The bioavailability of many nutrients is known and the healthy daily intake estimated. In contrast the bioavailability of most phytonutrients and some vitamins is poorly understood and more research is carried out on this field at the moment.
Bioavailability includes different processes in the human body: liberation, absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion. Only the liberation and absorption can be influenced by the food structure and composition, which in turn can be controlled by food processing.
Because the processes of bioavailability are so complex and the influence of the food matrix and composition is not totally understood, many studies are carried out on the effect of a single component in specified controlled conditions. Often it is complicated to compare such studies due to their different experimental set-ups.
Instead mathematical modelling based on experimental results could be used to simulate the actual content of components after different ways of food processing.
Such a model could include the different processing factors and plant tissue characteristics which influence the liberation and absorption of the phytochemical and therewith the bioavailability. This will be a very useful tool for the food research and industry to make predictions about the nutritional quality.
In the EU project DREAM realistic physical and mathematical models for different types of foods are developed: plant-based foods, meat, dairy and bakery products.
For the plant based foods a model will be developed to predict the glucosinolate content and availability in Brassica vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or cabbage after different processing methods. With the results further in vitro and in vivo studies could make more precise assumption about the influence and amount of glucosinolates, which breakdown-products are assumed to have anticarcinogenic properties, in food on humans.