HNH-30706 Food Digestion: Nutrient Breakdown and Absorption


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Independent study0
Course coordinator(s)dr. ir. GJEJ Hooiveld
Lecturer(s)prof. dr. ir. WJJ Gerrits
prof. dr. BJM Witteman
dr. E Capuano
dr. ir. GJEJ Hooiveld
dr. N van der Wielen
Examiner(s)dr. ir. GJEJ Hooiveld
dr. E Capuano
dr. N van der Wielen

Language of instruction:


Mandatory knowledge:

ZSS06100 Laboratory Safety

Assumed knowledge on:

Metabolic Aspects of Nutrition; Food Components and Health; Nutritional Physiology; (or similar)


Digestion of food is a complex process that is essential for our life. The breakdown of food is done through a large number of complex mechanical, enzymatic and chemical processes, and is extensively controlled. This is an advanced, inter-specialization course in which the latest insights on food digestion, absorption and its regulation in the small intestine are discussed, and how disturbances in these processes may contribute to disease. To be able to modulate and optimize the digestion of foods, it is important to have insight into the various extrinsic (food-related) and intrinsic (host-related) factors that influence food digestion and nutrient absorption. For example, the macronutrients starch, proteins and lipids can form unique microstructures, which affect the rate and the extent of their digestion. Also, specific food components can modulate digestion by altering the activity of specific digestive enzymes. The course is divided into two main parts. The first part addresses the nutritional physiology of the small intestine, with an emphasis on the sensing and regulation of nutrient digestion and absorption at the molecular level. The second part focuses on the relation between food structure and digestion.
Topics that will be covered include:
- anatomy and histology of the small intestine;
- digestion and absorption of nutrients and bioactives;
- regulation of digestion and absorption;
- comparative physiology of the small intestine;
- pathophysiology of the small intestine;
- food-related factors affecting nutrient digestion and bioavailability;
- technological strategies to modulate nutrient digestion and bioavailability;
- bioavailability of minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals;
- in vivo and in vitro models and methods to study digestion in the small intestine;
- biomarkers of bioavailability and how to measure them;
- models of bioavailability and enzymatic digestion.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- describe and explain the structure and functioning of the small intestine, and have insight how and why these may differ between relevant species (human, mouse, pig, cattle, poultry);
- evaluate the impact of food-related factors on bioavailability of nutrients and bioactive compounds;
- understand the etiology of some of the most common intestinal diseases and how these affect nutrient absorption and metabolic health;
- understand the main sensing and regulatory mechanisms that influence food digestion and absorption at the molecular level, with a focus on macronutrients, and provide clues how these can be exploited to prevent (systemic) disease;
- compare in vitro and in silico models of food digestion with digestion in vivo.
In addition, these skills will be further developed:
- laboratory skills;
- basic mathematical modelling skills.


To reach these objectives, the student will:
- prepare and attend lectures;
- actively participate in a modeling tutorial in which the kinetics of nutrient absorption is modeled, and work in a small group on a modelling assignment in which the impact of nutritional strategies aimed to improve nutrient bioavailability is predicted;
- take a practical course in which in-vitro and cellular models are used to investigate food breakdown and nutrient absorption;
- actively participate in a tutorial in which primary scientific literature will be studied and interactively discussed by the CREATE method (Consider, Read, Elucidate the hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, and Think of the next Experiment)
- self-study.


Assessment of the learning outcomes is tested in three ways:
The first part of the assessment of the learning outcomes will be an exam that is comprised of closed and open questions. Questions are based on the lectures and tutorials. Example exam questions will be posted on Brightspace during the course.
For the assignment and practicals the students need to complete short reports.
The grade is based on the exam (60%), and the results of the modelling assignment (10%) and practicals (30%). For the exam a minimum mark of 5.0 is required and for the overall mark (exam, assignment and practicals together) a minimum of 5.5.


No textbook is used. All teaching materials (slides, recorded lectures, tutorials, manuals, links to scientific papers) will made available in Brightspace.

Restricted Optional for: MFTFood TechnologyMScE: Spec. E - Food Digestion and Health4WD
MNHNutrition and HealthMScF: Spec. F - Food Digestion and Health4WD