Food structure is critical for optimal health
Much nutrition policy is nutrient-based, supported by extensive nutrient science and food nutrient composition tables and recommendations for dietary evaluation. There are no comparable instruments for food structure. This constitutes a policy and practice gap since food is valued for its textural properties and not simply its chemistry. The structurally-important ‘dietary fibre’ at first proved of greater interest for its chemistry than its physico-chemistry even to health scientists and workers. As food chemistry became evidently complex, especially for phytonutrients, food-based dietary guidelines became an imperative and were launched by FAO and WHO in Cyprus in 1995. Food-health relationships, after weaning, are best articulated in terms of the achievement of dietary diversity, predicated partly on how intact foods are or in what way they are prepared. Cooking itself has health-promoting characteristics. Even with identical chemistry, food structure makes a major difference to biological and health outcomes. With evidence that food structure contributes to the matrix that food provides for nutrient delivery, and also to gut microbiomic profile and integrity, concern has grown about overly-processed food and health outcomes. The definition and categorisation of ‘ultra-processed foods’ is now a work-in-progress. Future public health nutritional and clinical nutrition developments will take account of food structure. To these ends, food composition tables will need to provide information like particle size and viscosity. Dietary recommendations will need to take account of food structure, as is the case for Brazil whose first step is “Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet”.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Food Structures, Digestion and Health International Conference