Closeup of a loaf of wheat bread.

MN Impact: Researchers Will Help Develop Food Products that Improve Human Nutrition

September 4, 2019


Research will lead to the development of human food products that have a positive impact on health.


Most Americans don't get enough fiber in their diets. Prebiotic dietary fibers have been shown to enhance digestive health, benefit the immune system, help with blood sugar control and aid in mineral absorption.   

What has been done

Tonya Schoenfuss and her team have shown that the polymerization of lactose with an acid catalyst and glucose creates a soluble fiber, which they call polylactose. This novel dietary fiber can be easily ground and shows great promise as a prebiotic additive to human food products or as a supplement. As it uses lower-value dairy whey streams, polylactose also provides both economic and environmental opportunities by commoditizing a product that is otherwise of low value.

To realize this potential, polylactose must be evaluated to determine if it has prebiotic activity when consumed and if it benefits human and animal health. The FDA provides guidelines for products labeled as a dietary fiber--the first of which is animal feeding trials to determine if it has prebiotic activity in an animal model.


A rat study demonstrated polylactose-fed animals had slightly improved glucose control, significantly decreased epididymal fat and had increased large intestine fermentation when compared to all other tested groups. But most significantly, liver lipid concentration of polylactose fed rats was equivalent to the normal fat control rats. Comparatively, polydextrose and fructooligosaccharides fed rats had significantly higher lipid levels than controls.

Polylactose is highly fermentable and has a profoundly positive effect on the colonic microflora. Preclinical rat studies showed significantly reduced body fat, lowered plasma leptin concentrations, improved blood glucose control and reduced fatty liver at a dietary concentration where the other prebiotics tested were not as effective.