'Smart' Foods Promise More
Than Good Nutrition
By Dan Abrams
NBC News Correspondent
Scientists can now cross-breed different varieties of broccoli to improve its ability to fight cancer. 'Smart' foods promise more than good nutrition. Foods are being specially engineered to fight disease: eggs that prevent heart disease, broccoli that fights cancer, and margarine that lowers cholesterol - these are the designer foods of the future. They're called functional or 'smart' foods, and they're specially created to provide health benefits beyond just good nutrition.
"THESE ARE FOODS that can actually ward off the kinds of diseases and ailments that we all develop as we grow older," says Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of America. "We're looking at a market in the next five to 10 years and it's going to be about 34 billion dollars."
For the food giants, the race is already on. Kellogg Corp. just launched a new line of cereals and snacks, all made from a cholesterol-lowering fiber called psyllium. Johnson & Johnson has produced a margarine made with a substance called Benecol, which lowers cholesterol. It is already sold in Europe. And at Monsanto, food scientists are hoping that oil made from seaweed will give cookies and cakes the healthy nutrients of fish, without the bad taste.
Functional or 'smart' foods provide enhanced health benefits beyond basic nutrition and have taken the food industry by storm. Like the raw vitamins and supplements they contain, functional foods do not require approval from the FDA. Imagine: Better broccoli, Better butter, Cancer-reducing ketchup, Colon-friendly cookies, Fortified juice, Happy soup, Intelligent chocolate, Orange drink, Seaweed snacks Sensual sodas, Super cereal
Of course, everyone knows some fruits and vegetables help fight disease. But now, as scientists discover the reasons why, their goal is to engineer 'super foods' with even more health benefits than ever before. "We are trying to build a better broccoli, one that will offer prevention of cancer or at least decrease your risk of cancer." - Elizabeth Jeffrey, University of Illinois For example, researchers at the University of Illinois working with over 50 varieties of broccoli have found that some contain 30 times more cancer-fighting compounds than others. So they are breeding new species, testing them on mice and then taste-testing them on people.
"We are trying to build a better broccoli, one that will offer prevention of cancer or at least decrease your risk of cancer," says Elizabeth Jeffrey of the University of Illinois, a member of the research team trying to develop the improved broccoli species. "I think it's going to become a part of everyday life, that you feed your family vegetables that have added nutritional power," she adds.
But the super food concept is not restricted to engineering better vegetables. Imagine, for instance, the possibility of fresh eggs that can prevent heart disease. At Pilgrim's Pride, chickens are fed a special feed so that their eggs come out enhanced with healthy fatty acids and vitamin E. "The product eats, tastes and cooks like a regular egg," says Dan Emery, of Pilgrim's Pride.
In short, the idea is to give people the same old taste with even better nutrition. It's the No.1 trend in the food business today, and it has real promise to help Americans live healthier, and live better.