Scientifically Souped-Up Foods
Filed Under: Health & Science, Lifestyle | Posted: 02/13/2008 at 9:53AM
Comments | Region: New Mexico | United States
As scientists begin to understand how plant substances work, they look ahead to the time when they can apply their knowledge either to improve on or to supplement Mother Nature. Genetic engineering and selective breeding could ultimately create plant stocks with more healthful phytochemical “fingerprints.”
Scientists already know that all foods are not created equal. A green apple, for example, doesn’t have the same phytochemical composition as a yellow apple. And from the “I-knew-it” category of thinking, they’re already studying how to develop a chocolate bar loaded with phytochemicals that fight breast cancer.
They also may add extracts of disease-preventing chemicals as supplements to other foods, such as cereal and bread, fruit juice or snack bars. Heard of vitamin-fortified cereals? The future may hold vegetable-fortified cereals.
To boost their disease-fighting abilities, researchers may in the future turn today’s foods into super foods by creating a juice that’s got, say, 20 oranges worth of beneficial compounds in one eight-ounce glass.
But it’s not easy to tinker with Mother Nature. Scientists may determine which substances are beneficial, but they have a lot of hurdles to overcome to make them practical.
Here are just a few problems that frustrate researchers: When you steam garlic, one compound is destroyed but another is created. If you sauté garlic, you create still another compound. Some phytochemicals are beneficial in small quantities but toxic in higher amounts. Some are safe to eat in common foods, but if they’re added to new foods or supplements in hundreds of times their normal concentration, they could well be toxic.
Scientists are poised for the next level of research, which will enable them to combine phytochemicals to make “designer foods.” They may take a grain, for example, and combine it with a cucumber to produce a biscuit that will help people with a high cancer risk.
How much will prevent disease?
How many “good” foods do you have to eat to make a significant contribution in preventing disease? Take garlic, for example. If it means you must eat a couple of bulbs of garlic a day to receive a healthful benefit, you may decide the trade-off in diminished social interaction just isn’t worth it. But here’s the good news. When Pennsylvania State University tested garlic, they fed animals amounts equivalent to a human dosage of 12 cloves a day. According to their studies, smaller amounts may be equally beneficial and you may even get the same benefits from eating deodorized garlic.
When you’re deciding if you should try to increase your consumption of antioxidants through vitamins, scientists are divided as to what sized dosage is good for you. They do know that vitamin A is toxic in high doses, while antioxidants found naturally in fruits and vegetables are not.
Researchers recently reported that the antioxidant beta carotene taken in the form of vitamin supplements was not effective in preventing cancer or heart disease. They did, however, confirm that the ability of antioxidants to fight DNA-damaging substances has been demonstrated in the test tube and in animal models. Scientists now believe it is the combination of antioxidants with other less-studied components of foods, along with other aspects of healthy lifestyle, that deliver health benefits.
An important thing to keep in mind is that nutrition is not a “magic bullet” preventive against disease. You can’t eat broccoli every day and expect to live forever. But if you follow the nutritional advice of scientists, you should increase your good health simply by selecting healthful foods to eat.
The National Academy of Sciences has gone on record to say that eating more low-fat, high-fiber foods can help prevent disease. Other health agencies recommend reducing fat intake to 30 percent or less. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) nutritionists urge people to observe the “five-a-day” diet by eating at least three vegetables and two fruits a day.
The bottom line echoes the mantra of mothers everywhere: “Eat your fruits and vegetables.” If this advice sounds so obvious that it doesn’t bear repeating, consider that a national NCI survey found that 45 percent of Americans ate no fruit at all on the survey day and as many as 22 percent didn’t eat any vegetables. That means that fewer than one in four of us observe the “five-a-day” diet.
Most “designer” food study is still in the initial stages and although private food manufacturers are knocking on the researchers’ doors, no altered foods will hit the marketplace until after considerable study by the Food and Drug Administration. They suggest you don’t wait around for a quick-fix nutritional pill. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow Mom’s advice and eat your fruits and vegetables.