If Food Is Our Medicine, Shouldn’t We All Be A Lot Healthier?

Mary Ann Lila, Director, Plants for Human Health Institute, David H. Murdock Distinguished Professor, Department of Food Bioprocessing & Nutritional Sciences, North Carolina State University

Date and Location

When (Date/Time)

June 26, 2018, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM


252 Erickson Food Science Building

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There’s no question that plant foods (fruits, vegetables, and herbals) are able to synthesize complex chemical bioactive compounds (phytoactives) that are more sophisticated than any human synthetic chemist can create – and in many cases, more efficacious at preventing or treating chronic human diseases and metabolic disorders. Despite the fact that a wider diversity of produce than ever before is available to modern consumers, and ample evidence for effective disease prevention using certain diets is readily available in the popular press, the human race seems to be sliding down a slippery path to largely preventable ill-health. Why? One reason is the basic change that has occurred in both the plant and animal foods on offer in the supermarket – often quite a drastic change from a century ago. Wildcrafted plant foods that provided a plethora of phytoactives and nutrients have been transformed into blander, uniform produce with sometimes limited nutritive value. We’ve lost some of the critical nutrients and extranutritional components that were present in the wild. A second issue is related not to the foods, but to basic lifestyle choices in dietary habits and mobility. If plant science and food science research is expected to come up with answers to these conundrums, we can’t just ‘discover’, we have to deliver. Recent research has concentrated immunoprotective fruit and vegetable phytochemicals for delivery in convenient, and highly bioavailable functional food formats, e.g. colloidal protein-phytochemical aggregate particles that can serve as unprecedented ingredients to reverse the nutritional deficits. Sensory panels confirmed the favorable organoleptic properties of the ingredient, and recommended wider applications to counteract the negative trends of Western diets. Most recently, the phytoactive-protein chimeric ingredients were incorporated into snack food products with direct utility for meals in transit, and even for humanitarian aid efforts in undernourished populations. Simultaneously, the complexing of phytoactive-protein particles addresses structural and formulation challenges (e.g. bar hardening, thermal degradation, or ingredient separations) that are current challenges in the industries.