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Research and Innovation


INNOVATION - Ryerson University Research & Innovation Newsletter

Issue 26: March/April 2017


When we think of food, many things come to mind: celebration, family, culture. But when we go deeper, we can see how access to fresh, nourishing food is the main marker of health for communities around the world.

At Ryerson, we explore the nutritional needs of Canadians and international communities at the intersection of two of our research themes: health and well being; and city building and social justice. We look at nutrition in many ways: from seeing how food breaks down in the body, to how food production can impact broader communities by providing not only nourishment but also employment and security.

Nutrition is a basic determinant of healthy communities. Whether access to nutritious food is gained by increasing knowledge, creating political and economic stability, or in the most fundamental way, by growing and harvesting the raw materials necessary to produce food, we all benefit from a healthier society. Ryerson researchers recognize the importance of addressing these issues.

In this issue of Innovation, we look at how Cecilia Rocha is using her knowledge from a previous project in Brazil to bring the production of ready-to-use therapeutic foods to an impoverished area of Vietnam. Through Mustafa Koç’s work, we see the importance of access to culturally relevant foods for immigrant and refugee communities to enhance their health. Julie Kellershohn examines consumer behaviour in making healthy food choices in restaurants and what drives those choices. Dérick Rousseau and Nick Bellissimo are teaming up to explore the foods that  keep us full longer in order to create new foods that taste good and offer good nutritional value. In our Partner to Innovate story, we highlight Ryerson’s partnership with St. Michael’s Hospital through the Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Science Technology (iBEST) with work being done by Scott Tsai. And finally, in our spotlight story we hear from Lori Beckstead, whose project focuses on diversity and equity in the field of on-air radio.

We hope you enjoy this issue of Innovation and invite you to share in our appetite for research on this important topic.


Usha George
Vice-President, Research and Innovation (Interim)


Image: Cecilia Rocha is helping women in Vietnam by creating work for farmers and producing locally manufactured, ready-to-use therapeutic foods. Photo credit: Clifton Li

To simultaneously address the pressing issues of malnutrition and unemployment in Northern Vietnam, Cecilia Rocha (Nutrition), director of the Centre for Food Security, is aiming to apply the learnings from her previous project, Building Capacity in Food Security in Brazil, to her latest project to improve the lives of women and children around the world.

The Brazil-based project, which started in 2004, demonstrated the importance of community involvement in building sustainable food security solutions by promoting partnerships between the local universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and members of the public to address food insecurity. It also examined gender equity issues, since women are not only more likely to suffer from malnutrition but are also more likely to be in professional roles that support food security such as nutritionists, health professionals or social workers. This work drew the attention of Vietnam's National Institute of Nutrition (NIN). Officials from the institute reached out to Rocha to put together a proposal for a similar project in Vietnam.

Rocha’s new project, Scaling up small-scale food processing: A strategy to promote food security among women subsistence farmers in rural Vietnam, is supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and Vietnam's NIN. Adopting a similar model to the Brazil project, the current project supports Northern Vietnamese communities in two ways. It provides a source of income to local women farmers who are providing raw ingredients for the creation of fortified complementary foods, while also offering these nutritious foods in a shelf-stable, affordable way, to address food insecurity and malnutrition among women and children.

According to Rocha, the project will provide food for 15,000 of the poorest children in Northern Vietnam. Women will be given training and information on the subject of therapeutic foods, including vegetable sachets for soups, high-energy bars, and instant cereals. These products will be developed and produced by local food processing plants. The facilities are still being built — when they are completed, the aim is to provide employment to local women through food training.

“The foods that are processed will be available through the local clinics, and also in stores,” said Rocha.

During this time, Rocha will be studying the impact that local food production and availability has on food security among the women farmers and children in the area. Furthermore, she will be examining if the project supports the local economy and creates a viable supply chain for the farmers.

The end goal is to build capacity that exceeds the duration of the project in order to support a sustainable model for food security in Vietnam.


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Image: Whether families choose healthier side options for kids like apples at fast food restaurants could depend on price, according to research.

