by Toni Tarver
When the human body suffers an injury or encounters harmful stimuli such as pathogens or other irritants, inflammation occurs. Inflammation is the body’s natural defense mechanism to heal wounds and attack infections. However, when persistent stimulation occurs, inflammation can become chronic, which leads to harmful consequences within the body. Chronic inflammation is responsible for the most prevalent conditions affecting U.S. citizens: obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and so on.
During Session 019, “Inflammation: The Next Business Opportunity,” Britt Burton-Freeman of the Institute for Food Safety and Health discussed how dietary choices affect inflammation. She revealed that persistent stressors on the human body lead to chronic inflammation and that the modern Western diet relies heavily on foods that are chronic stressors. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a clinical biomarker of inflammation, and high levels of CRP in the bloodstream are indicative of chronic inflammation. In general, a CRP level above 3 mg/L puts one at high risk for inflammatory diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Certain dietary choices have a profound effect on the human body by reducing or eliminating the incidence of harmful inflammatory diseases. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are anti-inflammatory because they contain bioactive phytonutrients, which disrupt cell receptors that promote inflammation. Thus, a low-fat diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains reduces not only inflammatory responses but also the body’s level of CRP.
From a product development standpoint, the goal is therefore to prepare and process foods using methods that not only maintain the healthfulness of anti-inflammatory food but also deliver its bioactive components in a way that will be most effective to the human body. “Food is the delivery system for dietary intervention,” said presenter Mario Ferruzzi of Purdue University. “Stability and bioavailability of bioactive [compounds] are key to the delivery of benefits from food,” he said. Manufacturers must consider the effects processing and shelf stability have on the phytochemicals, which are the beneficial bioactive compounds of fruits and vegetables. For example, thermal processing greatly improves the bioavailability of beta carotene in spinach and carrots.
This level of understanding is far too complex for the average consumer, said presenter Barbara Katz of HealthFocus International. Even though 80% of U.S. shoppers know that the food they consume is an important part of preventive health measures, very few know why and how. Katz said that consumers are not interested in high amounts of detail about their foods, so product messages must be simple, focusing predominantly on food benefits rather than mechanisms. Moreover, even though close to 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese, most consumers feel that they are already healthy and those with inflammation-related diseases are less likely to think their diet will make a difference in their health.
Thus, in the farm-to-fork continuity, food manufacturers should aim to prepare and process foods in ways that maximize each food’s potential, and food marketers should emphasize a food’s benefit to the human body. For both, simplicity really is key.