We Eat Food, Not Nutrients

Healthy Food is More Than Just Nutrients

Health In Focus
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Highlights:
  • The health effects of a food product cannot be determined on the basis on the individual nutrients it contains.
  • The food matrix may exhibit a different relation with health indicators compared to single nutrients studied in isolation.
  • Further research should focus on the health effects of whole dairy foods rather than the traditional approach of studying the health effects of single nutrients.
Food contains nutrients which play specific roles in the body. But is that all? The effect of nutrients such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and their implications for human health have been the subject of numerous studies over the years.
Healthy Food is More Than Just Nutrients

The goodness or the benefits of a food and its impact on health cannot be determined on the basis of the individual nutrients it contains. Rather, the food must be evaluated together with other foods eaten at the same time. Carrots are rich in Vitamin A but they don't have just Vitamin A, and not all the goodness of Vitamin A is exhibited.

Tanja Kongerslev Thorning, PhD, from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen, the first author of the report explains that scientists have long wondered why the actual effects of a food are at variance with the effects expected on the basis of its nutrition content.

"Researchers have become more skillful over the years, and we have acquired more methods for exploring what specific nutrients mean for digestion and health," Tanja continues.

"But when we eat, we do not consume individual nutrients. We eat the whole food. Either alone or together with other foods in a meal. It therefore seems obvious that we should assess food products in context."

As we eat the food, the composition of a food can alter the properties of the nutrients contained within it.

For example, dairy products such as cheese are high in saturated fat but have a lesser effect on blood cholesterol. There are interactions between the nutrients in a food that are significant for its overall effect on health.

Yogurt and cheese have a different and more beneficial effect on bone health, body weight, the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, than would be expected on the basis of their saturated fat and calcium content.

Professor Arne Astrup, Head of Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen, explains that the example of cheese is good to illustrate that a food's health effects cannot be judged by single nutrients e.g. sodium and saturated fat.

Tanja Kongerslev Thorning explains further "Another example is almonds, which contain a lot of fat, but which release less fat than expected during digestion. Even when chewed really well. The effects on health of a food item are probably a combination of the relationship between its nutrients, and also of the methods used in its preparation or production. This means that some foods may be better for us, or less healthy, than is currently believed."

Foods Have More Than Just Nutrients

An expert panel behind including epidemiologist, food, nutrition and medical scientist discussed on the complexity of the nutrients, their composition in the food and the impact of it on the body. The key points include:
  • Dairy products may not lower the risk of cardiovascular disease such as stroke and coronary heart disease, diabetes, according to current evidence. But cheese, yogurt help lower the risk of heart disease.
  • Intervention studies have indicated that the metabolic effects of whole dairy may be different than those of single dairy constituents when considering the effects on body weight, cardiometabolic disease risk, and bone health.
  • Different dairy products seem to be distinctly linked to health effects and disease risk markers.
  • Different dairy structures and common processing methods may influence interactions between nutrients and thereby modify the metabolic effects of dairy consumption.
  • The nutritional values of dairy products should be considered on the basis of the biofunctionality of the nutrients within dairy food structures and not merely with their nutrient contents.
  • Further research should focus on the health effects of whole dairy foods rather than the traditional approach of studying the health effects of single nutrients.

Complexity of Dairy Products

The complex mixture of nutrients and bioactive substances, such as minerals and vitamins in dairy products, can affect digestion and ultimately change the overall nutritional and health properties of a particular food.

"In contrast to current recommendations that essentially ban full-fat cheese, current research clearly demonstrate important health benefits of cheese for prevention of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers. All the positive effects are due to a complex interaction between beneficial bacteria, minerals and bio-active cheese ingredients."

Professor of Food Chain Nutrition Ian Givens at the University of Reading, co-chair of the meeting, concludes, "More studies are needed, but ultimately it seems that some areas of nutrition science need to be rethought. We cannot focus on a nutrient without looking at how it is consumed and what else is eaten at the same time."

"More studies are needed, but ultimately it seems that some areas of nutrition science need to be rethought. We cannot focus on a nutrient without looking at how it is consumed and what else is eaten at the same time."

Reference:
  1. Whole dairy matrix or single nutrients in assessment of health effects: current evidence and knowledge gaps - (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/105/5/1033)


Source: Medindia

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