Fri, 2 Sept. 2011 - 6:26 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) once again sponsored the world’s largest meeting of food and nutrition professionals in Boston in November. The 2010 ADA Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) was attended by more than 10,000 registered dieticians, researchers, policy makers and healthcare providers. Research presentations, debates, and panel discussions make up the core activities of the annual gathering.
Among the new paradigms offered this year was the importance of seeing various health concerns explicitly through the lens of inflammation. Understanding that inflammation is the underlying mechanism for many diseases and other health problems is key, the conference suggested, because this will shed new light on the food choices we make. This new focus advocates an eye toward foods that specifically have the power to reduce inflammation.
Essentially, what we once referred to as the “diseases of aging” are now best thought of as diseases of inflammation. Heart disease is a disease of inflammation. Obesity, while obviously not caused by inflammation, is intricately tied to it nonetheless: it promotes inflammation. As Nancy Clark, MS, RD, points out in her recent column about the 2010 FNCE, this helps explain why obesity is associated with inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, arthritis and pulmonary diseases.
Inflammation has been a complex and even controversial topic for a number of years. We recognize that it can be painful and cause significant health complications, hence the popularity and ubiquity of anti-inflammatory drugs. At the same time, many health experts feel that the body’s natural response to trauma should be allowed to run its course—cytokines rush to a wound site and clear debris, beginning the healing process. The unfortunate result, but nevertheless indicator of this important work, is inflammation. Although the inflammatory response is one of the body’s defenses against injury and illness, if it occurs chronically, it can be a significant component of and even catalyst for the above-mentioned diseases. It’s certainly conceivable, to say the very least, that the new paradigm is a useful way of thinking about inflammation with regard to these long-term, ongoing battles against disease.
From a diet perspective, then, the FNCE offers useful information from the National Center for Food Safety and Technology (NCFST), a group of scientists from the Illinois Institute of Technology, the USFDA and the food industry. The NCFST is presently studying in several clinical trials how eating certain foods can reduce this unhealthful, chronic type of inflammation. The center’s Dr. Britt Burton-Freeman, who spoke at the Boston conference, asserts—not at all surprisingly—that fruits and vegetables are once again the health-protective, winning choice. Clark writes, “By eating at each meal a colorful rainbow of fruits and vegetables rich in bioactive compounds … [you] offer your body continual protection and could potentially reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by 20%, and cancer and diabetes by 30%.”
Though it’s not quite clear how Burton-Freeman comes to these exact percentages, there is little doubt that blueberries, red strawberries, dark purple grapes, oranges and leafy greens are just a few examples of the colorful foods known to work hard on behalf of a healthy body. The powerful antioxidants in these phyto-nutrient-rich foods have long been heralded for their ability to fight the free radicals thought to cause cellular damage and therefore many types of cancer. Now the focus is on their ability to fight inflammation as well.
One small NCFST study conducted by researchers from UC Davis and Penn State University found that after six weeks on a diet high in tomato products, overweight and obese subjects had increased blood vessel diameter as compared to the controls. No significant mediated vasodilatation was observed, possibly owing to the high body mass indices of the 56 subjects. However, the high-tomato dieters also showed lower C-reactive protein levels (in response to a high-fat meal) than the control group. The C-reactive protein measurement is used here as an inflammation indicator: C-reactive protein level rises in the blood in response to inflammation.
The NCFST has been known to allow industry groups to co-sponsor its work; two of its recent subject-recruitment listings on ClinicalTrials.gov mention the Tomato Wellness Council California and the California Strawberry Commission as collaborators. However, there is plenty of evidence that the polyphenols and other compounds in these foods are indeed health-protective. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, as well as vitamins A and C, fiber, potassium and beta-carotene. With more research we will likely soon be adding, in a more definitive way, anti-inflammatory to the list of positive properties colorful fruits and vegetables offer those who liberally partake of them.
American Dietetic Association, http://www.eatright.org/FNCE/content.aspx?id=5188
The Athlete’s Kitchen, December 2010, “News from the American Dietetic Association,” by Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, www.nancyclarkrd.com
The National Center for Food Safety and Technology, http://www.iit.edu
Science 2.0, April 28, 2009, “Tomatoes Get More Terrific - Now They May Also Prevent Inflammation,”
by Erin Richards,
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