Foods, not specific nutrients, may be key to good health

Nov 06, 2007

In a recent academic review, a University of Minnesota professor in the School of Public Health has concluded that food, as opposed to specific nutrients, may be key to having a healthy diet.

This notion is contrary to popular practice in food industry and government, where marketers and regulators tend to focus on total fat, carbohydrate and protein and on specific vitamins and added supplements in food products, not the food items as a whole. The research is published in last month’s Journal of Nutrition Reviews.

“We are confusing ourselves and the public by talking so much about nutrients when we should be talking about foods,” said David Jacobs, Ph.D., the principal investigator and Mayo Professor of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. “Consumers get the idea that diet and health can be understood in terms of isolated nutrients. It’s not the best approach, and it might be wrong.”

Jacobs, with coauthor Professor Linda Tapsell of the University of Wollongong in Australia, argues that people should shift the focus toward the benefits of entire food products and food patterns in order to better understand nutrition in regard to a healthy human body.

They focus on the concept of food synergy – the idea that more information about the impact of human health can be obtained by looking at whole foods than a single food component (such as vitamin C, or calcium added to a container of orange juice).

Jacobs and Tapsell provide several examples in which the single nutrient approach to nutrition has not proved to benefit health:

Long term randomized clinical trials, considered the gold standard for making judgments about nutritional treatment and health, have failed to show benefit or have suggested harm for cardiovascular events for isolated supplements of beta-carotene and B-vitamins. A similar large experiment in total fat reduction also did not show benefit. In contrast, myriad observations have been made of improved long-term health for foods and food patterns that incorporate these same nutrients naturally occurring in food.

An understanding of the interactions between food components in both single foods and whole diets opens up new areas of thinking that appear to have greater application to contemporary population health issues, particularly those related to chronic lifestyle disease, Jacobs said.

“It is this new understanding that reminds us emphatically of the central position of food in the nutrition-health interface, which begs for much more whole food-based research, and encourages us in both research and dietary advice to, ‘think food first’,” Tapsell said.

Source: University of Minnesota

Explore further: Tooth loss linked to slowing mind and body

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The RV Investigator's role in marine science

Dec 12, 2014

We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about our deepest oceans, and only 12% of the ocean floor within Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone has so far been mapped.

New mushroom discovered on campus is the first since 1985

Nov 24, 2014

Two researchers who recently named the first new species of mushroom from the UC Berkeley campus in more than 30 years are emphasizing the need for continued green and open space on campus, as well as a full-fledged ...

Recommended for you

The hunt for botanicals

10 hours ago

Herbal medicine can be a double-edged sword and should be more rigorously investigated for both its beneficial and harmful effects, say researchers writing in a special supplement of Science.

Mozambique decriminalises abortion to stem maternal deaths

12 hours ago

Mozambique has passed a law permitting women to terminate unwanted pregnancies under specified conditions, a move hailed by activists in a country where clandestine abortions account for a large number of maternal deaths.

Infertility, surrogacy in India

12 hours ago

Infertility is a growing problem worldwide. A World Health Organization report estimates that 60-to-80 million couples worldwide currently suffer from infertility.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.