Food systems: The relationship between health and food science/technology

A. S. Levine, T. P. Labuza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Changes in our understanding of diet and health drive changes in the way foods are processed. Conversely, what is available on the shelf will have an impact on the choices consumers make, thereby affecting their health. Historical examples of industrial manipulation of the diet include fortification and enrichment of cereal grains with vitamins; increased production of unsaturated vegetable oils and margarine as substitutions for hydrogenated fat, lard, and butter; lowered cholesterol content foods; reduced sugar content foods; lower sodium foods; decreased portion sizes or caloric density in prepackaged foods for use in weight loss or maintenance; and increased calcium levels to prevent osteoporosis. However, degenerative diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis, bone disease, arthritis, and dementia will continue to be prevalent in the future. Whether or not the food systems available on the shelf can influence all of these disease states is not clear; however, studies have indicated that nutritional factors do contribute to the development of some of these diseases. Patterns in food consumption have changed and will continue to change as recommendations such as decreased consumption of saturated fats, salt, and cholesterol continue to be made. Increased ingestion of fish and/or fish oil is one recommendation that has been suggested because of the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on platelet aggregability and circulating levels of lipids. Wildly speculating from preliminary studies, fish oil has also been recommended for disease states including arthritis, cancer, and diseases of the immune system. A variety of investigators have demonstrated that nutrition can influence the central nervous system in some fashion and this has been extrapolated to mean that nutrients affect the way that we feel and behave. Future recommendations may include changes in the type of food ingested that will alter neurotransmitter status and perhaps be useful as adjuvant therapy to drug therapy. In addition to known nutrient effects of foods, our future understanding will involve the recognition of more and more nonnutritive substances. Some of these substances, such as the indoles, have been recognized as potential anticarcinogens. Regulatory substances including serotonin, estrogens, and releasing factors of hormones have been identified in various foods. Because of agricultural (i.e., genetic manipulation) and process technological changes, the future could bring a more varied diet to the population, but with less of the components we ate in the past. Historically, we have learned that a varied diet is beneficial. Each time we have administered a very defined diet to either animals or to humans, we have discovered new nutritional deficiency diseases. As our understanding of the impact of nutrients on health evolves, we can be assured that scientists and the consuming public will force changes in our food systems and the way in which we preserve and prepare food.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-238
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
StatePublished - 1990


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