Meet affiliated faculty Corrie Whisner

Corrie Whisner with her arms raised above her head holding up a stuffed toy thst looks like an avocado

The Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems focuses on innovative ideas and solutions to the many challenges of current food systems. In is series, we’re sitting down with the Swette Center affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation, and what makes a good meal. Read the rest of the series here. 

Corrie WhisnerAssociate Faculty in the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics and Associate Professor of Nutrition, College of Health Solutions

How did you get interested in food systems issues?

The first time I was interested in food systems was during my PhD when I started researching the effect of a prebiotic dietary fiber on calcium absorption in growing children. I began thinking about the importance of the relationship between nutrition and the food industry for food systems, and how interconnected it all is. 

Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation. 

I’m currently studying the impact of different types of corn flour on blood lipids in adults. We’re trying to lower cholesterol levels in people who already have moderate to high cholesterol. Ultimately, we’re trying to see if we can use diet to lower cholesterol levels rather than putting them on a statin drug. It would be more cost-effective with fewer side effects. This work closely ties into the food system with new policies that come out.

For example, the FDA has a new ruling on food labels that determines what can count toward the fiber declaration on the Nutrition Facts label. Fiber can’t be included in that declaration unless there is enough evidence scientifically that supports its effect on health, or it has to be the intact version of fiber. By making different sorts of formulations of flour, we can change the amount of bran, germ, and endosperm.

This determines whether those fractions have unique impacts and whether it can be included in the fiber declaration. This project is funded by the North American Millers’ Association so it is very targeted toward benefitting the grain industry, but is equally important for consumer health. There is a benefit for grain millers and for human health which is a win-win for everyone.

What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about? 

One thing I’m really excited about is plant-based diets and the creativity that the industry has put-forth to create cost-effective solutions to move away from animal meat. For example, the Impossible burger utilizes yeast and microbes to create a plant-based meat that looks like animal meat, which is really important for those people who are hesitant to reduce or remove meat from their diet.

What’s your go-to weeknight meal?

Any sort of pasta with lots of parmesan cheese. 

Ariel Kagan