As Americans focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains in order to eat a more healthful diet, they may overlook the fact that food processing can enhance the nutritional value of some foods.
Many consumers in a recent survey agreed that processed foods can reduce costs and improve convenience, but they were unaware that that food technology can increase food safety and boost nutrition.
Take tomatoes, which contain lycopene, an important dietary component that may be beneficial to humans.
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.
The cooking of raw foods enhances the absorption of organic pigments (known as bioactive carotenoids), such as lycopene. Softening the food texture allow for better digestion of the red pigment in tomatoes and the orange pigment in carrots.
Tomatoes, particularly the lycopene in them, have been shown to suppress prostate cancer in several animal experiments.
Population studies show that people who consume the highest amounts of tomatoes and tomato products have a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Lycopene is the primary bioactive component in tomatoes, but it’s not the only one. Others include folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber as well as other cancer-fighting nutrients.
The bottom line is people should make sure they consume both fresh and processed tomato products for optimizing health.
Technologies can help preserve or add nutritional value to foods.
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 farmer’s market.
Vitamins and minerals are added to some foods, such as vitamin D to milk and cereal. If intake of those foods were decreased, there would be a lot more nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin D, calcium and other key nutrients, including dietary fiber.
News source: Institute of Food Technologists.
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