Hidden Science archive

Hidden Science was a mobile phone action – found within the Orange ‘Do Some Good’ app between April 2011-July 2012. Users were asked to submit their burning science questions via the app to have them answered directly by scientists, with all answers posted onto the Future Morph website.

Submitted questions were related to one of the 16 different themes which included Space, Sport, Medical Science, Earth Science, Computers & IT, Fashion & Textiles, and more!

A selection of the questions submitted to the Food theme are shown below. Check them out. You never know, this may be the taster to your future in the food industry!

1. Will lack of food and water still be a problem in the future?

In the next century, definitely. The increasing demand for food, water and energy over the next 50 years or so present a ‘perfect storm’ of critical challenges for humanity, according to the UK Government Foresight report published by Sir John Beddington a couple of years ago. There will be a demand for more or less double the current amount of food, which together with ever more electric technology and the likely need to extract more water from the sea by desalination will generate a substantial increase in the amount of energy we need to generate. The challenge is particularly great for agriculture, which will need to increase yields and reduce waste while also reducing the amount of fertiliser and water it uses and making sure that the soils on which it depends are protected from degradation.

2. Will we see holographic food in the future that fills you up and has taste?

Holography is based on light interference which is not something that can be consumed (or even touched). So in a word: ‘no’. However, the artificial synthesis of food as a substance is an area of active research.

3. How does food change into energy?

That’s an interesting question. The answer is that it doesn’t. Energy is already present in food as chemical energy and when food is eaten and digested, the energy is converted into other forms of energy including different kinds of chemical energy that the body can use, and heat energy which is used to keep us warm as well as wasted when we breathe out.

4. Why do some people have intolerances to certain foods?

A food allergy is a clear allergic reaction in your body to certain foods and at its most dangerous people can have anaphylactic shock where their body undergoes an extreme reaction which can prove fatal if they do not receive the appropriate treatment. Food intolerance is not so well understood. Many people know if they eat a certain food they will have a reaction e.g. bloating, change in bowel movements but there is no immunological response that can be measured. Food related migraines are an example of a food intolerance. Migraines can be triggered by a range of foods e.g. cheese, red wine, citrus fruit, chocolate. Much more research needs to be done to understand intolerance fully.

5. Why should we avoid excess salt and fast food?

Salt is necessary in our diets, but like most things, in moderation. We need sodium for signaling in our bodies between cells. Our diets are too rich in salt in general, and so we need to moderate our intake – salt is used extensively as a preservative, and has been through the ages, so if we only eat fresh foods, and are careful about the meat we eat, we should be OK. Drinking lots of water (not juices or squashes) can help.

We should be careful about fast foods as they often contain more fats and salt than is necessary so that the food has a good shelf life, cooks quickly and tastes good. So an occasional fast food meal is fine, but we shouldn’t have them regularly!

6. How efficient is your body at converting energy stored in food to useful output?

Assuming that a man needs about 2500 calories to maintain his weight, with a moderate amount of exercise, and each dietary calorie equates to 4.2kJoules, then we have approximately 10MJoules of energy being consumed each day – this is the equivalent to having 115 100W light bulbs on all day! Or it is the same energy as the same person being lifted over 12,000m into the air! So based upon these analogies, then the efficiency of the body at turning food into energy isn’t very good – compared to a perfect system! However, the fact we can eat a variety of foods, and we can extract that energy in a relatively compact form, is a testament to the good design of the human body!

7. How long does food take to pass through the body?

Digestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food into smaller components that are more easily absorbed into a blood stream. Digestion time varies depending on the individual.

For most healthy adults, it’s usually between 24 and 72 hours. After you eat, it takes about 6 to 8 hours for food to pass through your stomach and small intestine. Food then enters your large intestine (colon) for further digestion and absorption of water. Elimination of undigested food residue through the large intestine usually begins after a total of 24 hours. Complete elimination from the body may take several days.