Food technologists: obesity science is the “new frontier”

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 29th July 2013

Creating and promoting foods that contain natural inhibitors of unhealthy angiogenesis – the formation of blood vessels that feed and promote disease, obesity and inflammation – is the “new frontier in dietary health”, according to a presentation at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo held in Chicago recently.

Over 1 billion people globally have an angiogenesis system that is “out of balance”, according to William Li, M.D., President of the Angiogenesis Foundation, and one of the presenters. These individuals either have, or are at risk of developing, abnormal blood vessel growth and related heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and other diseases and conditions.

“Blood vessels are critical to the health of every cell, every organ and for every function in the body,” said Dr Li. “Research is now showing it’s possible to promote health and wellness using foods and beverages that influence angiogenesis,” he said.

According to Dr Li, there are many anti-angiogenic pharmaceutical products currently on the market that are successfully fighting cancer and other disease, but many foods have the same naturally-occurring properties. These foods include tomatoes, green tea, garlic, broccoli, dark chocolate, turmeric, tuna and olive oil, according to Dr Li.

“It’s quite eye opening. Food is the medicine we consume three times a day,” said Dr Li. “Can we use the same process (to modulate angiogenesis) at an earlier stage in healthy individuals? Can we get away from drugs and medical devices?” he said.

“The best way to conquer society’s runaway health problems is to get in front of them by preventing them in the first place,” said Dr Li. “Dietary anti-angiogenesis presents an opportunity for improving health at a time that is ripe for innovation,” he said.

Demand for “functional foods”

The presentation highlighted recent studies that found combining some of these foods such as tomatoes and broccoli, heating some foods to a certain temperature (or not heating others) and/or cooking them in olive oil, may enhance their anti-angiogenesis abilities. Studies like these could impact food design and preparation, according to presenters.

“There is a clear global demand for ‘functional foods’ that provide health benefits beyond what is provided by their nutritive content,” said Ravi Menon, Senior Principal Scientist at the Bell Institute for Health and Nutrition at General Mills Inc. in Minneapolis.

Regulatory and food safety challenges

Developing these foods will require “extensive tests in food safety and efficacy” as well as “comprehensive efforts” to educate consumers on their health benefits, according to Mr Menon. In addition, regulation would need to develop around these kind of foods.

“The current regulatory framework struggles to accommodate the expanding repertoire of health benefits in functional foods,” Mr Menon said.

IFT Conference heard 'functional foods' the "new frontier"