Improved collaboration among sciences can boost food nutrition
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WASHINGTON, July 23, 2014 - While Golden Rice is well known within the biotechnology community as an example of a nutritionally beneficial genetically-engineered crop, it is also the product of improved collaboration between scientists in different fields, said Mario Ferruzzi, professor in the Food Science and Nutrition Science departments at Purdue University.
He said food, nutrition and consumer-science disciplines have traditionally “played divergent roles in the context of food,” but now they are consciously collaborating to determine how phytochemicals found in food can be developed and processed to improve health.
This collaboration, as well as better communication with consumers, could add health benefits to food products “beyond basic nutrition,” including a reduction in disease risks, he said. Ferruzzi made his comments during a briefing last week on Capitol Hill hosted by the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR).
For example, carotenoids found in fruits, vegetables and grains are associated with multiple health benefits due to their antioxidant power. The compound can be increased through breeding and transgenic methods. Golden rice, which is cited for its potential to help malnourished children in Africa and South Asia, is rich in beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A.
Ferruzzi said researchers are also using transgenics to increase the beta-carotene content in sorghum, a popular source in gluten-free food.
He emphasized that public research through USDA, the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies can help align efforts across agronomy, food science and nutrition disciplines to produce “consumer-friendly” solutions.
Meeting consumer demands for nutritional food and being able to properly communicate the science behind that effort is a significant challenge, he said.
In the past 10 years, Ferruzzi, who formerly worked as a researcher for Nestle, said food scientists think more than ever about what public impact their research might have.
“We need to be consistent in promoting public health, not just the next new product,” he said.
However, he noted many consumers indicate that messages about food and health are confusing.
“We can do all the great research in the world,” but without effective communication, the benefits could be lost, he said.
Although “processed” food has a bad reputation, he said processing is what preserves food quality and can actually improve the availability of nutrients and bioactive compounds.
For example, fat is important for the body's ability to absorb fat-soluble compounds like Vitamin A and D. Using full-fat salad dressing is much more helpful for the body to absorb the carotenoids in the salad's vegetables than fat-free versions, he noted. The Wish-Bone brand of salad dressings takes advantage of this research by labeling its full-fat dressing with notes that tell the consumer the contents can help absorb vitamins.
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