs food for thought'. Print Edition | Subscribe