Julie Kellershohn wants to know why you picked a healthier option for your latest restaurant meal and whether she can influence you to make that healthier choice again.

A professor in marketing at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Kellershohn works in food and beverage marketing and is fascinated by how individuals make food choices and their perception of what is nutritious. “I’m really interested in what people eat, why they choose the food they do, and how marketing can influence those decisions,” she said.

For example, her research has shown that just the addition of a single leaf of lettuce on a burger dramatically increases how people perceive its healthiness. “You and I both know that the single leaf of lettuce does very little to change the burger from a nutrition perspective,” said Kellershohn. “The additional 4 calories from the lettuce has minimal impact on the nutritional value of the burger but it has a dramatic impact from a marketing perspective.”

When it comes to children’s meals, Kellershohn’s work examines what might make parents choose a more nutritional option when dining out. In one of her recent studies, she looked at what could incentivize parents to choose apple slices over a side of fries for their child’s meal, and to choose low-fat yogurt over an ice cream cone.

When the cost of the meals was identical, most parents said they would order fries over the apple slices and were more likely to choose the ice cream for their child. However, if a price reduction of at least 15 per cent was offered, you could convince parents to make the healthier choice because they feel like they are being financially rewarded for their behaviour. Alternatively, a punitive approach also showed promising impact. Charging an additional up-charge of $0.25 for the option of fries or ice cream convinced over half of the parents to stick with the healthier choice.

Kellershohn’s research is showing that price could be used as a tool to influence healthier food purchasing habits. Her next research project examines the impact of having increased visibility of calories on restaurant menus and how that affects food choices in fast food restaurants, now that Canada has instituted this requirement.




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Mustafa Koç examines the lasting impact of food insecurity on refugees fleeing armed conflict. Photo credit: Carrie Duncan

While we often associate food insecurity with poverty, wars are becoming an important reason behind hunger in many parts of the world, as they destroy people’s livelihoods and continue to plague those who have escaped conflict, says Mustafa Koç, professor of sociology at Ryerson University.

In his research connecting sociology and agriculture, Koç looks at the social factors influencing why people suffer from food insecurity. “We wanted to understand why we have hunger in a world that is capable of feeding everybody,” said Koç.

After his trip to Iraq in January 2003, where he travelled with an international delegation to find out the potential impacts of war on children, Koç began to examine the relationship between food insecurity and armed conflict.

Through two projects funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Koç is part of a team of researchers who have been looking at patterns of food insecurity among refugees. Their first project compared food insecurity among Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Iran, and Canada. The latest project focuses on food insecurity among recent Syrian refugees arriving in Canada. These projects not only provide insights into the plight of refugees around the world, but also show how the world can cope with and better manage global emergencies.

Koç remembers the World Food Summit of 1996, where the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization set a target to halve hunger globally from 800 to 400 million people by 2015. Despite significant efforts in some parts of the world, the number of people suffering food insecurity is still around the 800 million mark. Our inability to effectively address these global social and ecological emergencies is causing a crisis of legitimacy, argues Koç, creating an obstacle that reduces our ability to mobilize the public in order to progress toward better targets.  

Nevertheless, Koç has kept his optimism that the situation can be improved. He was one of the founders of Ryerson’s Centre for Studies of Food Security and is continuing to make contributions to research and training in this area. The Canadian Association for Food Studies, which was founded at Ryerson in 2005, will host its annual conference as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Ryerson in May 2017.

Koç is pleased that Ryerson researchers have spearheaded these global efforts and are being recognized in international and national policy platforms. “Our federal government is working on a national food policy — a first in our history — and we are part of these exciting developments,” says Koç.


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Image: Dérick Rousseau and Nick Bellissimo team up to examine the effects of food once it enters the body in order to find the most satisfying foods. Photo credit: Carrie Duncan

Dérick Rousseau (Chemistry) and Nick Bellissimo (Nutrition) are leading a cross-disciplinary team to explore the place where food science and nutrition intersect. Their work is looking to solve the age-old problem of creating satisfying yet delicious foods that will tide us over between meals and prevent weight gain.

