Recently, the interest in replacing dairy proteins by plant proteins in infant formula is increasing. Plant proteins have abundant sources, relatively low price, and some still have a good amino acid balance compared to dairy proteins. However, the presence of anti-nutritional factors may limit their application. During industrial preparation of infant formula, heating will influence the structure and functionality of proteins, which can have consequences for the overall digestibility and thereby have both a nutritional and immunological impact. In addition, the presence of other food matrix composition (lipids and carbohydrates) may also influence protein modification during heating. In this project, variations in processing conditions (heating at different intensities), as well as effects of the overall matrix composition (presence of lipids and carbohydrates), on protein digestion and immunogenicity will be studied for a number of suitable plant-based alternatives for dairy proteins, thereby securing further optimization of their processing to ensure products with optimal properties to support infant health.
The aim is to obtain detailed insight in the effect of heat processing on the digestion and immunological consequences of plant protein to support infant nutrition.
Plant-based model systems for infant formula will be established, and the thermal changes in physico-chemical properties will be tested, which will be followed by the determination of the overall digestibility and the kinetics of digestion using in vitro infant digestion models, to study the impact of heating on protein digestion. Subsequently, the immunological impact of heating on the digestion will be studied. Based on the above studies, the relationships regarding plant proteins between heating—protein modification—digestion—immunogenicity will be revealed.