Nutrition is a growing topic of interest in light of a growing population amidst a global pandemic. Ajinomoto Group is paving the way for nutrition literacy through its holistic strategies that cultivate nutrition through its research and outreach initiatives.
By Agatha Wong
It goes without saying that eating is a fundamental part of our lives. Yet, many around the world, from both developed and developing countries alike, are uninformed about the importance of proper nutrition. With the global food systems under an intense pressure from a growing population and income inequality, alongside the mounting COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of nutrition has been brought into sharp focus.
Ajinomoto Group, a global food and health company, has been carrying the mantle on generating greater nutrition literacy around the world through research and outreach projects. Through its global nutrition strategy which aims for “Nutrition Without Compromise”, the company has identified two key areas in tackling nutrition literacy: Delicious Salt Reduction and Protein Intake Optimisation.
With Delicious Salt Reduction, Ajinomoto aims to tap into amino acids and the umami flavour to combat the excessive intake of salt globally. This is a timely strategy, given that the salt intake of many countries, such as Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam, are more than double the recommended daily intake of 5g per day. To tackle this issue, Ajinomoto is leveraging its amino acid technology to add umami to foods.
“The Ajinomoto Group was started upon the discovery of umami and the amino acid that can be attributed to umami taste – glutamate. This led to the development of the world’s first umami seasoning – monosodium glutamate (MSG),” said Manasi Deodhar, manager of Ajinomoto Science Group’s Global Communications Department. “MSG has 2/3 less sodium than table salt and when used in the place of some salt, it can reduce the sodium in a recipe or packaged good by about 30–60% (depending on the recipe or product) without compromising flavour.”
Whilst MSG has been the subject of controversy surrounding its side-effects, its safety has been affirmed by many international bodies including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). Even so, Ajinomoto is continuing its research into MSG.
“For instance, the U20 Healthy Umami Research Project is underway, which aims to demonstrate the value of umami for public health by quantifying the salt reduction effect of umami in 20 countries. Preliminary results from Japan show that the average salt intake per person can be reduced by 12-21% by using umami. In addition to the salt reduction effect of umami, we also plan to estimate the impact of salt reduction through umami on life expectancy,” explained Deodhar.
Besides reducing salt intake, Ajinomoto is also working towards protein intake optimisation. As the underprivileged and the elderly around the world do not have access to high quality dietary protein, this causes loss of muscle mass and cognitive decline – the latter a critical issue which may lead to dementia.
With the company basing in Japan, which faces an ageing population, Ajinomoto is uniquely positioned to innovate in anticipation of an ageing and ever-growing demographic globally. With amino acids once again coming into focus, Ajinomoto provides amino acid solutions complementing lower-quality protein sources – combining to form dietary protein, and functioning as seasonings enhancing the flavor of protein-containing meals.
The company has several products addressing protein intake in older adults: the Amino Acid Prime Mix, a line of optimally formulated amio acid ingredients for food and beverage products, is one example. The AminoVITA line, on the other hand, is a plant-based acid that makes protein products for patients with abnormal amino acid metabolism.
“By making nutritious protein options within reach for all, we are helping to advance the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #2 for Zero Hunger and #3 for Good Health and Well-being. Ensuring proteins come from a variety of sources, including plant-based protein, reflects our dedication to goal #13 for Climate Action,” said Deodhar.
Ajinomoto’s nutrition strategies are compounded through the Ajinomoto Group Nutrient Profiling System for Products (ANPS-P), a tool collecting analysing data on the nutrient content of their current and future products. The system is based on the Health Star Rating System, an NPS used mainly in Australia and New Zealand. Using the data collected from the ANPS-P, nutritional insights on products can be garnered, allowing the company to evaluate and reformulate them and decide which nutrients should be increased or reduced.
Part of Ajinomoto’s vision toward better nutrition is also found in its outreach efforts, particularly in Asia, where the company has a strong presence. The company devotes itself to removing barriers to nutrition, with the School Meal Project in Vietnam as an example. In a country where almost a quarter of people below age 15 struggle to meet their nutrition needs, Ajinomoto developed menu books and educational materials on food and nutrition’ introduced software assisting meal planning, and set up model kitchen demonstrating the preparation of healthy, well-balanced meals to staff.
Though Ajinomoto initially faced challenges such as creating menus fitting the schools’ meal budgets, the company supported them via partial application of the School Meal Project’s menus before gradually increasing its frequency, as well as replacing high-priced food items with low-price ones while maintaining the nutritional profile of the menus. The company also worked closely with schools to communicate with parents on the importance of nutrition.
“We created over 120 available set menus with over 360 non-repeatable dishes – all of which were diverse, delicious, and nutritionally well-balanced. Schools also learned how to check nutritional information for the meals such as the amount of protein, carbohydrates, sodium, and calories. The ‘School Meal Project’ menus are currently using five Ajinomoto products (umami seasoning, dry seasoning, dry crispy flour, mayonnaise, and soy sauce) in preparing the school meals provided,” explained Deodhar.
With its goal of improving nutrition, Ajinomoto Group is affiliated with leading organisations advancing nutritional science and improving health. The company is a Manufacturer Board Member of The Consumer Goods Forum, an organisation that brings together global retailers and consumer goods manufacturers to collaborate, secure consumer trust and drive positive change.
Deodhar, concluded: “Recently, we expressed support for the Zero Hunger, Nourish the Future private sector pledge – an initiative that is being developed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Grow Africa, and Grow Asia – to end world hunger by 2030.”
This article was first published in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Food & Beverage Asia.