Being deficient in a nutrient such as vitamin D has harmful effects
But it’s not clear that excess vitamins will help the immune system
The immune system evolved about 250,000 years ago
We know that certain foods are bad for people with particular conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Advising a generally healthy person on foods that will prevent future disease, on the other hand, is far more complicated, and represents one of the challenges for scientists working in food science.
In the future, people should be able to tailor their diets and supplements to their particular biochemistry, said experts presenting at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science this week.
Right now the food industry is centered on products, said J. Bruce German, professor and food chemist at the University of California, Davis. That means profits depend on lowering the cost of production and making things cheaper.
“No one’s getting healthy in this model,” he said. “It’s clear we have to move toward a consumer-driven food supply.”
In a consumer-driven food world, the industry would focus its goals on improving all aspects of the consumer’s health, he said. People would receive dietary recommendations based on a very specific individualized health assessment, taking into account age, sex and medical history, he said.
The bottom line is that being deficient in a nutrient such as vitamin D has harmful effects, but once you achieve a certain level, it’s not clear that excess vitamins will help the immune system, Gershwin said.
Another direction that food science is taking is genomics. Researchers are looking at the genes of edible organisms to figure out what about them makes them beneficial to humans, knowledge that may enhance diets in the future.
For instance, scientists are looking into how human milk evolved. Curiously, one component of breast milk is something that infants cannot digest: oligosaccharides. Research in the last few years has shown that these oligosaccharides stimulate particular bacteria in the intestine, which is a beneficial process.