Diet Nutrition – Phytochemicals, Functional Foods


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It’s been less than a century since researchers discovered the benefits of antioxidants such as vitamin C. But the next century of nutrition research will focus less on bottled vitamin supplements and more on the fruits and vegetables that provide nutrients naturally. These foods are rich in phyto-chemicals and phyto-nutrients including carotenoids – nutrients that contain powerful antioxidants and strengthen the immune system.

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One of the hottest sectors of food manufacturing today is “functional foods” – foods that have been fortified with natural herbs and vitamins to make them more healthful. One manufacturer has already introduced a red wine pill made from the skins of merlot grapes, which could help counteract the damaging effects of cholesterol and keep blood vessels healthy.

Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute in Oregon are looking at the health benefits – for humans, not cows – of chlorophyllin, a pigment that gives grass its green color. George Bailey, Ph.D., a researcher and professor of food toxicology at Oregon State University, is studying 200 residents of China, hoping to learn whether a steady diet of chlorophyllin will help protect them against liver cancer.

Diet Nutrition – Individual Response

Not everyone benefits equally from these “healthy” foods. Doctors know that megadoses of vitamins such as E and C can help ward off heart disease and cancer, but they don’t know why some individuals respond more than others.

Diet Nutrition – Tailor-Made According to Genes

Now DNA researchers are identifying the genetic types most likely to benefit from extra doses of specific nutrients. Just as blood tests can show an individual’s vulnerability to disease, the researchers say they will some day be able to identify the exact daily doses we need, and determine which individuals will benefit most from certain vitamin supplements.

This capability is not as far off as it seems, says Jeffrey Blumberg, of Tufts University’s School of Nutrition. “In the future, we’ll be able to remove a white blood cell, look at your DNA and say, you as an individual need X requirements to delay the onset of diabetes.”

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