The duo are using reverse engineering to understand how foods and their components contribute to the cessation of eating and whether foods can be re-designed in a simple manner with everyday ingredients to make them more satiating.

According to Rousseau, the Dedicated Ryerson University In-vitro Digester (DRUID) mimics different parts of our digestive system from the mouth to the stomach and small intestine. By adding compounds that imitate our digestive juices, the team’s research experiments can explore how the foods we eat are broken down and digested.

“We look at how fats, proteins and carbohydrates are released and absorbed, both in vitro using the DRUID and in vivo using clinical trials – then we corroborate the two,” said Rousseau. “What we are trying to understand is how, beyond composition, the structure of a food will have an impact on satiety. This research is highly relevant for the food industry, which is currently involved in the development of satiety-enhancing foods.”

The goal of their joint work is to examine what makes foods satiating, according to Bellissimo. “We are examining how foods break down in the gastrointestinal tract and the role of functional carbohydrates, proteins and fats on satiety,” said Bellissimo. In Rousseau’s lab, high-satiety foods are being more closely examined for their structure, using the DRUID to see where they are releasing their nutrients in the different stages of digestion. “We look at how the food breaks down and how the nutrients are released,” said Rousseau. In doing so, they can devise ways to restructure foods in order to make them more satiating. “In essence, we want to re-package existing ingredients to make a food that will make you feel fuller, longer,” said Rousseau.

Meanwhile, in the Nutrition Discovery Labs, Bellissimo is able to corroborate findings from the DRUID to determine the efficacy of new foods and components in humans.

“This work aims to improve outcomes for two inter-related conditions,” said Bellissimo. “First, we want to improve the quality of the food supply by contributing to the development of ‘better for you’ foods for individuals who are struggling with obesity. The second part is to prevent or treat the metabolic diseases associated with excess body weight.”


Image: Cells are printed on substrate in patterns in order to mimic wounds, allowing the team to study cell transformation and observe their growth.

After only one year, the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Science and Technology (iBEST) has leveraged its model of “bench to bedside” applied research to help researchers at Ryerson and St. Michael’s Hospital innovate medical solutions for the 21st century. iBEST marked its one-year anniversary in January, 2017.

The institute features biomedical research brought to life through collaboration between Ryerson faculty and St. Michael’s clinicians and researchers.

Within St. Michael’s Keenan Research Centre, scientists from both institutions have developed labs where they can collaborate freely. The institute brings together the strength of Ryerson’s science and engineering programs and St. Michael’s biomedical and clinical expertise to pioneer new technologies and apply these medical advances to patients quickly.

One example of how the partnership is thriving can be seen in a collaboration between Ryerson’s Scott Tsai and St. Michael’s Dr. Andras Kapus.

The pair are co-supervising Ryerson biomedical engineering PhD student Huma Inayat in a project that involves printing miniature “landscapes” to study how cells covering the surface of organs respond to stresses depending on their location within a population of cells. One such stress is transforming growth factor (TGF) beta, a chemical that can induce serious organ scarring. On the Ryerson side, Tsai carries out the actual printing of these landscape labs.

“What we are doing is patterning the cells and creating gaps between the cells that will mimic wounds,” said Tsai, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering. “We can change the size of the wound and see cell transformation.”

Dr. Kapus, a researcher with St. Michael’s Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science, studies organ scarring that occurs in diseases such as diabetes. He’s studying the biology of the cells in Tsai’s labs and observing their growth.

“The magical thing is that cells located at the boundary of a cell layer (e.g., at the edge of a wound) react differently to the same challenge compared to cells surrounded by other cells on all sides, such as those in the middle of an organ. For example, TGF beta transforms 'edge cells' into scar-forming cells, whereas 'middle cells' do not change much,” said Dr. Kapus. “If we understand how to reprogram edge-like behavior to middle-type behavior, we could develop therapies to lessen organ scarring. This is important with regard to many diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, and kidney failure.”

