Benjamin Willing, Professor

Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science
University of Alberta

From Microbes to Dinnerplates: The Fascinating World of Fermented Foods

The consumption of fermented foods is gaining popularity in Canada, with many choosing fermented food options with hopes of improved health outcomes. In this presentation, I will cover the state of fermented food in the Canadian market, and what a survey of 4000 Canadians reveals about fermented food consumption. It is clear that some fermented foods are chosen for taste (eg. cheese), whereas others are more frequently selected based on expected health benefits (eg. kefir). Furthermore, there are significant differences across demographics with respect to frequency and diversity of fermented food consumption. I will provide an example of a fermented food, kefir, that has significant potential for improved cardiometabolic outcomes and highlight the challenges faced with respect to getting such products included in Canada's Food Guide.

Speaker/Chair Bio:

Dr. Ben Willing is an Professor and former Canada Research Chair in the Microbiology of Nutrigenomics at the University of Alberta. He has made important contributions in the understanding of microbes in intestinal development, inflammatory bowel disease, infection resistance, and metabolic health. His research group is working to understand both fundamental and applied questions in gut microbiology. Fundamental research includes identifying mechanisms through which specific core members of the microbiome regulate host physiology using germfree animal models. Applied questions include utilizing diet and microbiome to shape immune development to support resistance to enteric pathogens and general disease resilience. His recent research on kefir has expanded his study of microbial ecosystems into fermented foods and how they impact health.