Food and health: The binomial is now established and in the last century it has been progressively confirmed thanks to epidemiological studies, molecular medicine and clinical results. A correct diet can prevent a large number of diseases, including obesity. Whole food classes can finally be useful to specific organs and functions, determining a medical interest in nutraceutics, a science that deals with identifying the “pharmacological” power of food. A new science, nutrigenomics, is now investigating how food is able to intervene on our DNA. We talked about this topic with Professor Daniela Lucini, Head of Exercise Medicine at Humanitas.
How do genes and foods interact?
According to nutrigenomics, thanks to a mapping of genes, it could be possible to identify foods that can have an effect on our health. This means that nutritional choices, beyond caloric calculation, may be able to influence the evolution of our genetic code and help us to protect the body from disease.
With the term nutraceutics, a word born from the union of nutrition and pharmaceuticals, we define a class of foods that have a beneficial function on human health. As if they were “drugs”, some foods in fact act positively on health in a completely natural way and without side effects. The analysis of foods, previously limited only to their nutritional value, with this new science highlights that other factors of the foods themselves can play a fundamental role.
The proven healing power of certain food classes
Isoflavones in whole grains, beans, chickpeas and lentils help protect certain cancers by replacing estrogen. Among the foods that are now recognized with a nutraceutical power there are also dried fruit, nuts, linseed oil, and blue fish. Rich in omega 3, these foods lower the plasma levels of triglycerides, while omega 6 reduce cholesterol levels.
The ascorbic acid or vitamin C present in fresh fruits and vegetables has high antioxidant properties, fights free radicals, and synthesizes amino acids, collagen and hormones. The polyphenols have recognized anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant and antiaterogene properties. Finally, dietary fiber, although not a nutrient, exerts functional effects, improving intestinal function and associated disorders.
The opinion of Humanitas
“Among the new substances that may have therapeutic power and that are already used by us doctors we find the red rice of verberin, tool used for hypercholesterolemia or omega3 or antioxidants – said the professor. There is also a number of other substances, however, whose curative power is less defined. Vitamin supplements, for example, are not the same as vitamins taken through a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Therefore, the invitation is always to use remedies and products with caution and under medical supervision.