Tsai says that working at iBEST not only gives him access to the expertise of fellow researchers, but also to equipment that he might not otherwise have. He says this combination allows the pair’s research to evolve from bench to bedside at an accelerated pace.


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Image: A "hacked" radio will allow individuals to tune into stories of women in radio and hear their experiences.

While exploring diversity in the world of radio, Lori Beckstead uncovered that, despite appearances, women are still largely underrepresented as on-air personalities.

“Interestingly, there seems to be the perception that women have achieved equality in the radio industry,” said Beckstead, a professor in the RTA School of Media at Ryerson. However, her research on the subject, illustrated in her Interactive Radio Project, points to a different picture altogether. “On average, there were approximately 32 per cent women on air in Toronto. Radio stations in comparably sized cities average 25-30 per cent.”

In her current project, Pass the Mic, Beckstead is interviewing women who have spent time in the industry to hear their side of the story. In the end, she will create a customized, interactive radio-machine as a form of arts-based knowledge mobilization, allowing users to explore the stories in an interactive way that will be on display at the Allan Slaight Radio Institute at Ryerson. She hopes to display the radio in different venues. A website will also house the content to make it accessible to the general public.

“I’m going to hack a radio that will allow individuals to hear the stories of women in radio,” she said. Her earlier project, The Interactive Radio Project, allowed users to turn a dial to specific stations and receive data on the diversity of their on-air talent. The new project will convey the voices of women telling their stories in their own words.

Not surprisingly, the longer women have been in the industry, the more likely they are to report stories of sexism. “Some of them have been pretty hair-raising,” said Beckstead. “Younger women don’t seem to have as many stories of discrimination.”

Anecdotally, Beckstead’s work is showing that certain genres of radio, like commercial talk radio, have higher incidence of sexism. However, she does say that some of the women interviewed say their career has been an all-around positive experience.

“It runs the gamut,” Beckstead said. “But some clear patterns are emerging.”



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Congratulations to the Ryerson faculty who have recently received grants in support of their research programs.

The list below includes a selection of recent grants awarded for which Ryerson is the principal grant holder and publication of the award is approved by the corresponding granting agencies.

Principal Investigator

Award /Program

Umberto Berardi (Architectural Science) OCE VIP I
Xavier Fernando (Electrical and Computer Engineering) OCE Smart Computing Challenge
Alan Fung (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering) Mitacs Accelerate
Anton de Ruiter (Aerospace Engineering) OCE VIP I
Bala Venkatesh (Electrical and Computer Engineering) Mitacs Elevate
Andriy Miranskyy (Computer Science) OCE VIP I
Ali Miri (Computer Science) Mitacs Accelerate
Enza Gucciardi (Nutrition) Lawson Foundation/Diabetes
Vincent Hui (Architectural Science) OCE VIP I
Alagan Anpalagan (Electrical and Computer Engineering) NSERC Engage Grant
Joon Chung (Aerospace Engineering) NSERC Engage Grant
Wey Leong (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering) NSERC Engage Grant
Farah Mohammadi (Electrical and Computer Engineering) NSERC Engage Grant
Medhat Shehata (Civil Engineering) NSERC Engage Grant
Kristiina Valter McConville (Electrical and Computer Engineering) NSERC Engage Grant
Raffi Karshafian (Physics) NSERC Engage Grant
Michael Kolios (Physics) NSERC Connect Grant - level 2

Food Banks? A Panel Discussion

Thursday, April 6, 2017
6:30-9 p.m.
Rogers Communication Centre, 80 Gould St., Toronto

Join us as a panel of outstanding experts and activists talk through the complex pros, cons, and to-dos of food banks, featuring Councillor Joe Mihevc, Chair of the Toronto Board of Health; Andy Fisher, author of the controversial new book from MIT Press, Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups; Valerie Tarasuk, Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto and Principal Investigator of PROOF; Cecilia Rocha, Director of the Ryerson School of Nutrition; Ryan Noble, Executive Director of the North York Harvest Food Bank; and Merryn Maynard, Program Coordinator at Meal Exchange.


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