CHICAGO—It could be decades before science can accurately measure the body’s systems to determine which foods, in what quantities and combinations, will best combat against disease and illness, experts say. But when that time comes, expect each diet to be as individual as the person. That’s the general consensus among food scientists gathered here who in some instances can’t even agree on the current effectiveness of functional foods.
“The informed consumer is a good consumer,” said Bruce German, a professor at the University of California at Davis and consultant for the Nestle food company, speaking to other food professionals at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo.
German addressed designing diets that fit individuals’ health profiles.
“We have to understand what’s going on tissue to tissue. We have to understand food in all its aspects—its structure as well as our personal preferences about taste,” he said. He described food and nutrition in the 20th century as “divorced. In many ways they hated each other.”
Getting enough essential nutrients—the goal of nutritional health during the 1900s—has led to obesity, diseases like Type 2 diabetes, and a fundamental ignorance about the relationship between food and health, according to German.
“The decision to separate food and nutrition was a disaster. We have to put those two fields back together again.”
While functional food appears today to be a popular means for individuals to craft their own healthy diet, Peter Clifton, Ph.D., a professor at Adelaide University in Australia and researcher with the country’s national science agency, called functional foods “a myth.”
The evidence is patchy that fish oil could reduce heart disease or dementia unless taken in large doses, he said. Similarly, eating lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, did not reduce prostate cancer in the studies he noted. Clifton also illustrated that beta-carotene consumed in large amounts, according to one study, was associated with the increased risk of prostate cancer.
“One needs to be cautious about recommending willy-nilly to increase these nutrients,” Clifton said, though he did admit to eating carrots.
More science is required to prove these “strongly marketed additives have any positive effect,” he said.
Clifton did give a nod to probiotics, the bacteria found in products like yogurt, calling them beneficial in preventing gastrointestinal problems. Americans have not quite fallen in love with yogurt as Europeans have, but when they do, Clifton said, “there will be a dawning of more probiotic products.”
The IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo is the world’s largest annual scientific forum and exposition on food. Ranked among the largest U.S. conventions, the meeting delivers comprehensive, cutting-edge research and opinion from food science-, technology-, marketing- and business-leaders.
Having concluded its 67th annual session on Tuesday, the IFT Annual Meeting now directs its attention toward today’s IFT Global Food Safety & Quality conference, and the IFT Food Nanotechnology conference.
Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, IFT is a not-for-profit international scientific society with 22,000 members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues. For more on IFT, see IFT.org.