An Interaction Of All Its Nutrients Determines A Food's Health Benefit

People with a wholefoods mindset will not be surprised by the conclusions of an international panel of doctors, nutritionists, and scientists.

In its report the panel recommends we determine a food’s value by its entire nutritional content, and not by the known effect of each nutrient it contains. This recommendation is based on the belief that the entire composition of a food influences the effects of its individual nutrients.

To put in another way, a food’s impact on our health likely involves the relationship between its nutrients, plus the methods of food preparation and production employed.

“Researchers have become more skillful over the years, and we have acquired more methods for exploring what specific nutrients mean for digestion and health,” says first author of the report, Tanja Kongerslev Thorning, Ph.D., from the University of Copenhagen. “But when we eat, we do not consume individual nutrients. We eat the whole food, either alone or together with other foods in a meal. It therefore seems obvious that we should assess food products in context.”

The panel noted, for instance that foods such as cheese have a more beneficial effect on body weight, and cardiovascular health than we would expect based on its sodium and saturated fat content.

“In contrast to current recommendations that essentially ban full-fat cheese, current research clearly demonstrate important health benefits of cheese for prevention of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers,” said University of Copenhagen professor Arne Astrup. “All the positive effects are due to a complex interaction between beneficial bacteria, minerals and bio-active cheese ingredients.”

Another example cited are almonds, which contain considerable fat, but release less fat than anticipated during digestion.

Though panel members suggest more studies are required, they believe certain areas of nutrition need rethinking since focusing on individual nutrients gives us an inaccurate picture of a food’s health benefits.

Source: University of Copenhagen
Photo credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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