The BBC says emerging research suggests there are new ways to gauge a food’s nutritional value. It’s a concept known as ‘the food matrix’.
The term refers to a food’s physical structure, the way the molecules inside it interact, and how this interplay affects the way we digest and absorb nutrients. It’s thought the food matrix better reflects a food’s potential health benefits and contribution to our wellbeing than simply considering its nutrient content alone.
To understand the concept, it’s useful to think about food as ‘tasty structures’ that contain the molecules we need for energy, and to create and replace tissues, says José Miguel Aguilera, emeritus professor of chemical and food engineering at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.
“Molecules come embedded by nature in often complex functional microstructures that we cannot see, for example, inside cells as starch granules, or covered by a biological membrane as fat globules in milk,” he says. “During industrial food processing or cooking, we create new microstructures that further combine and hide food molecules due to mixing, shearing and heating. In food technology we call these special microstructural arrangements containing food molecules a food matrix.”
Research has shown that approximately 30 per cent fewer calories are absorbed from whole nuts than ground nuts, because the undigested fibre and fat passes through the body and is excreted. Some fat-soluble vitamins are lost in this process, but there are benefits to eating the nuts whole. They’re less calorific than many people realise, which is an advantage if you are watching your weight, and they feed your gut microbes.