NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Duchess of Rothesay opens Rowett research building in Aberdeen

Camilla, Duchess of Rothesay, at opening Image copyright PA
Image caption The Duchess of Rothesay tried broccoli crisp bread

The Duchess of Rothesay has officially opened the new home of Aberdeen's Rowett Institute of nutrition and health.

Camilla, the University of Aberdeen's chancellor, visited the new building on the medical campus at Foresterhill on Wednesday.

She has been chancellor of the university since 2013.

The Rowett became part of the university's college of life sciences and medicine in 2008.

The 10,000m² building has been designed to maintain the Rowett's status as a world leader in food and nutrition research.

The institute began before WW1 as an animal nutrition research centre. Its first director was the future Nobel Prize winner John (later Lord) Boyd Orr.

Body fat

Its current status in the field of human nutrition is a result of the benefactor whose name it bears.

The philanthropist John Quiller Rowett stipulated that if any of the institute's animal nutrition research was found to have a bearing on humans, it would be allowed to follow it up.

These days the focus is solely on us: what we eat, why we eat it, how we digest it and what we should be thinking about eating instead.

The new building, which involves a £12m investment by the Scottish government, is a huge improvement on the Rowett's old home at Bucksburn.

Image copyright

It is, inevitably, state of the art.

There is a clinical investigation unit, a metabolic research facility and a body composition suite.

The last of these is otherwise known as the Bod Pod.

Looking like a cross between a bubble car and an oversized washing machine, the Bod Pod measures what people are made of: their muscle mass and body fat.

It's where we meet Ian Gourlay, dressed for measurement purposes in only trousers and a rather natty red skullcap.

He's volunteered to take part in this trial, his 16th at the Rowett.

The best one, he says, was when he had to test a range of ready meals designed to make people feel fuller for longer.

Beetroot burgers

Not only were they delicious, he lost weight.

"The worst was eating cabbage for my breakfast," Ian says.

"I had red cabbage one week, then the next week was white cabbage.

"The following week it was kale.

"I've also eaten beetroot burgers, which weren't altogether pleasant."

But he's still coming back for more.

"Some of the stuff is quite interesting.

"The alternative proteins to red meat - the faba beans, the peas, buckwheat."

Image caption The Bod Pod measures what people are made of: their muscle mass and body fat

Ian has been working with senior research fellow Dr Alexandra Johnstone.

She's concerned with our appetites. In her current study, it's a question of whether the right kind of breakfast will make us feel fuller longer - whether the old adage "breakfast like a king, dine like a pauper" has it right.

She offers me a choice of two breakfast trays.

On one, a high fibre cereal, a glass of orange, a cheese and tomato sandwich.

On the other, turkey bacon and boiled egg, a muffin with spread and a smoothie.

Which would keep me happy until lunchtime?

It's the high fibre, fruity one - right?


"The one I would choose," she says, "is the high protein one."

Muscle mass

That's the one with the turkey bacon and egg. Not quite a fry-up, but as one of nature's chunkier gentlemen the one I'd be more likely to have gone for in the first place.

"Because I know from my research that that's going to be particularly good at filling me up," she says.

"I'm going to have a busy morning ahead so I'm less likely to grab an unhealthy snack.

"Often we're trying to improve body composition, to help people lose body fat and maintain the muscle mass.

"We know that high protein diets are particularly effective at doing that."

So hit the protein and watch the pounds fall off? Not quite. It has to be the right kind of protein.

Balance is everything. Too much animal protein is bad news in the long term.

Image caption Dr Alexandra Johnstone has been looking at how the right breakfast can make us feel fuller longer

Dr Wendy Russell, who heads the gut health team at the Rowett, looks at what happens inside us when appetite has had its way and our digestive system takes over.

"We ran some studies that showed if we ate a diet that's high in plant protein instead of animal protein, it reduced some of the risks associated with a long-term, high-protein, animal-based diet," she says.

They ran the studies using soya proteink, but in Scotland that's not a particularly sustainable approach. Better still if we could use plant proteins we can easily grow here.

"We're looking at local sources that could be readily grown in Scotland that would benefit our food growers and producers."

So if buckwheat, faba beans and linseed start turning up in your meals you'll know where the idea came from.

'Healthier Scotch pie'

The Rowett is bursting with ideas.

In the past, studies have examined rationing during WW2 and calculated the food needs of besieged cities.

Today, its researchers are trying to find out if they can influence the taste buds of babies before they are born by feeding the right types of foods to their mothers.

They've even helped develop a healthier Scotch pie.

I would tell you more but I must dash. All of a sudden, I'm hungry.

Image caption Other studies at the institute have looked at appetite and the digestive system

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