Processing makes some foods healthier

Wednesday, 20 July, 2016

Processed food is often perceived as a less healthy choice; however, processing can actually enhance the nutritional value of some foods.

Speaking at IFT16: Where Science Feeds Innovation, Roger Clemens, adjunct professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Southern California, said many consumers agree that processed foods can reduce costs and improve convenience, but they are unaware that food technology can increase food safety and boost nutrition.

Citing the example of tomatoes, which contain lycopene, an important dietary component that may be beneficial to humans, he explained that when food companies cook tomatoes to make tomato products such as tomato sauce, juice and paste, the process actually changes the lycopene into a form that is more easily used by the body.

John Erdman Jr, professor emeritus in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois, agrees. He says the cooking of raw foods enhances the absorption of organic pigments (known as bioactive carotenoids) such as lycopene, the red pigment in tomatoes, or beta carotene, an orange pigment in carrots, by softening the food texture to allow for better digestion.

“For carotenoids, adding some fat, as would be done in processed pasta sauces, enhances absorption further,” he said.

The lycopene in tomatoes has been shown to suppress prostate cancer in several animal experiments, and population studies show that people who consume the highest amounts of tomatoes and tomato products have a lower risk of prostate cancer, says Erdman.

Erdman says other bioactive components in tomatoes include folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, fibre and other nutrients, so consumers should ensure they are consuming both fresh and processed tomato products for optimising health.

Clemans added that other technologies help preserve or add nutritional value to foods, saying “Companies can harvest, blanch, cut and flash-freeze green beans within an hour so the nutritional quality is better than the green beans you’d get at a typical farmers’ market.”

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