Monday, August 3, 2009

Our Future: Micromanipulated Food

Scientists everywhere are looking for the next magic pill, that little jolt of something that will turn us from aging and obese couch potatoes to ageless and vibrant gods and goddesses. We've seen the vitamin pill go from obscurity to being essential. We've watched breads and milk get fortified with a number of different vitamins, all lost in the food processing. If we just ate the whole grain of wheat in the first place, without having processed out the bran and germ, we wouldn't have to add all those B-vitamins back into our Wonder Bread! I think you know where I'm going with this.

The idea of extracting the micronutrients from foods and then either putting them back into processed foods or in a pill form feels like a whole lot of trouble for nothing. Food scientists everywhere take the food, dissect it to death in a laboratory, quantify the amazing coincidence that the food contains all kinds of nutrients that are beneficial for our bodies and then hype up their discoveries to the public. When I was pregnant, I was warned that I needed to get enough folic acid in my diet to prevent my babies from getting spina bifida. Fair enough. I took my daily dose in a pill form. A few years later, I watched as the bread companies decided to fortify their foods with folic acid. This would ensure that all mothers would get enough in their diets. We all eat bread, right? Well, some of us eat bread and take supplements, which then prompted a new study suggesting that we were getting too much folic acid. I'm tired just thinking of the time and money wasted on the whole bloody food science system. Just eat the whole food, assume it's got what your body needs and move on.

But no. We're too smart for that. We must dissect and micromanipulate food until it resembles something from a Star Trek movie.

Just this morning, I read that Mr. McClement, a food scientist at UMASS Amherst, is trying to take the naturally occurring (in milk) butyric acid and put it into a fiber-encapsulated pill so it will be better absorbed by the body. Apparently, its anticancer benefits are lost before they reach the colon where its absorption is optimal for the body. The fiber encapsulation will ensure the butyric acid is NOT absorbed until it reaches the colon. I'm tired already.

How long will it take before Mr. McClement is touted as the guru of butyric acid and the doctors of America start telling their patients to buy the butyric acid pills? We've seen it with C0Q10. CoQ10 became the biggest essential pill for heart patients everywhere. The magic pill. The micronutrient du jour. Why not just get the CoQ10 you need from fish or wheat germ? Oh, that's right -- we ripped the germ right off the whole grain to make our breads more shelf stable and lost the C0Q10 in the process. We're deficient? No kidding. Well, we'll just have to start supplementing with a pill.

Apparently, this same mad scientist wants to create "low fat" versions of naturally high fat foods so we can enjoy the high fat taste without the high fat calories. Yummy. Doesn't that sound delicious? I can stuff my face with chocolate cake and not gain an ounce? The problem here is that this concept is appealing to way too many people out there and will probably find its marketing genius that will make food companies richer than ever. But here's the realilty check. Remember Olestra? The WOW chip? I can have my chips and eat them, too? I could eat all I wanted because Olestra was too big a "fat" to be absorbed by the intestine so it passed right through, calorie-free. But, as it passed, it also ripped the intestines clean of the good stuff and people ended up with vitamin deficiencies and, here's a turnoff, anal leakage.

I'd rather just eat a few natural potato chips than suffer from anal leakage, wouldn't you?

(photo lifted from Lempert Report)

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