Scientists worldwide are discovering new and unexpected benefits from a wide variety of foods that go beyond their basic nutritional value. These so-called 'functional foods' contain natural or modified compounds that have been shown to help fight some of the most challenging health problems, including cancer and heart disease.
More than 50 research papers on these and other topics will be presented during a four-day symposium, "Functional Foods and Health," from Sunday, Sept. 10, through Wednesday, Sept. 13, at the 232nd national meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Selected highlights are shown below:
Mandarin oranges may reduce risk of liver cancer, other diseases -- A pair of studies from Japan suggests that eating mandarin oranges may cut your risk of developing liver cancer as well as other serious diseases:
In one study, researchers at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine found that drinking mandarin orange juice may reduce the risk of developing liver cancer in patients with chronic viral hepatitis. After a one-year study period, no liver cancer was detected among a group of 30 patients with viral hepatitis who were given one cup daily of a specially prepared beverage containing mandarin orange juice, whereas an 8.9 percent rate of liver cancer was found among a group of 45 patients who did not drink the juice supplements, according to Hoyoku Nishino, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at the university.
In an epidemiological study by scientists at the National Institute of Fruit Tree Science in Japan, scientists surveyed 1,073 people in a Japanese town noted for its high consumption of mandarin oranges. The researchers found certain chemical markers in the subjects' blood that are associated with a lower risk of several health problems, including liver disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and insulin resistance (a condition associated with diabetes), according to study leader Minoru Sugiura, Ph.D.
Scientists create new types of flour with enhanced antioxidant levels -- Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a newly patented process that transforms ordinary flour into flour with enhanced levels of antioxidants -- compounds that have been shown by others to fight cancer and heart disease. The process works by enzymatically modifying grains to make their natural antioxidants more available to the body, says Liangli Lucy Yu, Ph.D., an associate professor in the school's Department of Nutrition and Food Science. The process, which is environmentally friendly, works for different types of flour, including wheat, corn and rice.
Yu's group also has developed a new type of flour from fruit seeds -- normally waste products from the manufacture of juice and fruit products. In laboratory studies, the fruit seed flour appears to have the ability to fight inflammation, cancer and food-borne bacteria. This fruit-seed flour could add natural flavors and colors to baked goods while also fighting spoilage, a development that might reduce or eliminate the use of artificial ingredients that are used for those purposes, Yu says. In the future, the two flour types could be combined to create novel breads, pastries and other flour products with enhanced health benefits, she says.
'Designer soybean' boosts calcium levels, fights osteoporosis -- Researchers have known for some time that the natural calcium found in soybeans is not easily absorbed in the body. As a result, products such as soy milk contain calcium supplements, which sometimes settle out of the beverage. Now, using simple and inexpensive chemical techniques, scientists at Nihon University in Japan say that they have built a more calcium-friendly soybean. In an effort to make the calcium in the bean more easily absorbed by the intestine, the researchers removed phytate, a chemical that is known to hinder absorption. They also modified two different types of amino acids in the bean to make it more acidic. The new soybean retains the taste of the original bean while forming a whiter and smoother product, says Hitomi Kumagai, Ph.D., a researcher at the university.
The American Chemical Society -- the world's largest scientific society -- is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.
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