Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Foods that Heal

We've all heard about the protective power of food. Some foods like fruits and vegetables are good for us and some elements of our diet, like too much fat, are bad for us. At Enhancing Foods to Protect Health, a new research center in Indiana, scientists are working to perfect food that may one day be designed based on an individual's health needs.
Excess fat consumption has long been the bane of those seeking to be healthy but fats do play beneficial roles in the body. Generally speaking, based on the common diet in the United States, too much omega-6 fatty acids are consumed and too little omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are common in corn and soy oils while omega-3 fatty acids are common in canola and fish oils. This is crucial, as the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids should be in the range of 4 to 1 up to 10 to 1.
Diets in the U.S. have shifted such that the ratio is around 25 to 1. With such a high ratio, the risk for some types of cancer and arteriosclerosis increase dramatically.
The researchers at the Center are exploring ways to produce so called "designer eggs" with a better-balanced ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids.
Purdue food science Professor Bruce Watkins and graduate student Amy Devitt check the color and texture of eggs that have a better-balanced fat content.
In the study, hens were fed supplemental conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in an attempt to see if the eggs produced by the hens would contain a better balance of fatty acids. And indeed, those hens fed the supplemental CLA produced eggs with a higher level of CLA than hens that were not fed the CLA.
The researchers then fed the hens a blend of two fatty acids. The hens were fed a combination of docosahexaenoic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and the conjugated linoleic acid. Again, the levels of the beneficial fatty acids were higher in those hens fed the supplements versus those who were not given the supplements.
The researchers hope that these studies will lead to the development of foods that have a higher ratio of beneficial fatty acids to nonbeneficial fatty acids.
Work still remains to be done as the eggs produced by the hens had a somewhat tough yolk and a very different texture from traditional eggs. The researchers are optimistic that with fine-tuning of the diet of the hens, an egg with the proper fat balance as well as a good taste could be produced.
What do you think? How might "designer foods" decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer? Do you think this is the best way to reduce risk or are there better ways? Come on over to the Biology Forum to share your thoughts, feelings, and opinions. 'Til next time...

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