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

November 6, 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: New study discovers mushrooms can be as satiating as meat when protein levels are matched

Related Stories

New study discovers mushrooms can be as satiating as meat when protein levels are matched

October 19, 2017
If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then mushrooms may be one of the most imperative ingredients. A new study on satiety published in the October issue of the journal Appetite indicates that eating a mushroom-rich ...

Study spells out huge health benefits by cutting back sugar in sugary drinks

October 16, 2017
More than 150,000 Australian deaths could be prevented if the energy content of sugary drinks was cut by around a third, a new report by The George Institute for Global Health has found.

Gaps persist in Zambia's food fortification system, study suggests

October 13, 2017
A study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that most fortified sugar sold at retail outlets in one Zambian community did not contain the minimum amount of vitamin A required by ...

Choosing colorful, healthy foods

October 13, 2017
Dear Mayo Clinic: I notice a lot of food products, including cereals, no longer use artificial colors. Is this because food dyes are harmful?

Faster metabolism makeover—nurturing your gut bacteria

October 18, 2017
Here's how to take control of your cravings and lose weight for good by improving your gut health.

This is why child obesity rates have soared

October 18, 2017
New data on almost 13 million people, from 200 countries around the world, points to a tenfold increase in rates of obesity among children and adolescents over the last four decades. This is the largest study of its kind ...

Recommended for you

Three million Americans carry loaded handguns daily, study finds

October 19, 2017
An estimated 3 million adult American handgun owners carry a firearm loaded and on their person on a daily basis, and 9 million do so on a monthly basis, new research indicates. The vast majority cited protection as their ...

More teens than ever aren't getting enough sleep

October 19, 2017
If you're a young person who can't seem to get enough sleep, you're not alone: A new study led by San Diego State University Professor of Psychology Jean Twenge finds that adolescents today are sleeping fewer hours per night ...

Across Asia, liver cancer is linked to herbal remedies: study

October 18, 2017
Researchers have uncovered widespread evidence of a link between traditional Chinese herbal remedies and liver cancer across Asia, a study said Wednesday.

Eating better throughout adult years improves physical fitness in old age, suggests study

October 18, 2017
People who have a healthier diet throughout their adult lives are more likely to be stronger and fitter in older age than those who don't, according to a new study led by the University of Southampton.

Global calcium consumption appears low, especially in Asia

October 18, 2017
Daily calcium intake among adults appears to vary quite widely around the world in distinct regional patterns, according to a new systematic review of research data ahead of World Osteoporosis Day on Friday, Oct. 20.

New study: Nearly half of US medical care comes from emergency rooms

October 17, 2017
Nearly half of all US medical care is delivered by emergency departments, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). And in recent years, the percentage of care delivered ...

0 comments

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.